Mitchell Leefar, 56, was arrested for Possession of Child Pornography in Fort Lauderdale, Florida last week. According to court documents, Leefar is being detained on a $200,000.00 bond. When the magistrate judge set bond, he noted that Leefar had a prior arrest for Possession of Child Pornography in 1994.
A search of the Broward County Clerk of Court’s website shows that Leefar has no prior felony offenses in Broward. Where his prior alleged arrest occurred is not known at the present time. However, it is important to emphasize that even though that arrest was for the same thing, an arrest does not mean anything… the real question concerns what happened with that case? Was he convicted? Did he go to prison? Was he found not guilty by a jury of his peers?
Regardless, Leefar is facing a VERY serious case. Given the fact that he is facing 20 counts of Possession of Child Pornography, he is facing more years in prison than he could possible live in his natural life.
Given my experience with litigating these types of cases here in Broward County, I suspect that prosecutors would begin plea bargain negotiations in the area of 10-15 years.
When determining what plea bargain to offer, prosecutors will evaluate a number of factors. The first is the nature and extent of the charges. This case concerns charges that are both extremely serious and extremely pervasive… 20 counts is a lot.
Next, prosecutors will consider the background and character of the defendant. The fact that Leefar is 56 years old will work against him. Prosecutors will consider him a mature adult and will hold him to a higher standard than a teenager or young adult.
Finally and most importantly, prosecutors will consider any prior criminal history. This is where Leefar’s prior arrest will play its most important role.
For that reason, Leefar should hire a criminal defense lawyer who not only is very experienced in dealing with Possession of Child Pornography cases, but specifically those cases in Broward County. Each jurisdiction has its own character and hiring local counsel is definitely a good idea.
When it comes to the substance of Leefar’s case, the main question that bothers me as a criminal defense lawyer is how police came to learn of Leefar’s criminal activity. Did they do an illegal search and seizure? Did they make their discovery by accident? Was Leefar revealed by a confidential informant or an anonymous tipster?
The way the evidence was discovered in this case can make a huge difference in how the prosecution will play out. If police acted unlawfully when recovering the evidence, then the entire case may need to be dropped when a judge excludes the illegally obtained evidence from court.
However, in my past experience in defending these cases, odds are Leefar was caught after sharing videos and images over the internet, especially on file sharing services like Limewire. When this occurs, defendants easily fall into traps set by law enforcement who monitor these sites for illegal activity. In fact, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has an office that is strictly dedicated to monitoring internet sites for child pornography. For them, Limewire is like shooting fish in a barrel.
Ultimately, Leefer’s criminal defense lawyer will have to make a choice between two paths. First, does Mitchell Leefar’s case present any kind of factual or legal defense? In other words, would Leefer have a realistic chance of winning if he were to challenge these allegations at trial? Additionally, does Leefar’s case present an opportunity to get evidence suppressed, for reasons like an illegal police search.
Second, if Leefar’s case cannot be won at trial, then does his case present an opportunity for a mitigated sentence? To determine this, Leefar will need to be evaluated by a forensic psychologist. If Leefar is diagnosed with a treatable mental illness and he is amenable to treatment, Leefar’s attorney may be able to convince a judge to depart from the minimum sentencing requirements and give him a mitigated sentence.
It is important to emphasize that a forensic psychological evaluation does not mean a quack doctor will just say Leefar is crazy to get him out of a hefty prison sentence. Rather, these evaluations are as real as an MRI and the forensic psychologist will need to testify before Leefar’s judge and explain the nature of any diagnosis in great detail. That person’s testimony will also be subject to cross-examination by prosecutors.
While the hurdle is a high one, the law provides an outlet for those offenders who genuinely suffer from treatable mental illness and who are amenable to treatment.
Ultimately, Leefar’s criminal defense lawyer will need to conduct a full case analysis before any concrete conclusions may be drawn about his defense.