Once again, the 4th District Court of Appeals has overturned a prison sentence handed down by Broward County Circuit Court Judge Matthew “Matt” Destry. After being convicted on low-level drug charges, Destry sentenced Maxime Cherilus to ten years in prison. Broward prosecutors were seeking an 18 month prison term.
Maxime Cherilus set up a cocaine deal with a police informant. Cherilus agreed to sell five ounces of cocaine for $1,200 an ounce. Hardly the biggest drug deal ever arranged in Broward county.
Following his conviction by a jury, the Broward State Attorney wanted an eighteenth-month prison sentence followed by two years of probation.
Defense lawyers were seeking two years of probation.
According to the 4th DCA, Destry said Cherilus’ testimony “depicted a ‘cagey, clever drug dealer,’ not someone who was pressured by a friend to do a one-time deal.”
The Court singled out another Destry comment. “I do not buy for one second that this was entrapment. I do not buy this trial testimony. I don’t accept his testimony on the stand at trial,” Destry said. “I do not feel he was truthful there or here. That is just my assessment that I do not mind putting on the record.”
Destry added Cherilus was the type of person, “We do need to lock up.”
At a later hearing to vacate the sentence, Destry appeared to backtrack from his previous comments. He said, “But I want to be clear here, I based my sentence on his actions that were portrayed at trial and the way he acted during the course of the alleged criminal activity, not his testimony, so to-speak, all right, so we are clear here.”
DESTRY SENTENCING MAKES NATIONAL HEADLINES
Cherilus’ attorney spoke to the New Times earlier this year. “This is one case in my over 18 years of practice that I can’t wrap my head around,” says Cherilus’ attorney, Michael D. Weinstein, now. “It was jaw-dropping that he gave him 120 months in state prison for $50 worth of crack cocaine. I’ve had clients with 150 kilos get ten years.”
Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein has said “the problem is that [Destry] doesn’t see the humanity of poor people.”
Destry made national headlines in the Herbert Smith case.
Last December, REDBROWARD wrote the son of Broward County Chief Judge Peter Weinstein is the latest attorney to question the decision-making process of Circuit Court Judge Matthew Destry. In a Broward/Palm Beach New Times article, attorney Michael Weinstein, Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein and others attacked Destry’s harsh sentences. In November, Destry sentenced a 23 year-old felon to sixty years in prison for violating probation.
Four years ago, Herbert Smith was found guilty of seven burglaries and thefts. He served two years in prison. While serving four years of probation, police stopped Smith for driving with a suspended license. According to the Sun-Sentinel, “Smith violated his probation in October by driving with a suspended license in a car with another convicted felon and an ammunition clip filled with .40-caliber bullets, the same judge who gave him a second chance in 2012 decided to send a stronger message.” The judge was Matthew Destry.
The Broward State Attorney wanted Smith to serve 13 years in prison. Destry sentenced Smith to 60 years in prison. “I think 13 is a bit much, but the law is the law,” said Smith’s attorney, Brian Greenwald. “The prosecutor was not being vindictive.”
Ratoyna Dumas, a friend of Smith, launched a petition demanding Destry’s removal from the bench. The petition reads, “[Destry] has been known for over sentencing people of color I’ve read several articles and several people have spoken about this judge as far as to how they were unfairly treated. We will not sit around and allow these types of injustices to go on we want justice.”
Following the public outcry, Destry changed his mind. He suspended Smith’s sentence.“To go from 60 years in prison to being released that day — the takeaway is that justice is random in Broward County,” Howard Finkelstein of the Broward Public Defender’s Office tells New Times.“Destry did the right thing but for the wrong reasons.”
The Smith saga is just the latest case of Destry acting out then changing his mind to bow to public pressure.
When he was 19 years old, Demetrius Vidale’s mother turned him into police for throwing rocks at a bus. Vidale received probation. Four years later, Vidale’s name came up in a grand theft investigation. According to the New Times, charges against Vidale were dropped for lack of evidence. Still, Destry used the case to teach Vidale a lesson. He sentenced the 23 year-old to 20 years in prison for violating probation.
“I am not afraid to say when my son is wrong. I was the one who turned him in and started this,”Vidale’s mother, Paula, tells New Times. “This mess is because of Destry. Your life can be ruined depending on what day you catch him on.”
COURT OF APPEALS SLAMS DESTRY
In writing the opinion of the Court, Judge Alan O. Forst made it clear, “Florida law holds that a defendant’s perjury committed while under oath is not a proper sentencing factor.” Josephs v. State, 86 So. 3d 1270, 1272 (Fla. 4th DCA 2012). Forst wrote Destry, “Improperly considered what he viewed as Appellant’s untruthfulness when determining Appellant’s sentence.”
The Court stated Destry had denied Cherilus his due process rights; “For this reason, we reverse the denial of Appellant’s Motion to Vacate Sentence and remand for resentencing before a different judge.”
Destry is facing re-election on the August 30th ballot. He is facing challenges from Haccord Curry, Barbara Duffy, Abbe Rifkin and Brian Greenwald.