Appeals court tosses Jackson County meth sentence

Published: Friday, November 29, 2013 at 10:57 AM.

MARIANNA — A Jackson County judge acted with “judicial vindictiveness” when he sentenced a woman to woman to 20 years in prison for her role in a dangerous meth lab explosion, according to recent decision by an appeals court.

That doesn’t mean Judge William Wright was vindictive in the sense that the word is commonly understood when he sentenced Alicia Baxter to 20 years in prison; it means the circumstances of the sentencing create the “presumption that the sentence imposed is improper,” the court said.

The 1st District Court of Appeal threw out Baxter’s sentence in a decision issued Wednesday. She is to be resentenced by a judge who has not been involved in her case or the case against her co-defendant.

Judges in Florida are not prohibited from engaging in plea negotiations as long as they are impartial arbiters. Wright’s off-the-record comments during the negotiations “seem to reflect something other than a dispassionate stake in the proceeding,” the DCA wrote.

That, coupled with the disparity between the offer and Baxter’s eventual sentence, create a reasonable likelihood Baxter’s ultimate sentence was imposed in retaliation for exercising her right to a jury trial rather than pleading guilty, the court found.

“This case is difficult because it is clothed in the emotionally-charged language of ‘judicial vindictiveness,’ a doctrine so altered from its roots that — as here — relief may be warranted even if the trial judge was not ‘vindictive’ as that word is ordinarily used and defined in the dictionary,”  the ruling said.

Baxter and her boyfriend started a fire in a Marianna hotel room when their shake-and-bake meth lab exploded. Baxter’s boyfriend was burned and the hotel, which was booked to capacity, was evacuated.



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