George Floyd’s criminal history is relevant for two reasons: 1) it is a prime example of how the political left fails to control political messaging; and 2) it illustrates the failures of our criminal justice system – and the need for reform. Each issue is addressed in turn.
A. The Left Allows their Messaging to be Easily Hijacked
That George Floyd’s criminal history is even being discussed shows the left cannot control political messaging.
The right is making claims across social media that George Floyd is being depicted as a martyr. In a recent video, conservative commentator Candace Owens stated:
“I do not support George Floyd and the media depiction of him as a martyr for Black America . . . . Our (Black American) culture is unique from other communities, because we are the only community that caters to the bottom denominator of our society . . . . We are the only people that fight, and scream, and demand support and justice for the people in our community that are up to no good. You would be hard-pressed to find a Jewish person who has spent five stints in prison, who commits a crime, and dies while committing a crime, and that the Jewish people champion and demand justice for. You would be hard-pressed to find this in White America, you would even be hard-pressed to find this in Latino America.
George Floyd was not an amazing person . . . . George Floyd is being uplifted as an amazing human being . . . . Everyone is pretending that this man lived a heroic lifestyle, when he didn’t. And I want to talk about what his lifestyle was leading up to this moment – and why I refuse to accept the narrative that this person is a martyr or should be lifted up in the black community.”
Even President Trump retweeted a video of Owens stating “The fact that he has been held up as a martyr sickens me. George Floyd was not a good person.”
Any sensible person would tell you a martyrdom question – or any question of Floyd’s character or past criminal history has absolutely nothing to do with the discussion of whether he was murdered by police as he lay handcuffed on the ground with three officers on his neck, back, and feet – repeatedly admonishing the officers “I can’t breathe,” and whether he was unlawfully deprived of the most fundamental of rights – life.
Any sensible person would tell you that – because it’s absolutely true. George Floyd was a victim, not a martyr. And Owens’s fallacious claim should be tossed aside like the strawman that it is – an attempt to distract from the legitimate systemic issues that exist. The focus should entirely be on police accountability – and how our system fails to provide adequate incentive for police to change their bad behavior, by subjecting them to criminal, civil, or administrative penalties.
But in rides Nancy Pelosi and saves the day for the right – exemplifying how the left fails to control political messaging – and why they lose elections. Nancy says: “The martyrdom of George Floyd has evoked such a response of peaceful demonstrators . . . .” “George Floyd’s a martyr . . . .” Why say that? Why argue that? Why toss softball after softball for the Republicans and Trump to hit out of the park?
Face it, the left let Trump hijack Colin Kaepernick’s silent protests as being an attack on the troops; they failed to control this messaging about the real issues surrounding Floyd’s death; and they are actively failing with the poorly worded “defund the police” slogan. (The right is actively attacking it as being insane.)
You’re in an election season – why make these errors when you have folks on both the left and right that are appalled by the police officers’ actions? This should be something that you cannot lose.
The left needs to put sensible people in power during primaries and stop letting bad messaging ruin the country. Restated, Trump sucks – but the people who lose to him because of bad messaging suck more.
B. Floyd’s Criminal History illustrates the failures of our criminal justice system – and the need for reform.
The most prominent way in which Floyd’s history is relevant, however, is that it illustrates monumental failures of our criminal justice system – hyper-regulation destroying lives, abusive bail practices, inept defense lawyers, prosecutors who don’t investigate and turn over exculpatory evidence, crooked cops, and bad judges.
George Floyd’s criminal history consisted of 6 felony cases and 3 misdemeanors – each case occurring within a 10 year period of his life, when he was around 24-34 years old.
His first criminal case (that I can find) was a cocaine charge, where he was accused of delivering less than one gram of cocaine to another person. He was charged on August 4, 1997, and his bond was set at $2000. He made bond the next day, and hired defense attorney Burnell Jones. On September 25, 1997, Floyd’s bond was revoked and set at $4000. He was unable to make the new bond and had to remain in custody until entering his plea on October 20, 1997. Ultimately, Jones represented Floyd for just at two months before the plea was entered. The result? On Floyd’s first ever case, he became a convicted felon and received a 180-day sentence. No pretrial diversion, no deferred adjudication, no probation, no first-offender program, no boot camp, no shock probation, nothing. Just forever a felon for a first-time drug offense (and a small one at that).
Oh, and his defense lawyer Jones? — according to the State Bar of Texas he has had five bar suspensions – totaling about 7 years of active suspension. Nevertheless, he remains in practice today.
Floyd’s second criminal case was an aggravated robbery case, where he was accused of robbing a man with a gun. On September 25, 1998, Floyd’s bond was set at $30,000 and he made a bond that was later revoked. It appears he did not, or could not, make a subsequent bond and he had to remain in custody until entering his plea. Floyd had a court-appointed lawyer in the case, Daniel Keele, appointed on January 28, 1999. On February 11, 1999, Floyd entered a plea to a reduced felony charge of theft from person — less than two weeks after getting his lawyer. According to the fee voucher submitted in the case, Keele was paid $260 for those two non-trial appearances. Keele did not bill for any out-of-court or investigation hours. Just an appearance to meet a guy, and an appearance to plea him out. Nothing in between. This became Floyd’s second felony conviction.
Floyd’s third criminal case was a misdemeanor theft case, where he was accused of stealing between $50-500 worth of stuff. He was given no bond, despite being entitled to one under the Texas Constitution. Floyd received a court-appointed attorney on his first court setting, and entered a plea that same day. It goes without saying that no investigation was done beyond perhaps reading an offense report. Nor can the prosecutors turn over all exculpatory evidence (a due process requirement) without actually investigating the case, either. I cannot tell who the lawyer was. He received ten days in jail.
Floyd’s fourth criminal case was a misdemeanor failure to ID case (even though there was no other corresponding criminal charge, so…. ID for what?), where his bond was set at $3000. Floyd could not make bond. Floyd received a court-appointed attorney, David Garza, at his first-setting. Floyd also entered a plea at that very first appearance. Again, no legitimate investigation can be done when you meet a client and then plead him out within minutes of meeting him. And, also again, the State cannot turn over exculpatory information without doing an investigation either.
Floyd’s fifth criminal case was a felony drug case, where he was accused of possession of less than a gram of cocaine. Because of his prior convictions, Floyd was charged as a habitual offender. Floyd’s bond was set at $15,000 on October 29, 2002. He did not, or could not, make bond until January 26, 2003. On February 28, 2003, Floyd failed a drug test and despite being entitled to a bond under the Texas Constitution, he was given no bond. Floyd received a court-appointed attorney, Geraldo Acosta, on March 3, 2003. On that same date, he entered a plea and received an 8-month jail sentence. Yes, a defense lawyer pled him to another felony conviction minutes after meeting him.
Floyd’s sixth criminal case was a misdemeanor trespassing case, filed January 3, 2003. His bond was set at $5000 and he spent 23 days in custody before he could make bond. Floyd hired an attorney to represent him and he entered a plea on March 5, 2003. He received a 30 day sentence. Despite having pled to a felony just two days prior, his lawyers did not coordinate to work out a deal to get this case dismissed.
Floyd’s seventh criminal case was a charge of delivering less than one gram of cocaine to a person named Gerald Goines on February 5, 2004. Goines is a former Houston Police Department officer that is currently charged in State and Federal Court with counts such as witness tampering, falsifying government records, and murder – all uncovered following a botched raid that resulted in the shooting deaths of two homeowners – and police officers being shot. Following the investigation, it was determined that Goines lied in the affidavit to secure the search warrant – stating that an informant made a controlled buy of drugs from the homeowners. In reality, there was no such informant. Following Goines’ arrest, the Harris County District Attorney’s Office began reviewing his old cases – declaring that at least 91 more drug convictions will be overturned (others have already been declared actually innocent). Turning back to Floyd’s case, on March 8, 2019, the District Attorney’s Office sent Floyd a letter concerning Goines’s involvement in his case – sixteen years after he entered a guilty plea in the case.
Aside from the Goines issue, and perhaps the State’s failure to turn over exculpatory evidence related to it, his case had some of the same problems we’ve seen above. $15000 bond, his bond was revoked and he was unconstitutionally set at no bond. Sat in custody for three months before entering a plea to another felony conviction.
Floyd’s eighth case was another cocaine case, where he was represented by attorney Jerome Godinich. A 2019 Houston Chronicle article discussed Godinich – including that he had 583 appointed cases in one year – apparently the most of any lawyer in Houston. A 2009 Houston Chronicle article discusses how Godinich was chastised by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals for repeatedly missing filing deadlines in death penalty cases — and how he averaged representing 360 felony cases per year during that time period. How can a lawyer adequately represent that many people in one year? Following a guilty plea, Floyd received a 10 month sentence and another felony conviction.
Floyd’s ninth and final case was an aggravated robbery case, where he was accused of being a part of a home invasion with five other men – and that he placed a gun to the woman occupant’s abdomen demanding to know where the drugs and money were. A home invasion to rob a drug dealer? These are natural results when drugs are criminalized, and distribution and production is placed in the hands of criminals. Want to get rid of these issues in society? Get rid of drug laws. Ultimately, Floyd received a 5-year sentence in this case. This case does not appear to be as rife with issues as many of his other cases – and based on Floyd’s criminal history and the result, I expect that court-appointed attorney Laine Lindsey did a good job. The expense reports also indicate that he actually spent time investigating the case.
If a jury ultimately determines that Derek Chauvin and the other officers murdered Floyd, this will not have been the first time that the criminal justice system failed that man. Floyd might not have been a good person. He might have been a bad person; he might have even been a terrible person. But he was a person. And persons accused of crimes are entitled to have effective counsel, reasonable bail, judges who follow and apply the law, and prosecutors and cops who don’t cheat merely to get convictions. And we should stop locking humans up for victimless crimes – labeling them felons and destroying their lives and reputations.
Learn the true lessons from Floyd’s criminal history.