A man whose trial made national headlines and was convicted of shooting his wife to death on a St. Johns County beach is seeking a new trial, claiming his criminal defense attorneys didn’t do their job. Among Justin Barber’s chief complaints – that his first criminal defense team was focused solely on a trial and did not do enough to negotiate a plea agreement, according to an article in the St. Augustine Record. Barber has long said he and his wife were attacked at gunpoint on the beach and he fled to get help, though the state has contended Barber killed his wife and staged the scene to try to collect a multi-million dollar insurance policy. Barber, now 30 and serving a life sentence, told the court this week he would have considered a plea agreement if he thought there was a chance he would be convicted – especially since he has talked to other inmates who reached agreements with the state and now are serving significantly less time than he is, the newspaper reported. His original criminal attorney said that Barber at one point said he would do up to three years, but was told by his Florida attorneys it would take an offer of at least 15 years to get the state into serious discussions, the newspaper reported. Prosecutors confirmed to the newspaper plea talks never started.
In cases where a person is charged with first-degree murder, it is most likely an all or nothing proposition. There is no chance prosecutors will agree to three years in prison for a man accused of shooting his wife in cold blood. None. And why would they? It would destroy further negotiations on other cases. Everyone would expect to get a three-year sentence, regardless of their charges – and it would never fly with the victim’s family. Negotiations and deals are certainly commonplace in our judicial system, but there has to be a compelling reason to bring the state to the table. And in a case like Barber’s, the state comes across better to the public if they go to trial and lose than they do if they let Barber plea to a sentence considered too soft. Two appeals have already been denied in the case. The chances are likely slim this time, too, since judges are generally hesitant to grant new trials in cases. Appeals are a part of our judicial system and, at this point, what else does Barber have to lose? But in most cases they are long shots at best. Unless errors are egregious, you typically get one shot at a trial – regardless of how many times you ask.
If you or a loved one needs a criminal defense attorney in St. Augustine or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm, PA at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation. Our St. Johns County violent crimes lawyer is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.