For Leandro Miranda, punishment on Martha’s Vineyard follows many routes

Leandro Miranda listened to a court interpreter during his appearance in Edgartown District Court on July 10. — Steve Myrick

Leandro Miranda living most recently in Oak Bluffs does not have a valid driver’s license. But that has not stopped him from driving or drinking or speeding, according to court records.

In the past five months, police have arrested Mr. Miranda, 23, a Brazilian national, four times for driving without a license. Two of those arrests resulted in charges of fleeing from police at high speeds, and operating under the influence of alcohol. Following his most recent arrest on Sunday, he posted bail and failed to appear at his scheduled Monday arraignment.

Island police are on the front lines of the cycle of arrest and re-arrest of criminals who put the community and police at risk.

“It’s extremely frustrating,” Lt. Tim Williamson of the Oak Bluffs Police Department said. “It comes down to how the district attorney is going to prosecute a case, and how a judge is going to sentence. It’s out of our hands at that point.”

Michael Trudeau, Cape and Islands first assistant district attorney, said that dealing with repeat offenders is a balancing act, and prosecutors work to ensure similar sentences for similar crimes.

“We have the public’s interest at heart in doing our job, to make sure there is a fair and just sentence that also keeps in mind our obligation to public safety,” Mr. Trudeau said in a conversation prior to Mr. Miranda’s latest arrest. “There are times when analysis of a particular case might make you wonder, but the overall picture is it’s still the best criminal justice system in the world.”

Chasing justice

Early in the morning on March 2, 2014, Oak Bluffs and Edgartown police attempted to stop Mr. Miranda after Oak Bluffs police officer Dustin Shaw spotted Mr. Miranda driving a 2005 Chrysler 300 on Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road at over 80 miles per hour. He caught up to Mr. Miranda at Dodger’s Hole. Still attempting to flee police, Mr. Miranda backed up and rolled forward several times, striking a road sign, running over shrubs and other landscaping. Officer Shaw was able to take Mr. Miranda and a passenger into custody.

Edgartown police officer Nicholas Phelps wrote in his report. “Leandro was unsteady on his feet, and had difficulty maintaining his balance. His eyes were also bloodshot and glassy.”

Mr. Miranda refused to cooperate with police when they tried to administer field sobriety tests, and refused a sobriety test at the time he was booked into the Dukes County Jail.

He was charged with negligent operation of a motor vehicle, unlicensed operation of motor vehicle, marked lanes violation, speeding, failure to stop for police, and wanton destruction of property under $250. He was arraigned on March 3 in Edgartown District Court, and released after posting $100 bail.

In keeping with standard practice for anyone who answers that he or she is not a U.S. citizen, or is unable to provide a social security number, jail officials entered Mr. Miranda’s information into the federal Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) database. There is no record that ICE took any action, and no record of any detainee order issued, which would have required authorities to hold Mr. Miranda for 48 hours.

On May 1, Mr. Miranda was back behind the wheel of the same vehicle, owned by Rogerio J. Almeida. Oak Bluffs Detective Jeffrey LaBell arrested him on a charge of operating a motor vehicle after a suspension for OUI. Mr. Almeida was cited for allowing an unlicensed person to drive his vehicle, and the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles suspended the vehicle’s registration. Mr. Miranda was released on $400 bail. At his arraignment on May 5, he was given a bail warning. He was warned by the court that if he was arrested on another offense, he could be held for up to 60 days without bail.

Arrested a third time

On July 4, at 1:30 pm, Oak Bluffs was packed with tourists, walking, biking, and driving on downtown streets. Detective LaBell, patrolling in a marked police cruiser with Officer Michael Cotrone, spotted Mr. Miranda driving the same Chrysler 300 on Dukes County Avenue. He activated his blue lights. Mr. Miranda failed to stop, and instead made a quick turn onto Masonic Avenue.

“I proceeded on to Masonic Ave. where I observed the Chrysler was completely in the oncoming lane of travel and over the double yellow line passing vehicles that were waiting in line for the Circuit Ave./Masonic Ave. stop sign,” Det. LaBell wrote in his report. After passing the line of cars, Mr. Miranda turned onto Circuit Avenue, and accelerated toward the downtown business district, still passing vehicles, as police pursued with sirens and blue lights activated.

Mr. Miranda stopped abruptly in a parking lot at 97 Circuit Avenue,  jumped out of the vehicle, and fled on foot into the Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association campgrounds, where Officer Cotrone eventually caught up with him and tackled him.

Police seized two nips of alcohol from his pockets, and a part of a 12-pack of beer, still cold, in his vehicle. Again, he refused to cooperate with police who tried to administer field sobriety tests.

At his arraignment on July 7, the court revoked bail on the previous charges, and set bail at $5,000 for the latest charges.

Bailed out

Mr. Miranda was jailed until a pre-trial hearing on July 10, when he was brought to court in handcuffs and ankle shackles. During a lull in the court procedure, Mr. Miranda spoke in Portuguese, through a court interpreter. “Am I going to be free today,” he asked Edgartown District Court Presiding Justice H. Gregory Williams. “I don’t know, not yet,” Judge Williams replied.

The Cape & Island assistant district attorney struck a plea agreement with defense attorney Charles Morano on the charges from Mr. Miranda’s first two arrests. The agreement offered to Judge Williams included guilty pleas on the OUI charge and several motor vehicle violations, stiff fines, but no jail sentence. The probation department recommended fines, instead of the normal alcohol education program, because the department was concerned that a severe language barrier would prevent Mr. Miranda from completing the program that most first offenders are required to take.

Judge Williams refused to accept the plea. He suggested to the attorneys that he would be inclined to accept a plea that included a six-month sentence, suspended for two years of probation. Mr. Miranda agreed, and pleaded guilty to OUI, negligent operation of a motor vehicle, and failing to stop for police. He also agreed to pay fines and court costs of $825, and was ordered to pay restitution for the property damage he caused.

Judge Williams told Mr. Miranda through the court interpreter that if he violated the terms of his probation on the first two charges, he could be certain of serving time.

“If you even think of driving a car without a valid license, which you won’t get for a quite a while, you’re going to jail,” Judge Williams said.

Under the bail laws, the court could have held Mr. Miranda without bail on the previous charges. But once he agreed to dispose the previous cases through a plea agreement, he could no longer be held on the revoked bail. A man identified as Jose Nascimento posted $5,000 cash bail on the latest charges and Mr. Miranda walked out of the courthouse. The district attorney could have refused to agree to a plea, but Mr. Miranda would have had the option of pleading guilty and accepting the court’s sentence, and still walked out of court after posting bail.

Mr. Miranda and an interpreter returned to court on August 7 for a pre-trial hearing on the July 4th arrest and he was asked to return for another hearing on September 4.

And again

On Sunday, August 10 Oak Bluffs police Detective Jeff LaBell was off duty when he spotted Mr. Miranda behind the wheel of a 2003 Chevy Miller Construction work van owned by Elio Nunes, according to the police report. Detective LaBell contacted Officer Dustin Shaw, who spotted the van. “The van quickly accelerated as it approached and passed my cruiser,” Mr. Shaw wrote in his report, noting that the area of Winthrop Avenue is “a very thickly settled neighborhood with a public park and many homes.”

Officer Shaw stopped the van on Winthrop Avenue where Mr. Miranda lives. When he approached the van he saw the female passenger seated in the driver’s seat. Peering through the rear van window he saw “Miranda attempting to evade detection in the rear section of his van and frantically moving items around. At this point, given his furtive movements, suspicious actions, previous interactions with police and presence of tools in the construction van that could potentially be use as weapons, I drew my issued service firearm and ordered Miranda from the vehicle.”

Mr. Miranda was arrested for operating a motor vehicle after license suspension for OUI and speeding. He was booked at the Dukes County Jail and released that night after he posted $600 cash bail.

Mr. Miranda did not appear in court Monday for his scheduled arraignment. The court issued a default warrant for his arrest and forfeited his $600.

If Mr. Miranda fails to return for his scheduled court date on September 4 Mr. Nascimento will be out $5,000. As for the $825 in fines and court costs, that has yet to be paid, according to court officials.

Wheels of justice

Repeat offenders are a source of frustration for Lt. Williamson. He reacted sharply to Mr. Miranda’s fourth arrest.

“What’s it going to take, him killing someone?” Lt. Williamson said. “This guy has fled from the police, which certainly puts himself at risk, the police at risk, and the general public at risk.”

Mr. Trudeau is also frustrated with repeat offenders, but he stressed the importance of looking at the entire criminal justice system. “There are always frustrations in dealing with repeat offenders, and how best to handle that,” he said. “It’s a balancing test that we take into account, both in charging and determining the appropriate criminal arena for prosecution.”

In Mr. Miranda’s case, speaking prior to his latest arrest, Mr. Trudeau said the plea agreements and amount of bail sought by prosecutors was consistent with similar cases.

“Often times people wonder with bail amounts that are set and posted, they think of it as punishment, and it isn’t,” he said. “It’s to ensure the defendant’s next appearance in court. This individual appeared in court. The bail statute allowing us to revoke bail was used effectively. There are often times where a sentence is handed down that takes into account a number of factors. You have public safety, mental health issues, addiction issues. The court is asked to deal with a whole bundle of causes and potential problems. The district attorney, probation, courts, and defense attorneys, do a good job trying to keep all those in balance.”

Mr. Morano, who represented Mr. Miranda in the disposition of his first two cases, declined comment.