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Woman facing shoplifting charge has spent more than 70 days in jail pre-trial

She believes she's being pressured to take a plea
Posted at 2:55 PM, Nov 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-03 15:19:14-04

CHARLOTTE COUNTY, Fla. — A Charlotte County woman tells us she's been sitting in jail for two and half months, without a chance to bond out or go to trial.

Rachael Pierson said she is in the Charlotte County Jail because she's accused of petty theft from a Walmart in Englewood. A theft she claims she never committed.

"I don't even know why I'm being arrested for this charge," said Pierson in a phone call we conducted with her from the jail.

Her charge is a misdemeanor. She initially bonded out of jail for that, but then she said deputies stopped her for something else she disputes: Rolling through a stop sign at the intersection of Florida Ave. and 10th St. in Englewood. According to the arrest report, a man she was with got out of her car and ran, and as deputies chased him, she drove away.

In the arrest report, the deputy wrote Rachel "Continued down 10th at a high rate of speed. It was apparent the Rachel was attempted to elude me."

"Because they got me on fleeing to elude, they revoked my bail, and then when I asked for a bond hearing, they told me I was a danger to the community and did not reinstate my bond," said Pierson.

Pierson is now facing a felony for the eluding charge. Because her bond was revoked Pierson said she's spent every night at the Charlotte County Jail for the past 75 days, and she tells us she has no idea when she's getting out.

Pierson's roommate said it's wrong that her friend is being held for so long without a trial.

"You're presumed innocent," said Joan Gibson.

Gibson suspects Pierson's two and a half months in jail is prosecutors' way of pressuring her to accept a plea deal. Gibson said she reached out to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) over how long Pierson has been in jail.

We reached out to the ACLU as well. They declined to comment on this specific case, but did send a legal opinion from a a judge in the U.S. District Court in Tallahassee from a previous case that says in part "Detaining a defendant pending trial sometimes has an unwarranted coercive effect, providing an incentive to plead guilty."

We asked Rachael about that based on what could happen in court this Friday.

"Do you believe that you are being held in jail basically in order to get you to agree to a plea deal on your hearing on November 5th?" asked our reporter Rob Manch on the phone call.

"Yes," said Pierson.

Pierson said she does not plan to accept a plea deal which means she could be staying in jail even longer. That means extending the financial pain for her roommate who depends on her to share work duties and expenses.

"I currently have no water at the house because I couldn't pay the bill. Our boss desperately needs her back to work. He's behind on projects, so many things were put off during COVID," said Gibson.

Gibson said she's now on a mission to change the Florida law that lets judges keep people who aren't convicted in jail for months at a time.

“I don’t think there’s any need for a judge to have this authority when it’s in the statute that the State can file for pre-trial detention if they feel it’s needed," said Gibson.

Fox 4 will be keeping tabs on Rachael's case. We'll let you know how her hearing goes this Friday.