In yet another blow to prosecutors, the judge presiding over the case against operators of the Florida day spa at the center of a prostitution sting that ensnared New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft ruled that surveillance video could also not be used in that trial.
The ruling comes just days after a separate judge issued the same ruling pertaining to Kraft in his individual case.
During the hearing in Palm Beach County, Circuit Judge Joseph Marx said Jupiter police did not do enough to avoid violating the Fourth Amendment rights of the patrons who were not committing a crime at the Orchids of Asia.
The spa’s owner, Hua Zhang, and manager Lei Wang have each been charged with 29 counts related to prostitution. Both have pleaded not guilty.
The suppression ruling covers all five days of the prostitution sting video, which allegedly includes the footage of the New England Patriots owner. Kraft, 77, and several defendants have pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor charges stemming from the footage and other surveillance methods.
The ruling is another setback for state prosecutors. Last week, Palm Beach County Judge Leonard Hanser ruled that the state cannot use surveillance video and other evidence in the prostitution solicitation case against Kraft. State prosecutors have said they plan to appeal.
Kraft’s lawyers have sought to suppress the purported evidence from the day spa, challenging the validity of the search warrant that let authorities to install hidden cameras in the spa. They also argued the warrant violated Kraft’s Fourth Amendment rights and state law.
Monday’s ruling means all the video footage related to the prostitution case can’t be used during the trials.
Attorneys for both Zhang and Wang presented the exhibits, documents and the suppression order from the Kraft case on Monday. Judge Marx instructed the defense team and the state attorney’s office to focus their arguments on the issue of “minimization.”
Minimization is a term used to describe the measures used by police to avoid violating the privacy rights of patrons who were not committing crimes at the time of the surveillance.
The Palm Beach County State’s Attorney’s Office conceded that law enforcement didn’t “minimize” the video recording of innocent patrons who were getting massages.
“We didn’t minimize those four individuals,” said Assistant State Attorney Greg Kridos. “We should have done it differently. We should have shut it off.”
Defense attorney Kathleen Phang, who represents Wang, argued the video should be suppressed because the patrons’ rights were violated.
Judge Marx said the search warrant did not include minimization instructions for detectives. While the affidavit told detectives where to place the cameras, it did not include instructions on how to minimize, Marx said.