BROOKSVILLE, Fla. (WFLA) – A total of 872 days in the Hernando County jail disappeared before Joe Hough’s case inched forward.
The pandemic caused some delays, but Hough’s attorney Rose Feller argued he was held due to a criminal scoresheet that was “illegally” calculated by the Fifth Circuit State Attorney Office, which includes Hernando County.
Hough, 47, of Brooksville, had not been in trouble since he was 19, giving him a score of .04, according to Feller. In a matter of weeks in late 2018, that changed with two cases pushing the total close to 100, according to the prosecutor.
First was a November arrest for felony marijuana possession.
“I have my medical marijuana card,” Hough said. “But the leaf stuff is what works for me.”
A month later, Hough had pulled off on a side road to take a nap after a long drive tied to his job as a contractor.
“Officers knocked on my window and startled me,” Hough said. “I didn’t know who they were. I took off.”
The sheriff’s office alleged the vehicle fishtailed and struck the officers, prompting a battery on a law enforcement officer charge against Hough.
His bail on the first charge was revoked and he was locked up until last month without ever going to trial on either case.
Hough thought he’d never get out of jail as weeks turned to months and then years.
“All the time,” he said. “Every day.”
He said his business and marriage fell apart, his younger sister died and he missed his brother’s wedding – all during a two-and-a-half-year stint he calls a nightmare.
“When I slept,” Hough said, “I slept with a cracked eye.”
In the motion that led to Hough’s freedom, Feller argued the state attorney misrepresented Hough’s criminal history by adding the second arrest for battery as a conviction, allowing the state to “unlawfully incarcerate” him.
“They refused to do what they were supposed to do,” Feller said. “They refused to follow Florida statute. They refused to follow Florida case law. That’s scary because that could be anybody. He’s not some hardened criminal.”
Fifth District Chief Assistant State Attorney Walter Forgie disagree with Feller and said it is legal to use pending charges to calculate a defendant’s scoresheet.
“That’s how we do it,” Forgie said.
In late April, Hough pleaded no contest in the marijuana case and was released on time served. But he’s fighting the aggravated battery charge from the 2018 confrontation with deputies.
At this point, the state owes him more than 500 days as he waits for that case to proceed.
“There’s not an amount of money that you could say, ‘hey, I’d give you $10 million if you go stay 500 more days at the same place,'” Hough said. “I wouldn’t. There’s no price on freedom.”
His brother James, who used money saved to build a new home to pay for his brother’s defense, said he has noticed a troubling difference in Joseph.
“We got him physically out of jail, but they still got his mind locked up over there,” James Hough said. “We don’t know why this happened but we’re going to figure it out.”
Hough has a preliminary hearing scheduled for June in the aggravated battery case.