Thursday, August 20, 2015

In which I am feeling utterly and totally defeated because of a man I will never meet

It is because of cases like this that so many criminal defense attorneys burn out, run for the hills or the beaches or the forest. It is so hard to be part of a system that allows this to happen, that considers this an acceptable result.

Jerry Hartfield has been in prison for over 35 years. Even though since 1980, he has not had a conviction.  He hasn't been sitting in a county jail waiting for trial with the attorneys working on things that lead to the trial being delayed. He's been in the state prison system, being treated like he was convicted of rape and murder. For decades.

His own lawyer didn't seem to understand that having his conviction overturned meant the state didn't get to continue to hold Hartfield. It was that very lawyer who worked to get the governor to commute Hartfield's non-existent death sentence to life. And then that was it. Hartfield sat in prison. He sat and sat and sat. With no conviction, no sentence, no authority to hold him at all.

All until finally some other inmate looked through his paperwork and discovered the blatantly obvious error. So Hartfield began raising the very logical and thoroughly undebatable argument that his right to a speedy trial had been denied.

That's a constitutional right, you know. It's one that matters. We don't allow states to hold on to defendants, imprison them indefinitely without requiring those states to present evidence in court, to prove their cases. Why we don't allow defendants to be held indefinitely without a conviction shouldn't require explanation. Evidence disappears, memories fade, witnesses die. It becomes more and more difficult for defendants to counter claims against them the longer the gap between the alleged crime and the trial.

As I wrote before, that Jerry Hartfield's constitutional right to a speedy trial has been violated is not something any rational person can deny. But, sadly, as I also wrote before, the person charged with deciding that issue was woefully irrational and refused to release Hartfield. Even in part blamed him for his plight, for the prosecution's utter and total failure to do anything after his original convictions were reversed, for the state's prison system's utter and total failure to release him.

And now a jury has reconvicted him of that 1976 crime. 125 people on the state's witness list are now dead. The murder weapon is missing. Other pieces of physical evidence are long gone. But, gee, his ability to defend against the state's accusations couldn't have been too prejudiced because a jury found him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. So, I guess we're all good now. Those 30+ years of the state of Texas ignoring Jerry Hartfield is just wiped off the slate.

I am so disheartened by this result, I have no more words.

In all honesty, with no hyperbole, I have to say I do not know how to continue working in a system that considers this outcome justice.
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