Monday, April 21, 2014

Apparently, there is one district court that does NOT know what a Constitutional speedy trial violation looks like

Or

Things that make Sarah's head explode

Or

How to keep a guy in prison for 30+ years without convicting him of anything

Or

Oh For F***'s Sake!!

Ok, first, go read this post from January, 2013.

Jerry Hatfield is still in prison. A year plus later from that previous rant. He has been there since the 1970s. As of 1980, there has been no conviction. That didn't stop the Governor from commuting his (non-existent) sentence from death to life in 1983. And it didn't stop the Department of Corrections from holding him. And holding him. And holding him.

Finally, around 2006, another inmate pointed out to Mr. Hartfield that he should have received a new trial long ago. So Mr. Hartfield, having long-since been abandoned by his defense counsel (who thought the commutation ended it, even though there was no conviction and thus no sentence to be commuted), filed a pro se motion saying, "Hey, remember me."

Eight years ago, it was brought to the attention of DOC, the prosecution, and the court that Mr. Hartfield has been held in prison since 1980 even though there was no conviction. Eight freakin' years ago! And in all that time, Mr. Hartfield has not had one moment of freedom.

Unbelievably, the most recent court ruling was in the news last week and it was essentially this: Mr. Hartfield himself is responsible for the delay in retrying him. Because he didn't assert his right.

Let's refresh the law: there are four factors for a district court to consider in deciding whether a constitutional speedy trial violation has occurred (listed in my previous post). In this case, 3 of the 4 weigh against the state. Heavily. More heavily than anything I could have possibly imagined. Weight of the world heavily. The state has no excuse for the delay of decades. There go factors 1 and 2. And factor 4 is a no-brainer, that a decades-long delay between crime and trial puts a serious crimp in a defendant's ability to defend himself.  But because this one factor is a wee bit problematic, according to this judge, free pass for the state's complete and total failure to prosecute its case for decades. DECADES! (Man, this case makes me ranty.)

Never mind that apparently no one ever told this defendant that he had a right to a new trial, that even his defense attorney (incompetent fool that he is) thought the 1983 commutation of a sentence that didn't exist for a conviction that had been overturned was a good result. Never mind evidence of the defendant's diminished mental capacity. Never mind that since 1980, the state made not one single attempt to bring Mr. Hartfield to trial. Never mind that the state and the state alone bears responsibility for bringing any case to trial.

Nope. All that matters is that he didn't speak up until 2006. So the state can keep him behind bars without a conviction and can try to re-try him despite decades having now passed, meaning evidence is gone, witnesses dead, etc.

In all my years of doing this work, in all my decades of activism on the death penalty and other issues, in all my reading on wrongful convictions and criminal justice flaws, I have never seen anything more infuriating, more outrageous than this ruling. I'm so infuriated, I can't even rant about it anymore.

There is no excuse for any court anywhere getting this case in front of it and ruling in any other way than that Mr. Hartfield is to be released immediately with no further prosecution. Period. End of story. Anything else is unacceptable. Utterly and totally unacceptable on every level, in every way. And if I actually have to explain why to anyone, I will probably curl up in a ball in the corner of my closet and cry.

Let Jerry Hartfield go already!

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