Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

A criminal-justice nightmare: 32 years in prison without a conviction

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Richard Pérez-Peña reports in the NY Times:

The legal record shows that Jerry Hartfield’s first murder conviction was thrown out on appeal, and for the next 32 years, he was not officially guilty of anything, not sentenced to anything. Yet he spent that time in Texas prisons, in what an appellate court now calls “a criminal justice nightmare.”

He was finally tried and convicted again in 2015, but on Thursday, Mr. Hartfield moved closer to freedom than he has been in decades. A state Court of Appeals ruled that he was not only denied his constitutional right to a speedy trial, but to a degree the court had neither seen nor imagined before; it noted that the important precedents dealt with delays of three years, six years, eight years — not 32.

The three-judge panel dismissed the indictment against Mr. Hartfield, who is developmentally disabled, in effect erasing the recent conviction. But it is still not clear whether, or when, he will get out of prison.

“We are deeply mindful that our conclusion today means that a defendant who may be guilty of murder may go free,” Judge Gina M. Benavides wrote for the Court of Appeals. “However, based on the United States Constitution, it is the only possible remedy.”

All told, Mr. Hartfield, now 60, has spent more than 40 years behind bars for the murder of a bus station ticket clerk.

His case can seem like something out of absurdist fiction: a court ruling ignored or forgotten, an appeal dismissed by a court that agreed with the substance but said it had been filed under the wrong statute, a retrial after most of the evidence had been lost and witnesses had died, and an argument by prosecutors that Mr. Hartfield, himself, was to blame for the delays, and caused them intentionally.

“Once you call this Kafkaesque, you can’t really call anything else Kafkaesque, because there’s nothing else remotely like this,” said David R. Dow of the University of Houston Law Center, one of the lawyers who represented Mr. Hartfield on appeal. “This was the perfect storm of everything that could go wrong with the criminal justice system.”

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 January 2017 at 4:28 pm

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