Forgotten Inmates: Out of Sight, Out of Mind

As troubling as it may seem, two recent yet unrelated stories indicate how an inmate can get “lost in the system”, both from the standpoint of the police investigating their crimes and from their own defense attorneys.

Javier Brown, Jr.

The first story is about Javier Brown, Jr.  A California SWAT team obtained a search warrant to enter his last-known residence, but failed to notice that the attached affidavit stated Brown had been behind bars for the last six months.  According to a Huffington Post article:

Upon entering the home at 5:30 a.m., police found Bravo’s parents and their 8-year-old grandchild, who ran into the bathroom with his grandmother, Hope. An officer kicked the door open, pointed a gun and and instructed Hope and the child to lie on their stomachs, according to the court document in case of Bravo v. City of Santa Maria.  It was only after Hope showed them a letter her son had sent from jail that the SWAT team realized Bravo wasn’t in the home. The Santa Maria Police Department subsequently searched the house and seized additional letters and photos.

Had the SWAT team realized that Mr. Brown was in custody, they would have known that not only was he not in the residence at the time they executed the warrant, but that he could not have committed the crime that was the basis of the search warrant.  Mr. Brown’s family has recently won an appeal that will allow them to sue over the incident.

LaDondrell Montgomery

The second story is about LaDondrell Montgomery, a 36 year old man who was convicted in Texas for armed robbery and sentenced to life in prison.  However, on appeal, it became apparent to both the state and the defense that Mr. Montgomery had an ironclad alibi—he was in jail at the time of the robbery.

No one, including the police, the prosecution, or his own defense attorney realized Mr. Montgomery was in jail at the time the robbery occurred. Judge Ellis, who has granted a motion for new trial, is not amused.  He stated:

“It boggles the mind that neither side knew about this during trial…Both sides in this case were spectacularly incompetent.”

Here is a Huffington Post video describing Mr. Montgomery’s case:

 

 

Arrested & Forgotten

Both these stories indicate a very troubling notion in the criminal justice world, a world which many already view as politicized and corrupt, a notion that once inmates are arrested and booked into custody, they are forgotten.  It happened to Javier Brown, Jr. and it happened to LaDondrell Montgomery.  It has happened to countless others as well, more than a just society is prepared to admit.  There is no one person to blame in these two case examples, but rather a systemic failure of the justice system.  If you watched the video above on the Montgomery case, then you saw who the prosecution blames: the inmate.  This blame is misplaced as it places the complete burden upon the defendant.  (Although, we are only left to wonder how the alibi conversation did not come up in Mr. Montgomery’s pre-trial conversations with his attorney.) The prosecution is just as much to blame.  In fact, Mr. Montgomery was in state custody at the time of the offense, and the prosecution IS the state.  How did the state NOT know of his alibi?

When an inmate goes forgotten and travesties such as these occur, we all suffer.  Think of the financial expense alone.  In Brown’s case, envision the taxpayer expense of obtaining a warrant, executing the warrant, and now, paying the legal fees defending the upcoming civil suit.  In Montgomery’s case, tally the financial expense of housing him in jail awaiting trial, seating the jury, having the trial, going through the the post-conviction process, only in the end, in all likelihood, to drop a case that never should have been filed in the first place.  Keep in mind that in both cases, the true perpetrator still needs to be found and brought to justice. The financial expenses are not only high, they are still accumulating.  However, in the end, we can place a dollar amount on this type of expense; it can be quantified.

But financial expense is not the greatest cost of these types of systemic failures.  The greatest cost is diminished faith in our justice system.  How can so many people get it wrong?  How does everyone forget that jails exist?  How do we “repay” an inmate for lost time? It is this type of expense that we cannot quantify, as it goes to the quality of our system.  If a society does not trust in its own justice system, then of what value is it?  If our justice system and all the actors in it are “spectacularly incompetent”, how do we ever achieve “justice” for anyone?

It is often said that “the wheels of justice turn, but they turn slowly”.  For many inmates, they are left to wonder whether there are any wheels at all.

 

(Disclaimer: This post is not legal advice nor does it create an attorney-client relationship.)

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