Jailhouse Lawyer’s Pristine Legal Analysis

Lest we attorneys think our legal education is an absolute necessity to perform proper legal analysis, Calvin Duncan, a man with a 10th Grade education, did so so for 23 years while a prisoner in the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola.  That was his assigned job and the state paid him $.20 per hour to do it during his incarceration.  Duncan helped his fellow prisoners with their cases in this way.

He became good at it and was able to procure the release of several of his fellow inmates.  He could spot legal issues, new how to frame the argument and was relentless in his pursuit of justice.  Eventually, seasoned lawyers sought his advice.

Although a very tough legal argument, Duncan repeatedly brought to the U.S. Supreme Court’s attention that failure to have a unanimous verdict in a criminal conviction was a violation of an accused’s Constitutional rights.  After decades of raising the issue, the U.S.  Supreme Court has agreed to hear his argument.  The issue presented is:  “Whether the Fourteenth Amendment fully incorporates the Sixth Amendment guarantee of a unanimous verdict?”  If he wins the argument, it could save hundreds of Louisiana prisoners from life sentences.  In 2018, Louisiana citizens amended the state Constitution to require unanimity for criminal convictions occurring after 2018.  Says G. Ben Cohen, the attorney appointed to represent the petitioner:  “The lessons that Calvin taught me were not just about the law.” “They were about not giving up.” Liptak, Adam, New York Times, Sidebar, Aug. 5, 2019.

Interestingly, Mr. Duncan was convicted by a unanimous jury, so he could never benefit from winning his legal argument.  Although sentenced to life, the Innocence Project New Orleans procured his release in 2011 as part of a deal where Mr. Duncan pled guilty to a lesser charge in exchange for a sentence of time served.  He has always maintained his innocence. Upon release, he immediately went to the Tulane Campas stating that he wanted to go to school at that university.  Last year, he graduated.


Former Juvenile Judge Jailed

In 2014, former Hamilton County Juvenile Judge Tracie Hunter was convicted of a felony for giving her brother, a juvenile court employee, confidential information.  Then Judge Norbert Nadel sentenced Ms. Hunter to 6 months in jail.  Since then, Ms. Hunter has appealed the conviction in both state and federal court.  In May 2019, federal court Judge Timothy Black found that Ms. Hunter had received a fair trial.  He refused to comment on the sentence, which he said was for the state court to decide.

On July 22, 2019, now Judge Dinkelacker ordered Ms. Hunter to begin her 6-month jail sentence.  Chaos erupted in the courthouse as Judge Dinkelacker ordered the deputies to take Ms. Hunter into custody.  Hunter went limp in a deputy’s arms, resulting in her being dragged from the courtroom.  Now retired Judge Nadel stated that Ms. Hunter was convicted by a jury, was unrepentant for her misconduct, and the sentence was a correct one. Hunter supporters claim the conviction was politically motivated due to Ms. Hunter, a Democrat, taking a seat formerly held by a Republican.

On October 21, 2014, Ms. Hunter’s Ohio law license was suspended due to her felony conviction.  A felony suspension is an interim suspension.  Now that all appeals or proceedings have been concluded, Ms. Hunter will undergo disciplinary proceedings to determine the length of her suspension from the practice of law.


WRONGFUL ARREST! Young Mom Loses Children, Job In A Case of Mistaken Identity.

On April 11, 2019, Hamilton County Sheriff’s Deputies arrested Ashley Foster in the Target parking lot on a bench warrant issued from Brown County.  Ms. Foster insisted it was a case of mistaken identity. With her at the time were her young sons, the youngest of which was 8 weeks old.  The Sheriff’s Deputies would not let her feed the baby or change his diaper.  Instead, they arrested her and allowed her to listen to the baby scream.  The children were placed into the custody of Child Protective Services, while Ashley spent the next 7 days in jail, losing her job in the process.  When she was finally transported to Brown County, the Aberdeen police officer that came to interview her realized he had the wrong person.  Meanwhile, the Ashley Foster that was the culprit of the crime had fled.

One must wonder what possible threat this young mother with two small children could pose to armed Sheriff’s Deputies to warrant disallowing her to feed, change and comfort her children.  And why is it that this Aberdeen police officer could not travel to the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department, a mere 42 minutes away, that same afternoon to discover that Ms. Foster was not the criminal?

This, of course, is not the first case of mistaken identity.  There have been many, many others.  In July 2018, a jury awarded Marvin Seales of Harper Woods, Michigan $3.5 million when he was arrested in a case of mistaken identity.  Although he insisted that he was not the right person, the police, booking agents, and sheriff’s intake agents would not listen.  It was not until two weeks later, at his preliminary hearing that the victim of the crime stated that Marvin was not the guy that committed the crime.  The District Judge signed the dismissal that day.  In his case, Mr. Seales did not lose his family or his job.  But he wondered what would have happened if he had.  About his civil case against the Detroit Police, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals stated:

“There is no evidence that the officers made any attempt to verify Seales’ identity,” the 6th Circuit wrote. “Nothing suggests that the officers checked Seales’ fingerprints, photographs or biographical information against the information that they had on Siner. It appears that they failed to confirm Seales’ identity, even though simple identification procedures would have revealed the mistake.”

In this day and age when identity theft is so prevalent, it seems that extra precautions are warranted to ensure that police arrest the right person.  For example, if police are not able to verify the arrestee’s identity within a reasonable time, say four (4) hours, the arrestee should be released.  And this should apply no matter where the arrest occurs.