Sunday, April 20, 2014

Cruel or Just Unusual?

Recent articles have popped up regarding  Missouri's failure to timely commit Cornealious "Mike" Anderson to the thirteen years in prison he was sentenced to for a 2000 armed robbery conviction.  Anderson filed several  post-conviction appeals and remained out on bond for thirteen years.  According to the articles that I've come across, Anderson was never directed to turn himself in after his appeals had been exhausted.  In fact, the Missouri Department of Corrections never caught the error until Anderson was supposed to be released in July 2013.  He's now sitting in prison, suing to be released.

Everyone is going to have a different opinion on whether or not Anderson should serve out the thirteen years or receive a pardon from the governor.  The real issue here is that the system failed Cornealious Anderson. If it had, he would have served his sentence and would be able to go about the business of getting his life back together (easier said than done for those trying to reenter society after a lengthy prison sentence).  So this begs the question: is Anderson's scenario cruel or just highly unusual?  As recently as 2012, a clerical error by a California corrections department  resulted in parolee Charles Anthony Edwards III being release early from a state supervised mental health program.  Edwards allegedly stabbed a 38 year-old woman to death approximately five months later.

Both cases highlight tragic results when things go awry with the criminal justice system.  Likewise, both cases offer compelling reasons for making sure that the criminal justice system is properly funded and provided with adequate resources.  Though analyzed from a different angle, this is one of the issues that I attempt to explore in the novella "Of Murder and Monsters."  It's also part of the reason that I decided to make the main protagonist an assistant public defender.  A large percentage of criminal defense cases are handled by these men and women who are expected to protect their clients' rights: without adequate support/resources; while facing crushing case loads; and for low pay that does not cover the typical monthly law school loan payment. The same can be said for prosecutors for the other side of the spectrum: although I hear that in some jurisdictions the pay scale is even lower than for their public defender counterparts.  These folks are supposed to defend rights (public defenders) and make sure that justice is served (prosecutors).  How sustainable are those ideals, then, given the current state of things?  And, if those are the conditions that are faced by the attorneys, is it really any wonder that clerical mistakes on the magnitude of the Anderson and Edwards matters have occurred?

No comments: