It was surprising when we realized that someone charged with a 30 day crime would sit in jail for six months before being released. But that was the situation in 2002 when the Jail Project began.
Sometimes a solution is simple as in this case.
Clearly if someone charged with a 30 day disorderly conduct is in jail more than 30 days, something is wrong. Once the defendant was arrested and bond was set, there was no further monitoring of the case by the court until a defendant went to trial. A trial date might be six months or more after the arrest. So a defendant who could post bond would sit in jail or send in a guilty plea.
The lack of monitoring hit hardest on the innocent defendant. If he wanted a trial, he would have to sit long past his maximum sentence. So he was punished for insisting on his constitutional jury trial right.
The Jail Project changed all of that.
With the cooperation of the Greenville County Detention Center management the Jail Project was allowed to go into the jail and interview defendants charged with 30 day crimes to see if we could help. We could. Immediately we were able to investigate the cases and present facts to the judges to either get them out on their own bond or have then enter guilty pleas and be sentenced more quickly. It was our goal that no 30 day defendant would stay in jail beyond 30 days. And we did that. We often were able to get defendants out of jail after 5 or 10 days based on the facts of their cases and the fact that their release from jail did not create any danger to the community.
In addition to satisfying our main goal of equal justice for poor defendants (defendants with money could easily “bond out” on minor charges) the Jail Project had the additional benefit of saving housing costs for the jail and county taxpayers. During one four year period, we calculated that the Jail Project saved the county over $1 million. Not bad for a non-profit group.
On October 28, 2010 the Chief Justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court signed an order requiring the release of all 30 day defendants at the 30 day mark. With the issuance of this order, the Jail Project’s work was done and the project was shut down.
Jail Project — Cases
The vignettes provided below are descriptions of actual cases taken on by Law in Action Jail Project investigators. Inmates’ names have been removed for their privacy.
Conducting an initial interview, a Law in Action (LIA) investigator met the inmate. He was charged with assault and battery, which carries a maximum penalty of 30 days imprisonment. LIA helped the inmate request a personal recognizance (PR) bond – a bond that does not require payment but which stipulates that the defendant attend his scheduled court hearings based upon his written promise to appear – but it was not granted.
When the inmate had been in jail 29 days, a LIA investigator contacted the assistant solicitor posed at the Law Enforcement Center to solicit his support for the inmate’s release on PR bond. The investigator then delivered a second PR request to the offic of the inmate’s committing judge.
After reviewing his request, the inmate’s committing judge granted his release. Without LIA’s help, the inmate would have been held in jail well beoyond the maximum number of days he could be sentenced to serve if convicted be because a month after his release the inmate had still not been scheduled for a court date.
While searching the Greenville County Detention Center web page, which lists profiles for all current inmates, a Jail Project investigator discovered this inmate. He noticed that the inmate, who had been in jail over 5 months, was being held solely on a magistrate court charge: trespassing after notice. The inmate had originally been charged with burglary 1 st, but that charge had been dismissed. As the primary purpose of the Jail Project is to assist inmates with magistrate court charges, an investigator visited the inmate that afternoon.
Before the visit, the inmate was unaware that his burglary charge had been dismissed. He claimed to have had no contact with the court-appointed attorney assigned to represent him on that charge. This inmate had been in jail 150 days. He had accrued 130 days of jail credit for a magistrate court charge carrying a maximum penalty of 30 days imprisonment.
A Jail Project investigator contacted the assistant solicitor posted at the Law Enforcement Center to make him aware of the situation. He supported the inmate’s release on personal recognizance (PR) bond – a bond that does not require payment but which stipulates that the defendant attend her scheduled court hearings. The Jail Project drafted a PR bond request explaining that the inmate had been in jail well beyond the maximum number of days he could be required to serve upon conviction for his only remaining charge. The magistrate who originally set the inmate’s bond was unavailable until later in the week, so the PR bond request was sent to the inmate’s trial magistrate.
Since the Jail Project received no response to the PR request, the Jail Project through the director, Mr. Henry and with the inmate’s request, helped the inmate prepare a petition for writ of habeas corpus. The petition was forwarded to the assistant solicitor who coordinates prosecution in magistrate court for the 13 th Circuit.
After reviewing the inmate’s habeas corpus petition, a circuit court judge immediately signed an order granting the inmate’s immediate release on a PR bond.
The inmate was released from the Greenville County Detention Center later that evening.
Unfortunately, this inmate’s story is a common one because the magistrate courts in Greenville have no system to monitor inmates, protecting them from sitting in jail beyond the maximum number of days they could be required to serve if sentenced. Without Law In Action’s help this inmate would still be in jail.
Inmate said that she was in her home and the police knocked on her door then pushed their way inside. The police told her they were looking for someone. She said she lived in a rough neighborhood and that often people would hang out in or around her yard but that she was afraid to tell them to leave. She asked for a warrant and the police did not have one. There was a stem (used to take drugs) in her home. Inmate says she wants a jury trial so I have her sign the request for jury trial and appointment of counsel. I fax it to the magistrate.
During my follow up visit I find out that the inmate has a place to stay, that she does maintenance work for the man she rents her home from, and that she has never failed to appear in court. Upon return to the LIA office I sent a PR bond request to the committing magistrate. I also faxed a motion for counsel to the trial magistrate.
After receiving no response from the magistrates about the inmate getting a PR bond or an attorney and after she had served 23 days in jail for this minor charge. I also say that if she has pleaded guilty to this charge, she most likely would have been released I began to draft habeas petition for Mr. Henry to review. We have habeas petitions in templates so they are easy to follow and fill in the blanks.
Mr. Henry faxed the assistant solicitor in charge of magistrate court about this case, and asks if he can help us. Mr. Henry also says that if not we will have to file a habeas petition with the circuit court. Mr. Henry and I finish the habeas petition, the in forma pauperis, and the cover sheet. I then meet with the inmate confirming that she would like Mr. Henry to represent her in circuit court to file the habeas petition and to fill out the certificate of Indigency. Mr. Henry and I decide to wait to see whether anything happens before filing. That day she is given a personal recognizance bond of $5000 and is released from jail.
The inmate was charged with disorderly conduct. He was not transported from the detention center for his court date and was tried and convicted in his absence.
The magistrate’s office was unaware that the defendant was still in detention. There was a “problem” with the spelling of his name. It was one letter off! The conviction was set aside per our request.
In spite of the inmate having asked for a PR bond and a jury trial, the magistrate’s office asked if he wanted now to plead guilty to time served.
With Mr. Henry’s help, a habeas corpus petition was prepared in the event that the defendant was not released from jail immediately. He was released on a PR bond before we had to file the habeas corpus petition in circuit court.
A Jail Project Investigator went to visit the inmate at the Greenville County Detention Center to investigate his trespassing after notice charge. According to the inmate, he had been arrested in his aunt’s neighborhood. He had been staying with his aunt for some time, and wasn’t aware he had been placed “on notice” by the property owner.
The inmate said that the man who owned the property was, in fact, the very person who had allegedly “run him over with a truck” only a few days before. This inmate claimed that the charges against him were an act of retaliation on the part of the trailer park owner. The Law In Action obtained a copy of an arrest warrant issued for the trailer park owner’s arrest from the clerk of court and discovered that the inmate was, indeed, the alleged victim in an Assault and Battery with Intent to Kill (ABWIK) case against the owner.
LIA sent the judge who set the defendant’s bond a copy of the ABWIK arrest warrant and helped the defendant request a personal recognizance (PR) bond. However, the defendant remained in jail. The LIA visited the inmate again to remind him of his right to request a jury trial and court-appointed lawyer and told the inmate that if he wished to make those requests, he could do so at his scheduled court hearing. Two Jail Project investigators went to the magistrate’s office to watch the hearing. However, at the scheduled time, a deputy informed them that the arresting officer wasn’t able to transport the defendant due to car problems. They re-scheduled his hearing date for the next week. The Jail Project Investigator then helped the defendant request a PR bond based on the amount of days (28) he had already been in jail, which was well beyond the number of days he would normally be required to serve if he were convicted of the charge.
The next day a magistrate granted this inmate a PR bond and he was released from the Greenville County Detention Center. The inmate then requested a jury trial and court-appointed lawyer for his case.
Without LIA’s help, the defendant would have been held longer than the maximum number of days required were he convicted of the charge. Also, the defendant was unaware of his constitutional rights to request a jury trial and court-appointed counsel.
This inmate was arrested for possession of drug paraphernalia and writing five fraudulent checks, each valued at under $1000. Each one of his six charges was a misdemeanor carrying a maximum sentence of 30 days. A Law In Action investigator interviewed the inmate to review his case facts and to make him aware of his legal rights. The investigator discovered that the inmate was HIV-positive and had not been receiving his highly regimented, vital medications.
Law In Action investigated his case and determined that he had a welcome home, stable income, and had never failed to appear for court – making him a good candidate for release on personal recognizance (PR) bond. A PR bond is a written promise to appear in court and does not require an inmate to pay money or post property to be released. Law In Action helped the inmate request a PR bond. As a result of Law In Action’s help, this inmate was released 31 days before his court date, giving him the opportunity to pay restitution for his fraudulent checks prior to trial and possibly get the charges dismissed as well as the chance to obtain his medication.