When Defense Lawyers Become Prosecutors

By J. Celso Castro Alves, Truthout | News Analysis

Scales of Justice weigh heavily against Defendants in Alabama

In theory, a public defender’s mission includes dedicated advocacy for clients against whom the power of the carceral state is mobilised. In theory, a public defender’s mission includes dedicated advocacy for clients against whom the power of the carceral state is mobilized. However, in practice, defenders sometimes end up working with the forces of power — and against the best interests of their clients. (Photo: Pixabay)

On January 5, 2015, Randall H. McCants Jr. was not alone when Judge James H. Roberts Jr. of the Sixth Judicial Circuit of the State of Alabama opened his courtroom for a plea hearing. “Mr. McCants is present in court with his attorneys, Jim Gentry and Mike Cartee,” he stated. Besides the judge’s reference to McCants’ court-appointed attorneys by their nicknames, nothing appeared out of the ordinary. Roberts cited McCants’ constitutional rights before highlighting his defense attorneys’ central task: “Your attorneys are bound to do everything they can honorably and reasonably do to see that you obtain a fair and impartial trial.” McCants answered the judge’s questions with “yes, sir” and “no, sir.” Even to the charge of capital murder and the question of whether he understood that “the range of punishment is life without parole or death,” McCants responded, “yes, sir.”

According to the nine-page hearing transcript, Roberts knew that McCants had pled not-guilty during his post-arrest arraignment in January 2011. In fact, Roberts acknowledged that McCants’ attorneys had only recently “proposed a plea agreement” for the “lesser offence of murder.” Yet, at no point during the hearing did Roberts wonder about what prompted McCants’ sudden about-face. Did four mysterious years in pretrial detention impact McCants’ decision? Could McCants’ attorneys have coerced him to plead guilty by invoking fear that a greater punishment awaited him at trial? Whether McCants was mentally competent to grasp legal proceedings or understand that he was assuming full responsibility for the accidental death of a Tuscaloosa resident apparently did not cross Roberts’ mind either.

Rather, Judge Roberts proceeded with the plea colloquy by asking prosecutor Jonathan S. Cross to provide “some facts” for the first-degree murder plea. Compliant, Cross stood and delivered some skimpy facts in the most casual and sloppy fashion possible:

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Alabama prisons to improve treatment of inmates with disabilities

Maria Morris, managing attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center, announces a federal lawsuit against the Alabama Department of Corrections alleging that the system violates federal law by ignoring inmates' medical and mental health needs. Morris spoke outside DOC's offices in Montgomery, Ala., on June 17, 2014. Morris was joined by William Van Der Pol Jr., staff attorney for the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program, which is also taking part in the lawsuit, alleging discrimination against prisoners with disabilities. (Mike Cason/mcason@al.com)
Maria Morris, managing attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center, announces a federal lawsuit against the Alabama Department of Corrections alleging that the system violates federal law by ignoring inmates’ medical and mental health needs. Morris spoke outside DOC’s offices in Montgomery, Ala., on June 17, 2014. Morris was joined by William Van Der Pol Jr., staff attorney for the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program, which is also taking part in the lawsuit, alleging discrimination against prisoners with disabilities. (Mike Cason/mcason@al.com)
By Kelsey Stein – on March 16, 2016 at 9:52 AM, updated March 16, 2016 at 10:31 AM

Alabama inmates with disabilities will soon receive the necessary treatment and services, under a recent agreement between the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Alabama Department of Corrections.

SPLC filed a lawsuit in June 2014 claiming that state officials knew about problems within the system but had not acted to bring conditions to a “humane and constitutional” level. The plaintiffs include 40 named inmates who offer details about their individual encounters with inadequate health care.

The agreement outlines steps ADOC will take to ensure compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. A monitor will oversee the implementation of the agreement’s provisions.

“This agreement is an important commitment by the Alabama Department of Corrections to address the discrimination and hardship these prisoners have faced for far too long,” said Maria Morris, SPLC senior supervising attorney. “Prisoners with disabilities must have an opportunity to serve the sentence they have received – not the sentence they must endure because the state fails to respect their legal rights.”

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We’re fed up with being treated like cattle at a slaughterhouse

In my entire life, i can count myself fortunate in the aspect that i’ve never had to go to bed hungry, never had to live in filth with roaches and rats, never had to know the humiliating sting of purposefully degrading comments from someone who is supposed to be here for my protection. That all changed the moment i entered the Alabama Department Of Corrections, unprofessional, racist and ineffective custody. Where to start?

Statement of the conditions in Montgomery Women's Facility
Statement of the conditions in Montgomery Women’s Facility

At over 200% capacity, the existing facilities to house ADOC (Alabama Department Of Corrections) inmates are derelict, unsanitary, ineffective and quite frankly dangerous. Julia Tutwiler prison is almost a century old and built to house no more than 400 inmates. ADOC shows no concern for their inmates safety, nor that of their officers or the surrounding publics by cramming over three times the intended maximum capacity in an 80+ year old building that should be condemned.

Montgomery Women’s Facility is no better. Currently MWF (Montgomery Women’s Facility) is a level II Camp designed to hold 150 work release inmates. Double the number of inmates & you’ll have current MWF count, with less than 40 actively working & exercising their custody. At the time this letter is being written, MWF has no warden & the officers are taking full advantage of that fact. They have no one to answer to and unprofessional conduct, retaliation for previous slights and racially motivated incidents run amok.

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10 Working Showers Between Almost 300 Women

We have been made aware that at the Montgomery Women’s Facility there has been an issue whereby several of the shower heads were damaged or removed. The correctional staff have therefor restricted the use of showers to only those that have a working shower head, including the shower for disabled inmates.
This has resulted in only 10 showers with shower heads being available for almost 300 women and is totally unacceptable given that according to regulations inmates have to shower everyday between certain times. Come on Alabama Department Of Corrections, you have maintenance personnel, how hard is it to replace a shower head?

Only 4 microwave ovens for nearly 300 female inmates

Did you know?
Inmates have to stand in-line and wait for hours as there are only 4 microwave ovens in a dormitory that houses almost 300 women.
In addition the only access to hot water that they have for drinks etc. is from the hot faucet in the shower block.
Surely Alabama’s Department of Corrections could afford to install at least a couple more microwaves, given the millions of dollars that Alabama Department Of Corrections, makes off of each inmate via their families, over charging for canteen, phone calls, kick backs etc. etc. etc.?