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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The warden refuses to listen to cries for help.

I was just released form the Montgomery Women’s Facility yesterday, 06/07/2016. The medical staff there has got to be the worst in the world. I spent 1 1/2 years in pain and sick only to find out last month I had “some kind” of mass in my side. I was given meds that I was allergic to, causing serious side effects. I have witnessed individuals become ill and need immediate attention and told to put in a sick call.

The heat inside the warehouse is over 100 degrees as we speak. Yet when organizations offer to donate a/c systems they are turned down even though women are falling out with heat exhaustion. Rules change not just on a daily basis but on the same shift from officer to officer. Why? Because the officers are allowed to run this camp, not a warden.

This facility is supposed to be for work release, yet over half are not. This facility currently houses 300 people in an 75 x 95 tin building. It is filthy, over run with rats, roaches and flies. The septic system must be emptied at least once a month and the fumes are toxic. There is a constant gas leak outside the building that causes nausea and head aches.

The water is from the prison next door and is constantly being shut off. State jobs are not assigned to age appropriate individuals. Often women over 50 will be put on outside/inside grounds working harder than some men. Not only are women punished for infractions with write ups they then must do extra duty. Does not matter if you are smoking in an unauthorized area or have a dirty urine the punishment is the same.

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