Apr. 12, 2011

A Clarification and a Correction

Ira writes:

In the weeks since our show "Very Tough Love" about Judge Amanda Williams, a few things have come to my attention that I'd like to clarify:

1. Appeals

A few people have asked about a claim made by attorney Jim Jenkins in the story. He says that if someone is unhappy with some sanction levied by Judge Williams in drug court "there is no provision at all for any kind of appeal. And that’s one of the other real problems with the procedures of this particular drug court. If Judge Williams sentences you to 30 days or an indeterminate sentence, there is nothing that can be done. Period. You can’t appeal. There’s nobody to go to."

To clarify what he's saying: he's saying there's no procedure to contest any particular sanction. You can't compel Judge Williams or another judge to review your 30 day sentence for relapsing, or your indeterminate sentence. A public defender who worked in the drug court confirmed this. As far as I can tell, that's completely accurate.

Some listeners believed Jenkins meant something bigger: that there was no literally no legal recourse for a defendant in that situation. That's not true. There aren't great options, but there are options. A defendant who's unhappy with one of Judge Williams' sanctions can ask to be terminated from drug court. If they do that, they'll serve the time for the crime that got them into drug court in the first place.

And there's something called a habeas petition - where a defendant can attempt to withdraw his original guilty plea (which was a prerequisite to enter drug court) and be retried on the original charge. In a 2004 case called State v Stinson, the Georgia Supreme Court (affirming a decision by Judge Williams) declared that a drug court defendant can't withdraw his original guilty plea and be retried, if there's no mistake or irregularity in the original plea. So you can get a new trial only in very specialized circumstances. Something had to be wrong with your original plea. For instance, Charlie McCullough, who was in our radio story, eventually was released on a habeas petition. As his lawyer explained to me, this was possible because Charlie's original guilty plea was for the crime of attempting to purchase ecstasy (this is what he was charged with when he got into court) but in fact he'd tried to purchase LSD, not ecstasy.

You can also file a habeas on a Constitutional defect. The most common is ineffective assistance of counsel. Charlie relied on that in his habeas petition as well.

Other longshot appeals? If Judge Williams terminates you, you can ask a court of appeals to consider the case for possible appeal. If she terminated you improperly or if there was a clear error in law, they should let you appeal.

As for appeal rights that are waived on entering drug court: Judge Williams has drug court participants sign a waiver saying that they will not recuse her from their case "irrespective of defendant's success or failure" in the program. The waiver means she is the judge on termination hearings. As I stated in our broadcast, this goes against the standards and recommendations of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, which recommend that a judge allow a defendant to recuse him or her from termination hearings.

2. Kim Spead

On our website and in the transcript of the radio story I stated that Kim Spead was kicked out of drug court for not paying her drug court fees, and then served 12 months for her original crime. Reviewing the court documents, I believe this is not correct. Although she did serve 12 months, it was not because she was kicked out of drug court. I believe she was not kicked out.

So what did she serve 12 months for?

It appears to be for the crime stated in the original bench warrant that put her in jail: for violating "the terms and conditions of the Drug Court sentence and the Drug Court Contract as follows: failure to appear for court on May 6, 2003." Kim hadn't paid her fees and was summoned to court about it on that day.

In addition, I originally stated on our website that Kim agreed to pay extra drug court fees AFTER she graduated drug court, but it was before.

We've posted a corrected version on the site.