When the Prison System Violates a Court Order to the Disadvantage of a Defendant, Tough Luck Says Court of Appeals
Courts in criminal cases don’t feel that they have equity powers. In the latest decision wherein any layman would expect the court to act leniently, the Court of Appeals held that a defendant who was improperly transferred to the Department of Corrections (prison) could not have his sentence modified by the Circuit Court due to lack of jurisdiction even though the Circuit Court had ordered the defendant to remain in its jurisdiction (the County jail ) and the Department of Corrections violated that order by mistake! (In Virginia, once a Defendant is transferred to Department of Corrections, and after 21 days have passed, a judge can not change the Court’s order. Had the jail kept the defendant as was ordered, the judge could have modified the sentence).
This was not a small issue for the defendant. He had been sentenced to 43 years in prison. The prosecutor was willing to ask on the reconsideration motion that he be released due to his cooperation in another case and the trial court said that the defendant would have been entitled to some relief!
As the dissent noted, this was a correct legal decision, but was completely unfair through no fault of the defendant. You think?
The case is Stokes v. Commonwealth, No. 0090-12-1 (January 15, 2013)
Courts feeling locked into punishing a defendant because of procedural constraints is not unusual. A few months ago, the Court affirmed a conviction for someone that itself recognized was innocent.