Friday, May 9, 2014

U.S. criminal justice system can be merciful: case of Cornealious Anderson

A lot has been said and written about racism and discrimination in the U.S. criminal justice system, and how African Americans and so-called people of color are disproportionately -- and are more likely to be -- convicted than white accused persons. While discrimination does exist, the justice system can be merciful sometimes.

Cornealious "Mike" Anderson was arrested in 1999 and convicted in 2000 for participating in a robbery. He was sentenced to 13 years in prison. He was released on bail pending the outcome of his appeal. He lost the appeal, but due to a "clerical error" the state of Missouri "forgot" about him and he was never asked to report to prison to serve his sentence. From 1999 to 2013 -- while waiting to be summoned to prison -- he never tried to flee or change his identity. He build a career, led a law-abiding life, paid taxes and started a family in Missouri.

In July 2013 -- thirteen years after the conviction -- the State of Missouri realized the error. Anderson was arrested and asked to serve 13 years in prison. He was reportedly moved to a permanent prison (Southeast Correctional Centre in Charleston, Missouri) in November 2013 to serve his sentence -- thirteen years after the fact. A legal battle ensued.

But on Monday 5 May 2014 a judge reportedly lauded Cornealious "Mike" Anderson's "exemplary" behavior during his thirteen years out of prison and ruled that keeping him in prison would serve no purpose. The judge ordered his release.

In my view, Judge Terry Lynn Brown did the right thing. Ordering Anderson to serve thirteen years in prison more than a decade after he was convicted and sentenced would have been a violation of due process. Although Anderson was physically a free man for thirteen years, I believe he was mentally not free - with the threat and possibility of imprisonment hanging over his head -- for thirteen years. The fact that he stayed out of trouble with the law for thirteen years, started a career, never tried to escape or change his name, paid taxes, got married and had four kids -- in Missouri -- shows that he is a changed man, which is anyway the desired effect of prison sentences. Sending him to prison, thirteen years after he was sentenced, would have been, in my view, unnecessary and unjust to him, his wife and four innocent kids. It wasn't his fault that the State of Missouri "forgot" to enforce his sentence.

By tampering justice with mercy, judge Brown showed that despite reports of racism in the U.S legal system, the system can be merciful sometimes - even to African Americans.

A petition on calling for the release of Cornealious Anderson gathered 35,000 signatures. Thumbs up to all change agents who signed the petition and to attorney Patrick Michael Megaro who represented Anderson.

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