What happens when a judge’s faulty order violates a defendant’s due process rights?
Debra Jones, a circuit judge in Calhoun County, Ala., says that kind of judicial misbehavior undermines local residents’ ability to trust that elected court officials will uphold the law and protect them from miscarriages of justice.
And Jones said she couldn’t blame Anniston resident Kelley Tyson if her trust in the local court system was gone.
Anniston resident Kelley Tyson sits outside the home where she was arrested last week. Photo Credit: Trent Penny, The Anniston Star
That’s because Tyson was thrown in jail last week for failing to meet her probation officer for the
past six months. The problem is this: Tyson never knew she was granted probation after she pleaded guilty to stealing copper last August, court officials recently testified.
Former Circuit Judge Joel Laird never notified Tyson or her defense attorney about her Sept. 16 probation hearing, held the hearing without either defendant or her attorney being present and ordered Tyson to three months probation, those officials testified in Jones’ courtroom Friday. But, in the last of a series of missteps, Laird didn’t file that probation order until four months after the fact – on Jan. 18, 2011, the day Laird left office after Jones beat him in the November elections.
That raised flags with workers at the local probation office, who received notification of Tyson’s probation and restitution requirements in early February.
“We got a letter February … the order saying Tyson was placed on probation Sept. 9,” said Jeff Cobb, Tyson’s probation officer. “That was odd … this was the first order I’d seen.”
So neither Tyson nor her probation officer had known they were supposed to be meeting regularly for the past five months, Cobb said.
He said he waited until March 1 to file a delinquency report on Tyson, in case she hadn’t received notice about the probation arrangement until February, either.
Tyson hadn’t. So when police arrived at her Anniston home last week and arrested her for a probation violation, she was shocked. Her husband was angry. When Jones found out from Tyson’s husband what had happened, she was angry, too.
Jones held an emergency hearing Friday, where prosecutors and probation officers testified that blame for Tyson’s unlawful arrest rested squarely on Laird’s shoulders.
Attempts to reach Laird for the story were unsuccessful. But Jones had plenty to say about Tyson’s treatment.
“I hereby find there has been a great miscarriage of justice here; I apologize to you,” Jones said to Tyson at the end of the hearing. “I cannot make it right. All I can do is recognize that this…order entered by Judge Laird is in error.”
To read the full story in The Anniston Star, click here.