UPDATE: It's been months since his story came to public view, and Kevin Smith of Louisiana is still behind bars.
Activist Shaun King brought Smith's story to light last November just before he was preparing to be released after spending eight years in jail without being given a trial — or so it seemed.
As it turns out, Smith's family reached back out to King to inform him that Smith was still locked away. They wrote in an email:
"Good Morning Mr. King!
Kevin is still incarcerated! He was released from Orleans Parish Prison, however the parole board is holding him until March 04, 2022. The Orleans Parish District Attorney was very sore that he was not convicted so Kevin believes that he has something to do with him being held on the parole end! He had been in jail since Feb 2010. Kevin is currently being held at the River Correctional Facility."
Smith still had not gone to trial or been convicted of a crime. So, what grounds do they have now to keep him rotting in a cell?
According to King, the answer is that state officials claimed Smith was in violation of his parole because he didn't properly change his mailing address some years ago.
As a result, Smith is being forced to serve out his parole in prison until 2022 when it is set to expire.
“Simply put, the District Attorney was not able to convict him,” Martin Regan, one of Smith’s former attorneys, told King. “They dragged their feet and when they got to the parole board they brought people in who did not know the case. The parole board accepted the testimony of some unsworn witnesses who inaccurately presented the case. It was an injustice.”
If this sounds completely and utterly absurd, that's because it is. However, it is Smith's reality.
“I’ve never seen anything so corrupt and outrageous in my life,” wrote King, noting that Smith is now approaching his ninth year in jail despite never formally being convicted of any crime.
King is urging his followers and other social activists to organize to fight for Smith's release and for changes in the system to be implemented to prevent future injustices like this.
If there was ever any doubt that the criminal justice system needs drastic reform, Smith's case should serve as proof that it absolutely does.
It’s no secret that the United States justice system is broken. All you have to do to confirm that is ask a Louisiana man who has sat in jail for over 3,000 days without a trial.
Kevin Smith, a man who — at some point — faced a 20-year to life sentence in prison for a non-violent drug offense, was arrested on Feb. 11, 2010, after federal and state officials found small bags of crack cocaine inside a safe at his New Orleans home.
While it's Smith's Constitutional right to have access to a speedy trial, the justice system allowed him to rot behind bars for eight years as he waited for his case to be tried. Now, the judge is blaming the horrific delay on Smith and his attorneys.
Originally, the trial on the charge of felony possession with intent to distribute the illicit drugs was scheduled for Aug. 9, 2011. But because the prosecutors claimed they had found new evidence, the trial was postponed.
During this time, state attorneys prosecuting the case dismissed the original charge, bringing up a new one instead. This course of action delayed the process again, giving the prosecutors a two-year deadline to bring Smith to trial. His next date was set for Aug. 29, 2012.
Then, as Hurricane Isaac hit the state just one day before the 2012 trial, the courthouse was forced to close down. After the storm passed, prosecutors argued that their two-year deadline was reset, citing a law passed after Hurricane Katrina, according to The New Orleans Advocate.
The case was eventually transferred to another section of the court and to another judge, who was only handed Smith's case in May 2013.
Smith claimed he was not guilty and rejected a 10-year plea deal. Instead, he said he wanted the case to be tried to prove his innocence. After filing a motion for a trial and passing a mental competency exam, his attorneys were the ones who made it difficult for Smith to get to court, as they told the court they weren't ready.
With both sides now requesting delay after delay, Smith acted on his own, requesting his case to be dismissed as his Constitutional right to a speedy trial hadn't been upheld.
With his attorneys jumping to his defense once again, they asked Criminal District Court Judge Tracey Flemings-Davillier to dismiss the case — a request that was denied since both the hurricane and the mental competency test were seen as justifiable reasons for a trial delay.
Fortunately for Smith, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal agreed with him when the ruling was later appealed. As the new ruling ordered Smith to be freed, prosecutors hit back, appealing the second ruling.
Thankfully, the Louisiana Supreme Court declined to hear the case, forcing Flemings-Davillier to concede, but not before telling prosecutors they could argue against Smith. Despite having been given the green light to argue against Smith, state attorneys finally dropped their case on Monday. Smith was allowed to leave jail exactly 2,832 days after he was first locked away.
Despite having proven he was denied his Constitutional right, the judge and prosecutors still maintain that the only reason Smith was in jail for so long without having his case heard was that motions made by him and his attorney delayed the procedure.
Like a bad movie, the state's justice system made a mockery of Smith's plight, blaming the inmate for their incompetence.
Unfortunately, that is a reality for many.
Banner/thumbnail credit: REUTERS/Jenevieve Robbins/Texas Dept of Criminal Justice