An unjust burden: Black man held in US jail for decade without trail

A black man has been held in US jail without a trial and without representation for 10 years after being charged in connection with a double murder in Georgia, once more revealing the failure of US so-called justice especially towards people of color.

Maurice Jimmerson, now 32, and four others were arrested by police in 2013 for murder. A jury acquitted two of them, but for a decade, Jimmerson has spent the majority of that time in county jail, legally innocent.

Several factors such as the COVID-19 pandemic, a 2021 courthouse flood, and the decision by the previous judge to try Jimmerson and his codefendants separately caused the delay, according to Gregory Edwards, the local district attorney talking to Atlanta News First (ANF), a local news station.

Jimmerson has been left without an attorney for the past eight months due to particularly bureaucratic errors.

“The county has been unable to find a public defender for Jimmerson, which has lengthened his time behind bars,” Edwards added.

According to ANF, Jimmerson’s old attorney, Benjamin Harrell, filed requests in July and August of last year to be released from the case. But the court employees lost Harrell’s request so he was technically listed as Jimmerson’s attorney until April 12 of this year.

Though Jimmerson never received actual legal help from Harrell during this time, the Georgia Public Defender Council insists that Jimmerson has had access to legal counsel during the past eight months, despite the error.

ANF notes that Georgia’s public defender system is plagued with issues, primarily understaffing and difficulty retaining attorneys. One judge insists that they lack public defenders for the work to be done, but on the other side the director of the Georgia Public Defender Council disputes this, saying, “We have more employees than we’ve ever had in the history of the agency.”

Regardless of the source of the issues, it is indicated that when the bureaucracies go unchecked, defendants like Jimmerson—who cannot afford their own lawyers and must rely on public defenders—are in danger of being effectively denied their Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial.

The Sixth Amendment of the US Constitution guarantees people accused of crimes the right to a speedy trial and access to an attorney if they cannot afford one.

“For so many of the people that I’ve met with in jails, who have been in there for months and sometimes years, I’m the first attorney that they’ve seen,” said Maya Chaudhuri, an attorney with the Southern Center for Human Rights, an Atlanta-based civil rights organization.

Over the past few months, Chaudhuri said she’s traveled across the state tracking down people in jail charged with crimes who do not have court-appointed attorneys and Jimmerson is one of them.

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