7/22/2010 - Posted by:
Spinella & Associates
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Pursuing Justice For Those Jailed Without A Conviction

People who are accused of crime but are kept in jail for months and even years in pre-trial detention are subjected to breath taking injustice. This is a common place circumstance throughout the country as well as Connecticut. More troubling is the limited right to petition the court once a criminal defendant is imprisoned. For imprisoned citizens convicted of crime, the right to bring a civil rights claim for mistreatment by prison officials has been greatly curtailed by Federal Statute - simply put, violation of constitutional rights that cannot be shown as intentional or part of an official policy are not compensable. For this reason virtually no civil rights lawyers practice in the area of prisoner rights. In the case of citizens who have been merely charged with crime (i.e., are incarcerated prior to trial because they cannot pay a bail-bondsmen) their right to constitutional protection remains somewhat alive in the view of the courts. For this reason our firm has successfully brought a number of cases on behalf of the innumerable prisoners detained before trial who have been subjected to enormous harm by neglect as well as intentional acts by prison authorities while confined in deplorable, dangerous conditions although convicted of no crime other than poverty and the inability to satisfy a money bond. These are cases of great injustice which exist as a result of a complete break down of our system of criminal procedure. Bluntly said, it is bad enough that people simply accused of crime are imprisoned, it is doubly troubling that they are thrown into a cesspool strapped of indignity in constant fear of physical harm. This is no exaggeration: innocent people die in jail all the time without public notice of any kind. II. Case History Such was the tragic fate of Jane Doe (all names and locations are kept confidential throughout), a young urban woman in dire medical condition left to die in prison while awaiting trial. Jane Doe was arrested on May 7, 2003, by police officers, and taken to the police station to be booked. Later that evening, between 9 and 10:00 p.m., she was transported to lock up and assigned to a cell at 9:59 p.m. She was not provided with medical treatment despite being in an obviously infirm condition. The following day, on May 8, 2003, while waiting to be presented in court, Jane Doe was found lying unconscious on her bed, with a large amount of vomit on the floor of her cell. After being treated by medical personnel and transported to a nearby hospital, Jane Doe was pronounced dead upon arrival. An autopsy was performed and the decedent’s final cause of death was found to be hypernatremia, or an excessive amount of sodium in the blood commonly resulting from a deficient level of hydration. During her stay in prison, the decedent was extremely sick and frequently vomiting. Her history of sickness related to drug abuse was well known to the defendants. The vomiting was heard by others on the cellblock. She was heard frantically calling out for assistance but was denied any medical attention by anyone monitoring the cellblock. As a result of the neglect by the staff of the holding area, including blatant disregard of its own holding procedures, Jane Doe met an untimely and readily avoidable death. From the time she was assigned to the cell until her body was found, she was denied any type of medical assistance. Interestingly, the marshal who discovered Jane Doe after her death, was unwilling to be interviewed after six attempts by an investigator. She was eventually interviewed approximately six weeks after the incident. This is especially important because she was the first one to discover Jane Doe after she passed away. In a letter by the prison authority to Judicial Marshals, it was required that “[s]upervisors assigned to cellblock duty must tour the cellblock [words blacked out on memo] and such tours must be documented and initialed.” That same letter also required that “[p]risoners held in cellblocks must be constantly monitored by those Judicial Marshals assigned to cellblock duty.” Even if one were to believe the defendants’ position (consistently contradicted) that there was only 42 minutes between the last time Jane Doe was seen alive before she was discovered dead, it could scarcely be said that she was “constantly monitored.” At least one cell block witness, however, gave a statement which indicated that Jane Doe was in obvious and verbal serious distress well before then while “lying on the floor in her own vomit, crying for help, but no one was doing anything about it.” As a consequence of the effort of a few dedicated activists and journalists this case gave rise to public attention which in turn instigated an official investigation and finding of wrong doing. Suit was brought by our office in the Federal District Court naming an array of state prison and municipal officials. The case was vigorously defended by an array of state and municipal defense lawyers, resulting in months of motion practice (pre-trial attempts to have the case dismissed on every conceivable, technical ground) and discovery, including depositions of numerous fact witnesses. As in all complex cases involving claims against public officials, we invested extraordinary effort in such matter as expert witnesses to review our claim of official misconduct. The case was ultimately resolved short of a jury verdict. The family of Jane Doe insisted on terms of resolution directed to systemic reforms as well as financial issues. Suffice to say the case was successfully resolved as to all.
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