This man has been in pretrial detention for 10 years. Why?
A Georgia man waiting more than a decade behind bars for his day in court is one step closer to moving his case forward after an Atlanta News First investigation.
Dougherty County, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - A Georgia man waiting more than a decade behind bars for his day in court is one step closer to moving his case forward.
On Tuesday, Maurice Jimmerson appeared before a Dougherty County judge to schedule a future trial date. He was joined by Andrew Fleischman, an Atlanta attorney now representing the 32-year-old after hearing about his case on Atlanta News First Investigates this past April.
Arrested for murder in 2013, Jimmerson has spent the past 10 years behind bars, awaiting trial. A jury acquitted two of his co-defendants for the same crime years ago.
“You don’t need to have a law degree to know something’s wrong here,” Fleischman, who is representing Jimmerson on a pro bono basis, said.
Fleischman said based on his research, Jimmerson has been held in pretrial detention awaiting trial longer than anyone else in American history. He said his client’s case is a clear violation of the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees everyone accused of a crime the right to a speedy trial.
“We should not punish people until we’ve proven they’ve committed a crime,” Fleischman said.
Fleischman has argued before the Supreme Court of Georgia and the Georgia Court of Appeals multiple times. The long-time trial and appellate lawyer is also a former public defender.
Four of his cases have led to exonerations, including Ashley Debelbot, convicted in 2009 of killing her newborn child while stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia. Years later, Fleischman used medical evidence to prove his client was innocent.
At the end of Tuesday’s hearing, Dougherty County Superior Court Judge Victoria Darrisaw tentatively scheduled Jimmerson’s trial date for either July or November.
But Fleischman hopes Darrisaw will recognize holding someone behind bars for a decade to face charges is against the law. He’s filed a motion to dismiss the case altogether. A hearing to address the dismissal is scheduled for the end of June.
“We have a presumption that people are innocent and that means we’re not supposed to punish them until after a jury has found beyond a reasonable doubt that they are guilty of something,” Fleischman said.
An Atlanta News First investigation uncovered Jimmerson isn’t the only person accused of a crime in Georgia whose cases have been delayed for years, violating their constitutional rights to a speedy trial.
In Georgia’s largest county of Fulton, court records show at least 13,787 pending felony cases that were not indicted by grand juries in 2022. That’s thousands of people arrested by police, booked in jail, but never officially charged with a crime.
Quintravious Nelson is one of them. The South Fulton Police Department arrested him in 2020 for aggravated assault, a crime he said he did not commit.
Since then, Nelson been under house arrest with no formal charges. He’s also required to wear an ankle monitor at all times, which costs him $300 a month.
Nelson said he feels like a prisoner in his own home.
“I’m 26 now,” he said. “This has been on me since I was 22. I do miss out on a lot of things, graduations, celebrations, funerals. It’s like life is just still going and I’m just stuck in one spot.”
Nelson had an attorney shortly after his arrest, but the attorney ceased his representation when Nelson could no longer afford to pay him. Nelson said finding a job while wearing an ankle monitor has been difficult.
In March 2022, Nelson filled out an application with the Georgia Public Defenders Council seeking a court-appointed attorney. Quandria Nelson, his mother, paid the $50 application fee.
The council is statutorily required to provided lawyers to defendants in Georgia if they can’t afford one.
For more than a year, Nelson and his mother said they called the agency, asking when an attorney would be provided. When they called last week, they said a council employee claimed they couldn’t find their application or proof they paid the fee.
“It’s like running into a brick wall, after the brick wall because we don’t know everything that we need to do,” said Nelson. “And when we try to get help, we just don’t have it.”
In July 2022, Nelson and his mother filed a petition asking a judge to reduce his bond because they were struggling to pay for the ankle monitor. The judge never responded.
On Tuesday, Atlanta News First Investigates forwarded a copy of Nelson’s application to the council, asking if it was aware of his request for counsel.
Within minutes of contacting the agency, Quandria Nelson received a phone call from a senior attorney from the council’s Fulton County office, explaining her son’s previous attorney withdrew from the case before a court-appointed attorney could be provided.
“[T]he Office is ready to take over representation as soon as the private attorney is allowed to withdraw,” wrote Thomas O’Conner, the agency’s communications director, in an email.
While Nelson appreciates the council’s explanation, she said it should have been provided more than a year ago. “It’s just so heartbreaking,” said Nelson about her son’s situation. “And to have people’s lives on hold, and a standstill, is just so hard.”
This story is part of a series about the constitutionally-guaranteed access to legal representation in court, and the challenges that arise when the supply of defenders is limited. Part one in the series looks at defendants’ desperate need for representation. Part two covers judges forced to take actions that may erode the public’s trust in the judicial system. In part three, former public defenders explain why they left the job. Part four looks at the search for solutions. Part five shows the agency’s director admits to lawmakers the Defender Council doesn’t have enough attorneys. Part six explains why the Defender Council does not want to pay for investigative resources for an indigent defendant. Part seven explains why a man has been behind bars for 10 years waiting for his day in court. Part 8 reveals how the state agency has spent thousands on improving image after ANF investigations.
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