A fourth habeas corpus petition has been filed on behalf of a woman jailed on a charge of violating her probation monitored by the private company Sentinel Offender Services.
Attorney John Long has asked the Superior Court judge assigned to a series of civil actions against Sentinel in the Augusta area, Daniel J. Craig, to consider the petition filed this week on behalf of Amanda Stephens when a hearing is held today on behalf of the first habeas petition filed.
Habeas corpus is a writ ordering a person in custody to be brought before a court.
According to court documents filed by Long, Stephens’ case is much like the others: Stephens is locked up in the Richmond County jail because she can’t pay the $80 Sentinel charges to set up electronic monitoring.
When Richmond County State Court Judge David D. Watkins found on Jan. 8 that Stephens had violated probation, he ruled she could only get out of jail upon paying the $80 to start electronic monitoring, according to the court records.
Stephens was initially given one year of probation in June 2005 for misdemeanor battery. A Sentinel employee obtained a warrant for Stephens’ arrest in November 2005 and obtained a second judge’s order that kept the one-year sentence from expiring.
More than seven years later, Watkins ordered Stephens returned to probation Jan. 8. The new sentence requires Stephens to pay Sentinel its regular monthly probation supervision fee and an extra monthly fee for electronic monitoring.
Long is challenging not only the constitutionality of having a private, for-profit business serving as an arm of the judiciary, but also the legality of Sentinel’s use of electronic monitoring, and State Court judges issuances of orders that stop misdemeanor probation sentences from expiring if violation warrants are obtained.
In the case set for hearing, Sentinel and the local government attorneys have asked Craig to find the habeas petition for Virginia Cash moot because Cash was released from jail Jan. 15.
Long is asking the judge to still rule in Cash’s case. He contends Cash remains in perpetual danger of reincarceration because she cannot afford to pay Sentinel for electronic monitoring.
Long is also challenging the underlying guilty pleas of Cash, Stephens, Kelvin Ashley and Clifford Hayes – all recently jailed on probation violation warrants and resentenced to probation terms with electronic monitoring. He alleges the lack of recording in Richmond County State Court makes it impossible to determine whether a person’s guilty plea was legal in that he knew and understood the proceedings and he pleaded guilty willingly and voluntarily.