Superior Court Judge Daniel J. Craig on Friday voided the convictions of four people who had been jailed for violating the conditions of misdemeanor probation sentences supervised by Sentinel Offender Services.
Attorneys for Sentinel, Richmond County Sheriff Richard Roundtree and State Court Solicitor Kellie McIntyre argued that they were entitled to more time to respond to habeas corpus petitions filed on behalf of Clifford Hayes, Kelvin Ashley, Virginia Cash and Amanda Stephens, but the judge refused.
If it were local attorney Randolph Frails in jail, Craig said, everyone in the courtroom would “move heaven and Earth” to get him released as soon as possible.
“(I know) because if you were in there, I’d do it for you,” Craig said.
Attorney John Long filed the habeas petitions – a writ ordering a person in custody be brought before a court – contending that Hayes, Ashley, Cash and Stephens were jailed for the unconstitutional reason of being poor.
Craig herded the attorneys into focusing on a three-pronged test: Did Hayes, Ashley, Cash and Stephens enter pleas of no contest or guilty after being advised of their constitutional rights to trial? Were they fully advised of their right to counsel? Were the pleas made willingly and voluntarily?
Though there was no absolute proof to answer those questions for three of the plaintiffs, attorneys for the city obtained a computer recording of the August hearing when Ashley pleaded no contest to misdemeanor battery and cruelty to children.
After listening, Craig asked the attorneys whether anyone heard the judge advise Ashley that he had not only a right to trial but also a right to cross-examine witnesses and a right not be forced to testify unless he chose to. It was clear there was none, Craig said.
Attorneys representing the sheriff and solicitor consented to a finding that the same shortcoming would be true for Hayes, Cash and Stephens.
In effect, all four now stand accused but not convicted. Craig set $1,000 bonds for each charge for each plaintiff after hearing from Assistant Solicitor Nancy Johnson about the cases and any possible criminal history.
Long asked the judge to reconsider Hayes’ bond amount because he is ill and homeless. Craig agreed to release Hayes on his own recognizance.
Attorneys for Sentinel and the city will seek a further hearing, possibly next week, on their contention that the rest of the allegations in the habeas petitions are moot because the four would be freed from custody.