In his new book Criminal Defense Lawyer by my friend and former business partner Richard D. Jensen, a case I handled last year is discussed as an example of the importance of understanding subject matter jurisdiction in criminal defense cases. In that case, a man charged with a sex offense allowed his court-appointed lawyer to talk him into taking a guilty plea. The problem: the statute of limitations on the charge had expired and the man could not be lawfully convicted of the crime. Nonetheless, after being told by his lawyer that he would “probably get probation,” he found himself in prison on a long sentence and branded with public notification as a registered sex offender.
After he was locked up, his family contacted me to discuss what had happened. They did not understand why he had entered a guilty plea, nor did they understand why he was in prison after his lawyer told him he would get probation. They also wondered how he could be convicted of a charge that was so old, as the offense happened nearly 20 years ago. While there is no statute of limitations on sex offenses in some situations, in this man’s case the charge had to be prosecuted within three years or it was time-barred. Thus, his court-appointed lawyer let him plead guilty to a charge that he could not be convicted of at trial.
We filed a Motion to Withdraw Guilty Plea on his behalf, but it was denied by operation of law before we could get a hearing. So we took our challenge to his conviction to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, where they agreed with us that if the event happened that long ago then he was no longer subject to prosecution. They remanded the case to the trial judge to make a determination on when the event happened, and upon learning of the date of the incident the trial judge properly dismissed the case. Dismissal of the charge also meant that the sheriff’s department had to remove the defendant from the Alabama Sex Offender Database.
In that man’s case, dismissal of the guilty plea meant that some other charges he had pending were reinstated. Because I only handle appellate cases now, I referred him to Richard Jensen to handle the trial of the remaining charges. Sex crimes defense is a special interest of Richard’s, so I believed he would be the best attorney to retain to handle our client’s remaining charges. As it turned out, the alleged victim in those charges had already recanted the allegations before the man had even entered his guilty plea in the original plea bargain. As a result, under pressure from Richard the prosecutor ultimately agreed to drop all charges against the defendant.
Jensen’s book is an entertaining and informative read for anyone interested in how the criminal court system works, particularly in the State of Alabama. If you want to get the inside scoop on cops, criminal defense lawyers, judges, prosecutors, and the overall court system, I strongly recommend you read Jensen’s book. You won’t be disappointed. The book is available through Amazon.com or through other book retailers. The section discussing our mutual client’s case begins on page 62.
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