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August 1, 2006

New Harvard CR-CL issue on prison litigation

Today I received an interesting e-mail promoting this interesting new issue of the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review.  Here are the highlights:

[T]he Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review is publishing its first ever article written by a prison inmate, Thomas C. O'Bryant, who is a jailhouse lawyer serving two consecutive life sentences in prison without hope of release.  Having taught himself the law from prison, O'Bryant has represented himself and other inmates in numerous criminal and civil lawsuits in state and federal courts over the past ten years.

In his law review article [available here], O'Bryant describes the difficult process that he and other indigent inmates must endure to challenge their state convictions. O'Bryant argues that the combination of federal laws and stringent prison conditions make it impossible to challenges wrongful convictions effectively.  O'Bryant describes his own case, in which his lawyer assured him that if he pled guilty, he would be eligible for release after ten years, even though he discovered from prison that he would never be eligible for release.

O'Bryant's article is the centerpiece of a Symposium of articles in the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review that examines pro se litigation ten years after AEDPA.  Other authors of articles in the Symposium include Bryan Stevenson, the director of the Equal Justice Initiative of Alabama and a Professor at NYU Law School, Jamie Fellner, the director of U.S. Programs at Human Rights Watch, and Jessica Feierman, at attorney at the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia, PA. Coming on the heels of the 10th Anniversary of the passage of Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, all of the articles in the Symposium challenge legislators, scholars, advocates, and everyone interested in issues of criminal justice in America to rethink its treatment of "final" criminal convictions.

August 1, 2006 at 01:51 PM | Permalink

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Comments

The Harvard CR-CL editorial board's e-mail says: "... Thomas C. O'Bryant, who is a jailhouse lawyer serving two consecutive life sentences in prison without hope of release. Having taught himself the law from prison, O'Bryant has represented himself and other inmates in numerous criminal and civil lawsuits in state and federal courts over the past ten years." The Florida 1st District Court of Appeals says that O'Bryant is serving two *concurrent* life sentences, from which release is available after 25 years (perhaps by "no hope of release" the students don't mean "no opportunity for release," in which case they're not wrong, only misleading). It also says he negotiated that sentence. See 765 So.2d 745. Could good time (I think they call it "gain time") come off the minimum of a Florida state sentence at such a rate that a 25 yr minimum allows release after 10 years? Or are Harvard Law students really that careless? (Or is the Florida court wrong?) I tend toward the carelessness theory, since despite their further remarks, I am unaware of any opportunity for a jailhouse lawyer to represent another prisoner (help, yes; represent, no), much less in state and federal "criminal ... lawsuits" -- whatever that's supposed to mean. None of this bears on the value of O'Bryant's article, of course, which I haven't read but would judge solely on the merits of its scholarship.

Posted by: Peter G | Aug 2, 2006 11:28:42 AM

my name is don cooper.i have met mr. obryant personally. he was at the time in holmes c.i. with my cousin, kenny vistoria. kenny has a near identical case as mr. obryant. he too was told to take a plea that would get him out in 10 yrs or so. he is now serving a life sentence.

Posted by: Don | Jan 2, 2007 9:47:15 PM

i'm just a mother who is seeing that judges, prosecutors, etc. sometimes do the unthinkable, by using one person to make a point. they lie, threaten, use tactics, that we as individuals would get in trouble over, yet because they are who they are, nothing is ever said. mr. o'bryant and mr. holmes are a case in point. they were told one thing, but got another and i'm sure that they are not the only ones in all the prisons through out the u.s. justice is blind, so they say and i'm beginning to believe it. a group of people all arrested for the same thing and only one of them will serve a prison sentance, the rest, a few months in jail or probation and in some cases no fines or a small one. the one going to prison has lost everything, his home, his vehicle, most of his personal things, while the rest, just sit back, relax and have a great day. most of us out here in the real world, not the law world, wonder why and then of course the old saying, that money counts, but does it, or is that an excuse. perhaps for some it does, but an attorney is suppose to defend his client to the best of his ability and if he can't, he should be saying "help" and get it. judges and prosecutors, most of them want to go onward and upward in their career and they just don't get it. the truth is the truth no matter who tells it and they aren't telling it. to put someone in prison who doesn't deserve it, is morally wrong and in my way of thinking crimally wrong, but who am i, but a mother and a grandmother who just knows, that right is right and wrong is wrong.

Posted by: JANIS | Nov 2, 2007 7:32:04 PM

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