Mega-Million Jackpot

(Note: this post was sent to me in the form of a letter and I wasn’t sure Russ wanted me to post it. I waited until I confirmed he wanted it posted before writing it up, so it’s a few weeks old.)

I was woken up today after only two hours of sleep. A guard was standing directly outside my cell.

“A Miss called for you,” he said.

That’s not some prison-term. I think he was trying to tell me that a woman called for me, but the fact that he was making me decipher this message and its lack of real information annoyed me. I was exhausted from working the night before, but I knew that I wasn’t on the pass roster and I didn’t have any scheduled appointments. I pushed the button on the intercom in my cell so I could speak to the sergeant in the booth. He said someone had called, but the line had cut out before he got any details. I told him I was tired, I was going to bed, but if they called back to wake me up. About 15 minutes later, another knock on my door.

“The CJA office wants to speak to you.”

The CJA office is where you go for attorney phone calls and powers of attorney and I hadn’t made an appointment with them. So I was confused, but figured maybe my attorney was calling.

I came out of my cell and started for the CJA office. Halfway down the hall I stopped to chat with another inmate and he told me he’d heard the parole analyst requesting me. That made much more sense. So off I went, now at least semi-confident that this wasn’t going to be a wild goose chase, also very nervous that I was going to be told that my appeal to the parole board had been denied. It was too soon for that, though – they shouldn’t be getting back to me until mid-January.

In the analyst’s office, I groggily took a seat in front of the desk.

“I’m sorry to call you in so early, but I’m about to be out of the office for a few days. I wanted to give you the results of your appeal to the denial of your parole before I left,” she said.

I wasn’t prepared for this. I’d had hours to prepare myself emotionally for the results of my initial parole board and it still hit me like three tons of bricks. This was out of the blue … a full month early. Nothing happens before schedule in here. Nothing. I wasn’t sleep-blurry anymore. I took the sheet of paper she handed me across her desk and scanned it feverishly.

Reversed. It said ‘reversed.’

Suddenly I was tingling all over … I was nearing a cliff, but I couldn’t let myself jump just yet. I might not have a parachute. Did that mean what I thought it meant?

“You were granted parole on your appeal. Your release is about seven months from now in July,” said the parole analyst.lottery jump

Typically, they give you 90 days notice, not seven months notice, but I’m not complaining. I signed the notification and walked back to my housing unit on a cloud. I didn’t realize how thoroughly I’d abandoned hope of parole, but you can’t imagine the change in perspective I felt. It felt like winning the lottery.

Immediately I wanted to call everyone and tell them the good news. Unfortunately, I only had $3 on my phone account and calls are 32 cents/minute. Ahhhh!!!


Another Helping of Stress


My parole board is right around the corner. How did it get here so fast? Have I really been in here that long?

I’m still trying to secure three key documents that a parole packet needs. But even if I do manage to get them, it’s hard to be optimistic about parole. I think the parole rate for the USDB is less than five percent. Additionally, I’m in my appeals process which to the parole board means I’m unwilling to accept responsibility for my crime.  But if I abandon the appeals process, then any chance I have at getting my verdict overturned is gone.

On top of all my legal issues, I have two final exams to complete to get my MBA. Coming from this bizarre institution, the degree may not mean much to anyone else, but for me, the correspondence courses have helped the last year pass quickly. After I’m done with these two exams, I won’t have any schoolwork to keep me busy – I’ll have to find something else.

Sprout of Hope

My appellate attorney tells me I have solid grounds for an appeal. Not a slam-dunk, but it’s something!

He said he can’t promise me anything and my kind of case is one of the hardest to get over-turned. That dampened my spirits a bit, but I’m not surprised. He also told me that he would have never waived the jury panel (as my lawyer suggested I do – so I did) because the judge who heard my case has a track record of being extremely prosecution biased. Great news…about a year and a half late.

Bottom line: I have two long shots at parole and almost three years in confinement before I’m through my appeals process.

Big sigh.

Every day that goes by makes it more difficult to maintain a positive outlook. I’ve been incarcerated for almost two years now. Worst case scenario, I’m in here another two years. There comes a point when my guilt or innocence is completely irrelevant…I don’t know if I’m at that point yet, but I feel it looming. The fact is, I’m a convict now. My life is irreversibly changed. Even if my case is overturned in appeals, I don’t think I could return to the military and rejoin the ranks of the soldiers I used to care so deeply for. I’ve built up so much animosity that I don’t think I’d be able to function in the job I loved that I was ripped out of. I don’t know what my future will hold, but I’m thankful for the friends and family who are still standing beside me.

An Absurd Conviction Rate?

During my second visit to Russ in prison he told me what seemed like an absurd statistic: that 98% of UCMJ Courts Martial result in convictions. I had a strong suspicion that was a prison lawyer talking and perhaps not based on facts. We talked about it for a while and then moved on to other topics, but when I got home, I did some research. It turns out, Russ’s statistic was a little off…but only by about 4% in 2010.

Click on the image for full source document, see pg. 22.

According to this document published by the US Court of Appeals for the Armed Services, 610 general Courts Martial in FY 2010 resulted in 572 convictions, which works out to a 93.7% conviction rate. I printed out this page and sent it to Russ in a letter.

Of course, my next question was: So what’s the conviction rate for civilian courts? Wikipedia says the US Federal Court conviction rate was “high” at 85% in 1992 and cites an article written by James Coughlan in 2000 which provides a few state conviction rates: “In recent years, the conviction rate has averaged approximately 84% in Texas, 82% in California, 72% in New York, 67% in North Carolina, and 59% in Florida.” But everyone knows Wikipedia is full of faulty information – so let’s look elsewhere.

According to a 2006 article in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the federal courts conviction rate was about 90% for defendants who didn’t immediately plead guilty. “Between 2000 and 2005, 99 percent of the 435,000 federal criminal defendants prosecuted nationwide were convicted. The conviction rate was the same for the 2,130 criminal defendants prosecuted during that period in the Western District of Pennsylvania.”

A Texas attorney’s 2010 blogpost states, “From March 31, 2008-March 31, 2009, prosecutors had an 85% conviction rate at jury trials in federal court.” It seems to work in the attorney’s favor that the conviction rate is so high as it probably gins up interest in the work they do, but regardless of their motives, their numbers jive with the statistic cited by Wikipedia.

85% in Texas is high, but it’s still 9% lower than the UCMJ conviction rate. I’m no lawyer, so I can’t say for certain what variables account for such a discrepancy. On my third visit to Russ, we talked again about the conviction rate and my research into comparable civilian court conviction rates. Russ made what I thought was a pretty good point – yes, civilian courts convict at a lower rate than military ones, but it should be the other way around and by a significant percentage. See, in civilian courts, typically the prosecution will not continue to press charges unless they feel they have a preponderance of evidence and a good chance of a conviction, not so in a military court. Courts Martial convene whether the prosecution thinks they have enough evidence to convict or not. The unit commander is the one who decides to try a case, not a lawyer, and his motivation is usually couched in self-preservation rather than achieving a conviction. That is, a commander may a case to trial just so it doesn’t seem as though he is taking justice into his own hands, regardless of the evidence. Normally, I would say that’s a good thing – it should mean that a Soldier gets the benefit of a thorough review of the charges against him rather than being subjected to the arbitrary justice of a commander who may or may not be fair, but is definitely too busy to be bothered with the minutia of legal cases.

From Russ:

I have access to the same statistics that you printed out, just not as current. The 94% conviction rate in FY2010 is a decrease from FY2008, if I’m reading them correctly. Still, I wish I would have known the odds I was up against from the beginning. From what I can tell appeals offer a pretty slim chance of survival as well. That said, I’m keeping the faith.

I’m glad you guys live so close, it was awesome seeing you. Even if I did have to get strip searched afterwards…this place is nuts.