Cold Comfort?

Justice delayed can be justice denied. 

Sometime in 2003, Juanita Victoria Medina, was convicted of a crime punishable by up to 3 years in prison, which would have made her eligible for release sometime in 2005, but was sentenced to six years in prison.  Today, in 2007, the Colorado Supreme Court has finally overturned the improper sentence, but only after she has been in prison roughly long enough to be eligible for release under the incorrect sentence. The Colorado Court of Appeals had affirmed the incorrect sentence in 2005, stating “We agree that the sentence violates [the Constitution], but we conclude that defendant is not entitled to be resentenced.”, holding that her lawyer didn’t make a proper objection to the mistake. 

The result may be good news for other criminal defendants who are similarly given the wrong sentence, but it is cold comfort for Ms. Medina.

She has already served more time in prison than a correct sentence would have permitted.  The Attorney General’s office fought all the way to the Colorado Supreme Court to try to protect the trial court’s mistake.  And, since the result is that she is still a convicted felon, a correction of her criminal record to reflect a lesser charge has very little influence on her life now.  The only benefit she may receive at this point is that she may be able to skip an otherwise mandatory parole period.

Judicial and prosecutorial immunity means that she has no meaningful remedy for having served to long a sentence under federal law.

The case was not a complicated one calling for elaborate and extended review.  The Colorado Court of Appeals decision in the case that took about two years to produce had a page of headnotes and caption and a page of ruling.  The Colorado Supreme Court’s ruling that required another 22 months to issue was longer, but its reasons were still straightforward.

Ms. Medina is, in short, a victim of an underfunded court system that has denied her two years of freedom without any legal remedy.  What she won in the Colorado Supreme Court’s holding, the judiciary took away from her through delay.

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Andrew Oh-Willeke

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