Louisiana Supreme Court Justice Jeannette Theriot Knoll’s second 10-year-term expires at the end of this year. In 1977, Associate Justice Knoll was her husband’s first assistant district attorney and prosecuted Vincent Simmons. State law prescribes that a judge can not seek re-election after they reach the age of 70. On January 23, 2016, is Justice Knoll’s 73rd birthday. She announced on Monday (Jan. 11, 2016) that she planned to retire on New Year’s Eve and to spend more time with her family, especially with her grand-children. In order to celebrate Justice Knoll’s 20 years on the highest bench of Louisiana, the Third Circuit Court of Appeal judges hosted a special reception in her honor on January 8 at the City Club in River Ranch (Lafayette) reported the local Advertiser. Colleagues and judges from across the state attended the celebration.
There are only two states in the USA that have mayor’s courts. Those states are Ohio and Louisiana. Since 1898, mayor’s courts in Louisiana have had limited criminal jurisdiction “over all violations of municipal ordinances” reads Chapter 33 of Title 441 of the Louisiana Revised Statutes – as traffic violations, for instance.
Mayors in wards with less than 5,000 inhabitants function as judges in misdemeanor cases, whether or not they have a law degree. Nonlawyer judges “try all breaches of the ordinances and impose fines or imprisonment, or both.”
Like state judges, mayors are elected, and therefore, they cannot always be impartial. But the fact that those mayors also control law enforcement and the local budget constitutes an additional conflict of interests. They are three parties in one and the same person so to speak.
Woodforth in Rapides Parish, a few miles south of Alexandria (central Louisiana) beyond Interstate 49, is known as the state’s speed trap number one. Cases of traffic stops in the USA demonstrate daily how quickly one can land in jail (if not even worse). A woman’s case is reported in the article “The Woman Who Spent Six Years Fighting a Traffic Stop” by Ken Armstrong.
The Louisiana Municipal Association provides the Mayor’s Court Handbook. The author calls mayor’s courts a “somewhat enigmatic tool of justice.”
Judge Mark Jeansonne and his successor
Know Your Rights: What To Do If You’re Stopped By Police
A Black Man’s Guide to Survival
Hats off to A. M. „Marty“ Stroud, III. There are not many like him in Louisiana, who admit their failures and have grown to go against the tide.
Stroud does know the system from both sides. Directly after graduating law school with honors in 1976, he started his career as law clerk at the U.S. Court of the Western District of Louisiana. He served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Western District of Louisiana and a First Assistant District Attorney in Caddo Parish. Since 1989, Stroud has been in private practice (civil and criminal law).
In 1984, the 33-year old lead assistant district attorney prosecuted Glenn Ford, whose murder conviction was overturned in 2014. Stroud, who had sought the death penalty and celebrated the victory with some rounds of drinks, now describes himself in a letter to the Shreveport Times:
I was arrogant, judgmental, narcissistic and very full of myself. I was not as interested in justice as I was in winning.
Marty Stroud does what he can to correct what was done to the innocent, now terminally ill man. He contacted Ford to apologize, he speaks up against capital punishment, apologizes to the victim’s family, the jury and the court. Stroud shows remorse in a video and urges the state to compensate Ford. Unfortunately, the local district court ruled differently on March 27, 2015.
Read how Stroud is connected to Vincent Simmons’ case in the book “Louisiana v. Vincent Simmons: Frame-up in Avoyelles Parish.”
The evidence of his set up is for anyone readable in the open. When will Vincent Simmons of Avoyelles Parish be freed and exonerated at last?
How to Force Prosecutors to Play Fair? Or: How to Stop Overzealous Prosecutors?
Money is the key. Read on at www.iippi.org/forum/viewtopic.php?f=170&t=15841&p=21936#p21936
Vincent Simmons told me a while ago that he had mailed a Writ of Habeas Corpus to the trial court at Marksville on October 31, 2014. It was filed on November 6, 2014. He used information contained in the book “Louisiana v. Vincent Simmons: Frame-up in Avoyelles Parish,” which had not been used in any motion before. Simmons says, the court (Judge Mark Jeansonne) ordered the district attorney to answer by December 16, 2014. On December 18th, Judge Jeansonne scheduled a hearing on the motion, reports the Avoyelles Today. But after opening the session, the judge ruled to postpone any further proceedings until next year. Why?
Today is Judge Jeansonne’s last day in office. His second term expires and tomorrow Kerry Spruill is the new judge (Division A) of the 12th judicial district. Spruill is dealing with the case next year. (See his background at http://vincentsimmons.iippi.org/2014/10/24/judge-mark-jeansonne-and-his-successor/)
Now at the end of 2014, Jeansonne does not leave his position without firing his last verbal bangers and using the local newspapers (Avoyelles Today and The Town Talk) to spread half-truths (if not even lies) about the only case before him, which gained not only national but international attention.
The Town Talk article is based on the Avoyelles Today article. Therefore, I only comment on the latter:
- The victims’ cousin was not tied up, but allegedly put in the trunk of his own car.
- Co-Editor Daye writes, “Then-District Attorney Eddie Knoll amended the aggravated rape indictments to attempted aggravated rape.” For whatever reason Daye does not mention the outrageous: This was illegal, because it was done secretly behind closed doors. There is no True Bill in which the Grand Jury voted on trying Vincent Simmons for attempted aggravated rape. The Grand Jury indicted Vincent Simmons, because the jurors decided that there was evidence of aggravated rape. Accordingly, there was no evidence for mere attempt. However, the “attempt” conviction carried a much longer sentence at that time than an actual aggravated rape conviction. Thus, the Grand Jury should have been called in again to decide on whether or not to indict Simmons for attempted aggravated rape. This never happened, and the people in Louisiana should do know!
- The co-editor quotes Jeansonne, “In fact, in the recent judge’s election, one candidate lost many votes because he would not ‘promise’ Simmons a new trial. Judges have to be independent and free from undue influence of any kind.” Does this mean that Judge Kerry Spruill was elected because he promised anything to Simmons’ supporters?! I doubt that Spruill agrees with this allegation or logical conclusion. Yes, elected judges are supposed to be independent, which contradicts itself. Ensuring equal justice under law often clashes with the interlocking of different interests. Why are not all judges (not only federal judges) appointed or obligated to climb up the ladder like other professionals?
- Jeansonne complains about Simmons playing the race-card. I do not know who is crying racism, but one thing is certain: When Judge Jeansonne chose to discuss the case publicly on the IIPPI Forum with me, he was the only one who made race a central theme. This alone demonstrates that after all these years he still does not get to the core of the problem in this case. It is about police misconduct, prosecutorial misconduct, judicial misconduct, ineffectiveness of counsel and perjury – not race! But of course, since most Avoyelleans are white, they may feel insulted or annoyed without looking into the case themselves, if they believe what Judge Jeansonne alleges about Simmons and his supporters. Is this Jeansonne’s goal? Does he want to “inflame” the citizens of the parish?
I wonder why Jeansonne talks publicly about a specific case in the first place. I also wonder why this one case is always Simmons’. If Jeansonne is so convinced of Simmons being guilty and just trying to fool everyone, Jeansonne could just lay back, relax and move on with his lawyer life. Why wasting time for nonsense?!
Judge Spruill, please do the right thing! – Does Jeansonne not sleep well at night anymore? It would be understandable, would it not? One simply cannot be convinced of anything that one cannot corroborate with proof, while evidence of the contrary literally jumps at one.
The newspaper articles are entitled:
“Jeansonne has parting words in Simmons’ case”
by Raymond L. Daye, Co-Editor
published Dec. 22, 2014
“Change of venue requested after remarks by Avoyelles judge”
by Melissa Gregory
published Dec. 30, 2014
I have seen somewhere else on the internet that people still ask, why this case has never been properly investigated by law enforcement officers, or why Simmons is denied relief from prison. The answer is in the book “Louisiana v. Vincent Simmons: Frame-up in Avoyelles Parish.” But logically, as you may have seen on the IIPPI Forum, some involved Avoyelleans like Mark Jeansonne would not want you to read it.
This may interest you as well:
Case summary with documents on the Innocent in Prison Project International website at http://cases.iippi.org/vincent-alfred-simmons/
This reform of 1996 is also known as the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA). President Clinton was the one to “screw” inmates by reducing their ability to challenge the convictions. State courts are given deference and it is hard to overturn a conviction if the one year for filing has long passed–it is the rare “Actual Innocent” case that can be heard. You need to have a confession from the victims, and that is often not enough. People who have read the book “Louisiana v. Vincent Simmons: Frame-up in Avoyelles Parish” also have read how much the Great Writ (Habeas Corpus) has lost its teeth.
Is it not time to do something about it? Why does not the U.S. American people (i.e. VOTERS) get involved politically for their loved ones in prison, whose cases are barred in the courts although they could prove their innocence with newly discovered evidence?!
This might interest you as well:
IIPPI Forum (Preelection/ 2016 Presidential Campaign)
Former Williamson County District Attorney Ken Anderson resigned from his post as Williamson County District Judge by sending Governor Rick Perry a letter on September 23, 2013. According to the Innocence Project newsletter of September 30, 2013, “the state convened a Court of Inquiry to investigate whether Anderson committed criminal acts by failing to turn over evidence pointing to Morton’s Innocence. In April, a Texas judge ruled there was probable cause to believe Anderson violated three criminal laws, and he was charged with the offenses. The Texas Bar Association also brought ethical charges against Anderson. A trial on those charges was scheduled to begin today but was adjourned for a month.”
In the newsletter of November 27, 2013, the Innocence Project reports that “Former Williamson County District Attorney Ken Anderson entered a plea to criminal contempt for deliberately withholding exculpatory evidence pointing to the innocence of Michael Morton.” Anderson received 10 days in Williamson County Jail, a $500 fine, 500 hours of community service and permanently surrendered his license to practice law.
The Innocence Project newsletter reads, “This marks an extremely rare instance, and perhaps the first time, that a prosecutor has been criminally punished for failing to turn over exculpatory evidence that led to a wrongful conviction.”
The Innocence Project is cooperating with the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association and the Texas Innocence Project to review other cases and determine whether there are more wrongfully convicted prisoners, whom Anderson had prosecuted.
If this damage limitation can be called “punishment” is another question. But if an unethical ex-prosecutor and current judge can be stopped this way in Texas, it is possible anywhere. When will it happen in Louisiana?
In the United States of America, the juvenile justice system has become more civilized in the past eight years. In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court banned the death penalty for juveniles. In 2010, the high court banned mandatory life sentences for minors convicted of non-homicide offenses such as aggravated rape. The Miller vs. Alabama decision of June 25, 2012 held that mandatory life sentences for juvenile killers run afoul of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment and are therefore unconstitutional. Louisiana was one of 28 states, which had made no difference between youthful offenders and adult offenders.
It was clear from that day that there would be a run on the courts in Louisiana by convicted juvenile murderers seeking resentencing. Around 250 prisoners, who were under the age of 18 when they committed homicides, are affected in that state alone. One of the cases before the Louisiana Supreme Court was State of Louisiana v. Darryl Tate . Tate was sentenced to life without parole for second degree murder in 1981. His case and sentence became final in 1984. The question now was whether the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Miller should be applied to juvenile offenders whose life sentences were handed down before the U.S. Supreme Court issued its June 25, 2012 decision.
Chief Justice Bernette Johnson, who disagrees with the majority opinion of her court, rephrased, “Should Miller apply retroactively to cases on collateral review?” She finds that “Miller announced a new rule of criminal procedure that is substantive and consequently should apply retroactively, entitling Mr. Tate to relief.”
Justice Jeannette Theriot Knoll (who had prosecuted Vincent Simmons when she was her husband’s first assistant district attorney in Avoyelles Parish) wrote the majority opinion. She argued, “Miller does not apply retroactively in cases on collateral review as it merely sets forth a new rule of criminal constitutional procedure, which is neither substantive nor implicative of the fundamental fairness and accuracy of criminal proceedings.” In other words: In Knoll’s view, it is fair that not all juvenile lifers are eligible for parole in her state.
Yet, the courts of the neighboring State of Mississippi, for instance, have decided in their state as Chief Justice Johnson and Associate Justice Jefferson Hughes would have wanted their colleagues to do, too. It still is as it has been before: Many, many motions would not be necessary, if judges from lower courts respected the decisions of the higher courts. Vincent Simmons put it so well years ago: Why do state judges not simply follow the lead by the United States Supreme Court? According to the Times-Picayune, legal experts say that the conflict among the states means the U.S. Supreme Court likely must revisit the Miller decision.
Follow the case of Darryl Tate on the IIPPI Forum.
First come, first served. Article V, § 6 of the 1974 Louisiana Constitution lays down very clearly who is the next chief justice to be: to wit the “oldest in point of service.” (Also see the article Who is the Chief-Justice-to-be on the Louisiana Supreme Court? of June 14, 2012)
Former Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Pascal F. Calogero assigned Court of Appeal (4th Circuit) Judge Bernette Joshua Johnson justice ad hoc to the state’s supreme court on October 28, 1994, when Honorable Revius O. Ortique Jr. retired on his 70th birthday. Justice Johnson took office on October 31, 1994, has since been a justice on that same court, and was later elected in 2000.
Two months after Johnson’s appointment, Justice Jeffrey P. Victory had been elected to the high court and took office as well (on January 1, 1995). The difference between those two supreme court justices is that Johnson initially was appointed and Victory was elected.
There are elected and appointed ad hoc justices on state supreme courts. (In the federal system, all judges are appointed.) The latter usually bridge the time needed to fill the vacancy by an elected official or to cover for his/ her recused colleague. The future chief justice has to be selected by “seniority.” The question now basically is: Are appointed judges second class judges, or is the service by both judges credited equally?
Justice Jeannette Theriot Knoll (the prosecutor in Louisiana v. Vincent Simmons) is an interested party and, therefore, has been recused from judgment like the two associate justices “oldest in point of service.” The court explains that “if Justice Victory’s seniority were found to be superior to that of Justice Johnson under the legal theory that service by election directly on this court trumps service by appointment, Justice Knoll would be next in line to succeed to the chief justice position before Justice Johnson.”
The judges in charge have decided that the constitution does not “limit the experience that matters to only elected experience.”
The court concludes, “Neither Article V, § 6 nor any other relevant provision makes any distinction between elected service and appointed service. Thus, upon Chief Justice Kimball’s retirement in early 2013, Justice Johnson, through an unbroken chain of both appointed and elected service on this court, has the most seniority to become the next chief justice.”
Requests for a rehearing may be filed with the Louisiana Supreme Court until Sunday, October 21, 2012. Read the court’s full opinion here.