Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Too little, too late

On New Year's Eve 2013 Lynne Stewart, suffering from advanced breast cancer, was released from federal prison by Federal Judge John Koelti. As you may remember, Ms. Stewart represented the so-called blind cleric, Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, who was charged with committing acts of terrorism.

Ms. Stewart ran afoul of the government when she passed on messages from her incarcerated client to the media. The government alleged that she acted as a courier for a terrorist group.A jury convicted her and a judge sentenced her to 28 months in federal prison. Ms. Stewart appealed the conviction.

After the conviction was upheld, the appellate court sent the case back down for resentencing in light of the court's belief that Ms. Stewart committed perjury during the original trial. The court, not being  too fond of Ms. Stewart's comment that she could do 28 months in federal prison standing on her head, upped her sentence to ten years in July 2010.

Between her conviction and re-sentencing Ms. Stewart was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Her health condition worsened while in prison and she was transferred to Carswell Federal Medical Center in Forth Worth, Texas

Her supporters immediately began petitioning for compassionate release so that Ms. Stewart wouldn't have to spend her final days behind bars. In June of last year her request was denied by the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Her husband never gave up and this past December federal prosecutors notified Judge Koelti that Ms. Stewart had only 18 months to live. They recommended that the judge grant Ms. Stewart compassionate release.

On New Year's Eve, Judge Koelti did the right thing and signed an order granting Ms. Stewart her release.

Ms. Stewart should never have been sentenced to ten years in prison. It is shameful that it took her imminent death to undo the wrong. Ms. Stewart did her time because she had the nerve to thumb her nose at the government. She had the guts to do what she thought was right for her client. Her client's right to effective counsel was curtailed by the government. Her First Amendment rights were violated by the government. Still she fought.

We deal with the mighty power of the state on a daily basis. We have to stand in front of the court and announce that we are going to do whatever we can do to gum up the works of the government's plea mill. Luckily most of us will never have to face prison for representing our clients.

See also:

"Dying lawyer Lynne Stewart's jubilant return home after winning compassionate release," Democracy Now! (1/2/2014)

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