In yet another story that highlights the many cracks in the criminal justice system that a man can fall through, Cornealius “Mike” Anderson was recently taken into custody to begin serving a 13 year sentence for armed robbery, precisely 13 years after he was convicted of it.
While the story may sound like a comedy of errors, it really does raise important questions about the criminal justice system and its primary purposes of punishment and rehabilitation and which one should take precedence.
Anderson, who filed appeals and remained out on bond, was never taken into custody to start serving his sentence when all his appeals were denied. In an interview with ‘This American Life‘, he says:
he saw it as a sign from God, so he decided to transform his life. He went to school, became a master carpenter, got married, built his home, opened several small businesses and had four children. Anderson volunteered at his church and coached his son’s football team.
This is somewhat akin to the stories of Judy Lynn Hayman and Marie Walsh, except those two were actively on the run from their sentences.
Anderson, on the other hand, remained put:
Nine years went by, however, and no one ever put the pieces together. Meanwhile, Anderson remained in St. Louis, never changed his name, registered three businesses through the state, paid taxes, maintained a Missouri driver’s license, and got married at the courthouse. He did not attempt to hide his presence in any manner.
Ironically, the DOC only realized he wasn’t actually in custody when they started planning his release from said custody.
Now there he is, back in jail, serving a 13 year sentence. Meanwhile one thinks about two Mike Andersons: the one who was taken into custody 9 years ago and the one in our current timeline. The first Anderson served his sentence, maybe taking a class here or there, maybe repenting his situation and his role and finally looking forward to joining society and maybe becoming a productive member or maybe having hardened during his prison stint, not giving a shit.
And then we have the real life Anderson who did a job of rehabilitating himself that no prison system in the country could ever dream of doing. Even the robbery victim acknowledges this:
The victim, Dennis Leon Kerns, contacted Jessica Lussenhop when he read her piece in the Riverfront Timesafter realizing he was the Burger King manager she wrote about. Lussenhop reported that when she met with Kerns, he said the robbery left him deeply paranoid, so he was angry at first upon learning that Anderson never served his sentence.
“But then the more I thought about it, it was like, what they are doing to him is not right,” Kerns said. “He wasn’t out robbing other people… he seemed to have gotten his life together.” Lussenhop reported that Kern said he’s open to filing a letter stating that he believes Anderson should be released.
Of course, none of this means much of anything to the law, because legally he should’ve been sentenced and have served that sentence. The law is a rigid bitch of a mistress sometimes.
Except – and this is one of those rare cases where I pull stuff from an actual old case – there’s a fascinating provision in the law that provides for a sentence to be served “on the outside” where the inmate was erroneously released by the state through no fault of his own.
The “credit for time erroneously at liberty” theory – also known as the installment theory – has been adopted, noted approvingly or recognized by twenty states and nine federal circuits.[1.There are two other theories that some other courts have employed: 1) The waiver of jurisdiction theory; Shields v. Beto, 370 F.2d 1003 (5th Cir. 1967), and 2) the estoppel theory; see Johnson v. Williford, 682 F.2d 868 (9th Cir. 1982). Deciding which theory to apply has traditionally rested on the facts of the case. Courts in various jurisdictions have applied more than one theory to cases in that jurisdiction.] The origins of the installment theory can be traced to White v. Pearlman, 42 F.2d 788 (10th Cir. 1930).
In White, the defendant was sentenced to a term of five years’ incarceration. Just over a year after his sentence began, the warden, who mistakenly believed the sentence to be three years, released the defendant. Two years after his release, when the warden attempted to make the defendant serve the rest of his sentence, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals held that:
[a] sentence of five years means a continuous sentence, unless interrupted by escape, violation of parole, or some fault of the prisoner, and he cannot be required to serve it in installments…where a prisoner is discharged from a penal institution, without any contributing fault on his part…his sentence continues to run while he is at liberty.
Of course, the crux is that the he cannot have been allowed to remain at liberty through some fault of his, such as escape. The question of whether he knew he was required to serve a sentence and still failed to report or turn himself in qualifies as “contributing fault on his part” I think is a close one.
The prevailing rule is that “the government is not permitted to delay the expiration of the sentence either by postponing the commencement of the sentence or by releasing the prisoner for a time and then reimprisoning him.” Dunne v. Keohane, 14 F.3d 335, 336 (7th Cir. 1994).
Whether there may be legal grounds for letting him go or not, the equitable question must necessarily be answered in his favor.
Otherwise we will make clear to the world that there is no value in rehabilitation and that our system of criminal justice is interested only in vengeance and punishment.