Fully Informed Jury Association

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Function of Juries | 30 Mar 2011

Another Sad Reminder of the Important Role of Independent Juries


On this week’s edition of This American Life, host Ira Glass delves into the cases of three victims of Glynn County Georgia Superior Court Judge Amanda Williams’ drug court in Episode 430: Very Tough Love:

This week: A drug court program that we believe is run differently from every other drug court in the country, doing some things that are contrary to the very philosophy of drug court. The result? People with offenses that would get minimal or no sentences elsewhere sometimes end up in the system five to ten years.

This program documents abuses committed by a judge whose power is unchecked by a jury or any opportunity for her victims to appeal to another judge. These victims serve sentences that far exceed the norm for their crimes and are treated in ways which are well outside the bounds of national drug court standards.

One victim attempted to commit suicide while incarcerated in solitary confinement for months while serving an “indefinite sentence” based on Williams’ whim. Her offense? She forged two checks worth a total of $100.

Another victim wound up in Williams’ drug court through financial and legal coercion and misleading information from the court about her options. When she was kicked out of the program by Judge Williams, she ended up serving 2 years in a prison for an offense for which she normally would have been given probation? Her offense? After having a medical procedure to remove precancerous cells, she was issued a prescription for pain medication. Because she had no health insurance, she did not get the prescription filled. Instead, her mother gave her two pills from her own prescription which she never used. The pills were found in her purse when she consented to its search by a police officer who pulled over the vehicle in which she was a passenger.

A third victim was a proponent of drug court until, 22 months into the program and with 3 months left until he graduated, he falsely tested positive for drug use. Twenty minutes after the false positive, the victim was retested, and the retest came back negative. A second retest subsequently came back negative as well. Judge Williams disregarded the retests and sentenced him to 17 days in jail- 3 days for the positive test result, and 14 days for questioning her in court.

A web-only feature documents a story not in the audio version. A fourth victim successfully graduated the drug court program. After signing a contract when she entered drug court agreeing to pay certain fees, she was pressured during the course of the program to agree to higher fees contradictory to the original contract. She never fully paid the additional fees, and public documents seem to indicate that the amount in question was around $1500. She was summoned to court over this amount, didn’t show up, and was subsequently arrested. She spent 11 months in jail- denied bond- before she went before Judge Williams over the matter. Even though she had successfully completed the program, Williams kicked her out of drug court and forced her to serve the sentence for her original offense- a year, with credit for the 11 months served.

Click through for the transcript and audio. The audio can be downloaded free through Saturday this week.

This episode reminds us all of the importance of exercising our rights to remain silent, refuse warrantless searches, and to go before a jury of our peers rather than putting our lives into the hands of a single judge whose power is unchecked by any other authority.