Lee Davis: Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals: No Recovery For Man Released From Prison 17 Years Too Late

Monday, June 04, 2012 - by Attorney Lee Davis
Lee Davis
Lee Davis
On Tuesday the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals refused to reinstate the lawsuit of a man, Buxton Craig Heyerman, who blames prosecutors for leaving him in prison for 17 years after his conviction was overturned. Heyerman filed a civil rights action alleging the defendants violated his Sixth Amendment speedy-trial rights through his lengthy detention. 

There seems to be no dispute that a court order overturning Buxton Heyerman’s conviction and ordering a new trial apparently fell through the cracks in 1989. In January of 1988, after initially being found guilty of one count of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, he was sentenced to a prison term of 20-40 years.
The next year the Michigan Court of Appeals reversed the conviction and remanded the matter back to the trial court. But instead of getting a new trial, he stayed in prison.

The Sixth Circuit said there’s no evidence that his extended stay in prison was due to a prosecutor's bad policy or a failure to supervise staff, key points in his civil rights lawsuit. The system in place at the time was to notify the parties and schedule a status conference once a case was remanded or reconsideration. For reasons unknown, the procedure was not followed in this case. 


The Sixth Circuit wrote that: 

“The judicial system - to say nothing of the criminal defense system - has not functioned as it should when a criminal defendant remains imprisoned for 17 years after his or her conviction has been reversed and no further action has been taken. Liability, however, does not necessarily attach to any entity and/or individual as a result of this breakdown.”

Heyerman’s attorney at the time was evidently aware of the decision but told his client to keep quiet and stay locked up for a few more years until the statute of limitations on the charge ran out. Calhoun County authorities said they became aware of the case only in 2007, when Heyerman filed a lawsuit demanding his release.

A judge that year dismissed charges, saying Heyerman's right to a speedy trial was violated. Heyerman’s former attorney paid $95,000 to settle a malpractice claim and was suspended from the practice of law for three years.

The judges of the Sixth Circuit summed the trial up aptly, calling it a “remarkable saga.”“It is not often that an inmate seeks refuge from the prosecutorial arm of the state by laying low for 17 years in prison in order to avoid the risk of a new trial that, if all goes badly, will lead to incarceration. And it is not often that a state abets this strategy by failing to realize that it is housing an individual whose conviction has been reversed.

To read the full opinion, click here

(Lee Davis is a Chattanooga attorney who can be reached at lee@davis-hoss.com or at 266-0605.)


2014 OPGA/POINT Freedom Award Presented To Eclipse Medical

Eclipse Medical, LLC in Chattanooga received the 2014 OPGA/POINT Freedom Award for their service and dedication to veterans and active duty soldiers. The OPGA/POINT Freedom Award recognizes OPGA and POINT members who have provided orthotic and prosthetic fitting and/or rehabilitation for soldiers wounded in action. “Every day more and more of our brave men ... (click for more)

Over Qualified

The loss of a job can be somewhat of a traumatic experience.  Many emotions accompany this life altering event, there are many highs and just as many lows, I will explore the highs and lows at a later time, but what I want this article to focus on are two little words that have a very demoralizing affect on the job seeker, “Over Qualified.” Being labeled “Over Qualified,” ... (click for more)

Architect/Contractor Selected By Erlanger For New Children's/Women's Hospital

HKS has been selected as the architect and McCarthy as the construction manager for a new Children’s and Women’s Hospital at the Erlanger campus on East Third Street. The Atlanta team competed against another Atlanta group for the major construction project. Erlanger officials announced Monday that $11.5 million is being set aside in a debt restructuring for the new $30 ... (click for more)

Westfield Charged In Burning, Torture Of Kitten At Cleveland

An arrest has been made in the case of a kitten who was burned and tortured in Cleveland, Tn. At 12:50 p.m. on Tuesday, Gary A. Westfield, 31, of Cleveland, was placed in custody on a warrant obtained by Lt. Robert Harbison and Detective Matt Jenkins of the Criminal Investigations Division. Westfield was charged with aggravated cruelty to animals, which is a Class E felony. ... (click for more)

Chattanooga Has Lost Its Most Popular Citizen - Luther Masingill

Chattanooga has lost its most popular citizen – Luther Masingill. Although we are saddened we cherish the memories.  All of us have a Luther story.  Mine is the first time I met Luther.  This was before TV and all of Chattanooga listened to Luther on the radio.  I was 12-years-old.  Some of my buddies and I had gone to the State Theater in downtown ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: An Election Day Fable

Every day I am peppered with emails that friends send to me from across the country so I am unsure of where the fable you are about to read originated. But with early voting for the November general election now in full swing, I think everyone who will -- or will not -- take part in freedom’s greatest privilege should read this story because I believe there is a great lesson contained ... (click for more)