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

Monday, June 4, 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.)


Attorney General Announces Settlement Allowing Dollar Tree To Acquire Family Dollar

Tennessee Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery III announced Thursday the merger of two large national chains of deep discount stores, Dollar Tree, headquartered in Chesapeake, Va. and Family Dollar, headquartered in Matthews, NC. As part of the agreement, Dollar Tree will be required to divest hundreds of Family Dollar stores nationwide, including stores in Memphis and Nashville. ... (click for more)

Chamber Events For July 6-10

TUESDAY, JULY 7 Member Orientation 8:00 a.m. - 9:30 a.m. Chamber Board Room: 811 Broad St. Learn more about how the Chamber can benefit you and your business. For members and non-members. Free. Light breakfast. North Chattanooga Council Meeting 11:30 a.m. - 1:00 p.m. The INCubator: 100 Cherokee Blvd. Meeting Cost $10.  Speaker: ... (click for more)

Fuel Spill Shuts Down Westbound Traffic At I-24/Hwy 27 Split

Chattanooga Police on Saturday morning were at the scene of a traffic crash involving an 18-wheeler at the I-24/Hwy. 27 split in the westbound lanes. At 7:33 p.m., police said I -24 westbound was shut down due to a fuel spill from the crash. E mergency crews were working to clear the roadway. T raffic was being diverted down the Market St/Williams St exit ramp. ... (click for more)

Plumbers Bring Complaints To WWTA; Told New Contracts Are Ready

Several plumbers on Thursday brought complaints to a committee of the Hamilton County Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority (WWTA) and got little response other than being told that new contracts are ready. Kay Keefe of Keefe Plumbing said the small number of plumbing companies still participating in the program to repair leaky lines to homes, have long been operating without ... (click for more)

Could The Marriage Decision Spark A New Independence Day?

I confess that this year I am having a hard time with the idea of celebrating the 4th of July Independence Day. It is not because I am not thankful to God for what was done on that day, what it represents, and the blessings I’ve experienced that flow from it. On the other hand, I want to think that maybe this year’s celebration will mark a period in our history in which a new movement ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: My Pre-Fourth Observations

I hate to do this, right on the heels of my monthly ‘Walk in the Garden,’ but I have more things on my desk that I dare not leave unnoticed before tomorrow’s Star-Spangled celebration. Foremost is the plea to anyone who shoots off firecrackers to please wear eye protection and ask watchers to stand back. Our eye doctors say firecracker-related injuries have doubled in the last three ... (click for more)