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.)


TVA Seeks Comment On Energy Plan During Knoxville Meeting

The Tennessee Valley Authority will host a public meeting Monday with live Internet streaming to review its newly released draft Integrated Resource Plan, a guide to TVA’s energy planning decisions for the next 20 years. The meeting, the second of seven that will be offered around the Valley, will be held at TVA headquarters’ West Tower Auditorium from 7-8:30 p.m. TVA is located ... (click for more)

Customers Can Now Post Reviews On Better Business Bureau Website

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) of Chattanooga serving Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia is launching a customer review service, a new platform for customers to voice favorable or unfavorable experiences they have had with local businesses. “For so many years consumers have asked the BBB for a way to praise businesses for admirable practices and service. Now BBB Customer ... (click for more)

Chattanooga Police Detective Karl Fields Terminated On Code Of Conduct Charges

Karl Fields, former Chattanooga Police detective, was terminated on Wednesday on code of conduct charges. The Chattanooga Police Department said it received a correspondence from the Hamilton County District Attorney’s Office o n Sept. 4, 2014,  informing it of allegations of inappropriate behavior committed by a CPD investigator during the course of a rape investigation. ... (click for more)

Autopsy Says 5-Year-Old Whitwell Boy Died Of Blunt Force Trauma

An autopsy on five-year-old Lucas Dillon of Whitwell says he died of blunt force trauma. The TBI is investigating the death, which is being treated as a homicide. The child, who lived on Jewell Lane Road, was injured on Saturday and died in a hospital on Monday. Lucas was a student at Whitwell Head Start. (click for more)

Physicians Thank Their Patients On Doctor’s Day

March 30 has been set aside as National Doctors’ Day since 1933 as a time to recognize the contributions made by our physicians. While the recognition is appreciated, our greatest satisfaction comes from caring for our patients.  For 132 years, the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Medical Society has been the physicians’ voice as we worked together to improve health of our community. ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: A Tragedy And A Triumph

Two summers ago there was a 15-year-old boy at Atlanta’s Egleston children’s hospital with two big problems. Doctors had discovered the child had dilated cardiomyopathy and the left ventricle in his heart was failing to pump enough blood. Doctors predicted that without a heart transplant he would only live six to nine more months. His other problem was a court-ordered monitoring ... (click for more)