Kevin Melton: A Pain in Everyone’s Ass for No Reason
Nov. 25, 2015 (Mimesis Law) — Kevin Melton seems like a pretty bad guy and a handful of a client to boot:
The man accused of orchestrating the kidnapping of a Wake County prosecutor’s father told a federal judge on Monday that he did not trust his defense team.
Kelvin Melton, who has been detained in isolation in the federal prison at Butner for a year and a half, told U.S. District Judge James C. Dever III that he thought his attorneys had been withholding information from him.
If it made the news every time a defendant wanted to fire his lawyer, there probably wouldn’t be enough hours in a day for journalists to write about anything else. There’s an interesting wrinkle in Melton’s case, however:
Melton, 50, described as a high-ranking Bloods gang member, faces federal charges of using a contraband phone inside Polk prison, a state facility where he was serving a life sentence, to retaliate against the assistant Wake district attorney who prosecuted him in 2012.
Frank Janssen, 63, father of Wake prosecutor Colleen Janssen, was kidnapped from his Wake Forest home on April 5, 2014. Colleen Janssen was the assistant district attorney assigned to Melton’s 2012 case, which stemmed from the 2011 shooting of a man and resulted in his being labeled as a habitual felon.
The wrinkle is that Melton is being prosecuted federally despite the fact he will apparently die in prison no matter what. I can’t think of any scenario where he’d be looking at the death penalty, as the victim didn’t die and wasn’t an officer, juror, or witness. Unless he’s that lucky one in a million defendant who gets his life sentence overturned and walks, it seems he is never going to be a free man. So why bother prosecuting him then? Wasting time and money on meaningless prosecutions is not a new thing, and I’ve still yet to hear a compelling reason for doing it.
Let’s say you think that retribution should be the guiding factor in a sentence, that Melton should be punished because he deserves it. Perhaps you think vengeance is a valid goal of punishment. The problem in Melton’s case is that there essentially can be no punishment. The federal judge can’t just order the state prison to make Melton’s life behind bars suck a little more. The marshals may wake him up real early for his court appearances, but I’m doubtful anyone is going to argue that alone is enough to constitute meaningful punishment.
If Melton is like the clients I’ve had in similar situations, court appearances may even be like field trips. If Melton has plans to escape, moving him back and forth for the case may even give him some chances to do it. The article noted he has been detained in isolation in federal prison for a year and a half, but I suspect he’d have pled already if he’d grown that tired of it. If they’re really looking to punish Melton with minor inconveniences, it hardly seems worth it. Federal prosecutors might as well just put it in their budget to slip the prison cooks a twenty now and again to have them spit in Melton’s soup or burn his toast. It’d save us all a lot of time and money.
Or perhaps they’re just trying to irritate him with the litigation:
Federal prosecutors and Melton’s defense team updated Dever on the exchange of documents as the scheduled trial date approaches.
Thousands of pages of have been turned over to Melton and his attorneys, but some from the State Bureau of Investigation have been illegible. Others have been provided only to Melton’s defense attorneys because of a protective order put in place shortly after his arrest.
Because prosecutors allege that Melton was able to orchestrate a crime from inside prison walls, and some of the information in the case has been gathered from current state inmates and prison guards, the judge agreed to restrict the flow of information to the accused for fear that Melton would retaliate against others in the case.
Welcome to my world, Melton. What he’s dealing with, of course, is what criminal defense attorneys deal with constantly. Every agency has some special, obscure format for everything. I have downloaded more document readers and video players than I can count. Illegible reports are the norm for some agencies even though I know they prepare them electronically. I often wonder who on earth came up with the office policy of only using fonts that look like they came from a nineteenth century typewriter desperately in need of a new ribbon. When you’re lucky enough to get a .pdf file with a legible font, it’s forty thousand pages long, mostly irrelevant, and not searchable.
The protective order in Melton’s case is a little more unusual, but it’s no less irritating, I’m sure. The article explains:
Dever acknowledged the difficulties of Melton’s pre-trial situation. The defense attorneys complained earlier in the hearing about the way prosecutors were sharing some of the details of the case. They had to look at pages of records in Raleigh, but were unable to copy the material or take it on a disk for fear it would be widely distributed and put some of the witnesses in the case in jeopardy.
“The material that they have is different by a large margin from what I have,” Melton told the judge. “When I ask about it, I am being told something different from what’s in front of my face. “
Melton, who was surrounded by marshals and in shackles at the hearing, added: “The way I feel is there’s a lot of things that I know about this case.”
But Melton, whose long microbraids were wrapped high on his head in a multi-layered bun, said he did not trust his attorneys enough to share critical details with them because he thought they had not been keeping him in the loop.
Defense attorney Samuel Randall IV told Dever he had not been able to spend much time with Melton and the restrictions put in place by the protective order had made it difficult for a free flow of information.
“The relationship is strained,” Randall said. “It’s not conducive to any attorney-client privilege.”
Dever said from the bench that he did not think “the conflict” between Melton and his attorneys had “resulted in a total lack of communication” and for that reason he was not going to appoint a new defense team.
Other defense attorneys would be in a similar situation, Dever said.
If ever there was a defendant who was a security threat, it’s probably Melton. On the other hand, letting the defense look at things but not have it makes the job all but impossible. It obviously upsets Melton too, but he’s not making the situation any easier by refusing to share critical details with his attorneys.
The relationship between Melton and his lawyers is obviously strained. That sucks. So does the court’s ruling, which basically tells Melton “hey, you’re not totally screwed and unable to work with your lawyers, and my orders will make it just as bad for anyone else I might appoint.” Melton seems pretty upset about a pretty upsetting situation, but I’m still skeptical that’s the value the feds see in prosecuting the case. If it is, I’d really just be impressed; charging the guy simply to then torment the shit out of him with the sort of stuff defense attorneys deal with every single day is pretty darn creative. It’s still not much from a punishment perspective, though.
The lack of the feds having any meaningful ability to punish Melton also eliminates any potential deterrent effect of a sentence. Even if a federal court tags on a consecutive, second life in prison, who exactly is that going to deter? Is Melton going to think twice about getting the revenge he clearly wants out of fear of another symbolic gesture from the feds? Or are authorities looking to deter other people doing life sentences from committing crimes while in prison? If so, what makes anyone think those people are going to hear about Melton? What message could this case possibly send to other people hoping to kidnap a prosecutor’s family member?
A lot of prosecutors believe that everything must be prosecuted simply because. They somehow believe a priori that prosecution is worthwhile every time someone commits a crime, and it doesn’t matter to them if it has no real world effect on anything. Justice means that, experience and facts be damned, everything must be prosecuted. Of course, it seems to me that the logical extreme of that position is that we should prosecute the dead. Sadly, I have no doubt there are prosecutors who might get behind that.
It may well be that Melton has some chance at parole some day and the article just omits it. No other article notes that either, but if it is the case, there’s obviously some benefit to guaranteeing he’ll never get out. Otherwise, Melton’s situation is a meaningless mess. It is making more work for the marshals, for the facility where he’s held, for law enforcement, and for the United States Attorney’s Office. It’s also adding to the court’s caseload and occupying defense attorneys who will probably not come cheap and could be working on other appointments. It’s doing all that despite the potential it will have no substantive impact on anything. It appears to be nothing more than a giant pain in the ass for no reason.