Raymond Jennings’s Ongoing Nightmare
July 1, 2016 (Fault Lines) — After I wrote about Raymond Jennings, who was recently released after spending over a decade in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, I received an email from his lawyer, Jeffrey Ehrlich. I’d ended my post with this:
Since that first article came out, it was changed to reflect that Jennings has been released. As one last little kicker, however, it was with electronic monitoring. Given the needless use of resources that have already been spent on this case, it’s a very fitting cherry on the sundae for them to waste just a little bit more monitoring someone who’s very likely innocent.
Based on what Jennings’s lawyer sent me, it turns out that Jennings’s electronic monitoring is not just more intrusive than I ever could have expected, but also even more pointless. Here’s what his lawyer wrote:
Finally, about the monitoring. They sprung that on me the day before the hearing. But the judge was fine with it, for some bizarre reason. This is what it meant. Ray was plucked from prison on one-day’s notice; and released without a dime to his name, without ID, with only the clothes on his back – and told that he could not go home to live with his family, but must instead remain in LA for the next 60 days. They didn’t give him any assistance of any type. As far as they DA was concerned, he could eat out of dumpsters and sleep on the streets.
I’d like to say that we should expect better from the prosecution, but these are the same people that took Jennings to trial three times in order to wrongfully convict him, despite the fact no one had investigated other people at the scene. Moreover, the court didn’t set the bar very high by letting it happen. Treating Jennings like he’s a threat, absent any reason to think that’s true simply continues the baseless suspicions and tendency to err in favor of messing with Jennings’s life for no good reason, that permeated his case from the beginning.
Sadly, arbitrary conditions of release are not that uncommon. Prosecutors and judges fixate on that rare defendant who does something awful because his conditions of release weren’t onerous enough. They don’t want anything to happen on their watch, so they force oppressive rules on people. From their point of view, it’s better to make people jump through a few extra hoops that aren’t necessary than to potentially suffer serious backlash in the event something happens and it looks like they could’ve done more.
Jennings’s case is unique, however, in how perfectly it exposes the absurdities that can arise when prosecutors and courts demand irrational things just to be safe. It’s primarily because everything seems to suggest that the guy flat out didn’t do. He’s been behind bars for eleven years for someone else’s crime. Electronic monitoring for a guy who’d legally presumed innocent, but in all likelihood did it, isn’t going to offend most people. Electronic monitoring for a guy who’s actually innocent, especially when that guy has already suffered in prison for so many years, is a different story. It’s a lot easier to get upset about an arbitrary requirement when it’s imposed on someone sympathetic.
Furthermore, Jennings’s crappy treatment in general is also typical, yet more offensive, because it’s happening to an innocent man. In many respects, the system is completely incapable of treating people well. It’s designed and run by people who assume they’re dealing with people who did something wrong. It colors everything they do. Who cares if they don’t give someone notice they’re being released so preparations can be made? They should be grateful they’re getting out. Why should the system have to help someone who was convicted get back on his feet? The government doesn’t even provide that much help to needy people who haven’t been convicted of a crime.
In a case like Jennings’s, where in a perfect world he would be getting an immediate apology and a big civil settlement for what they’ve done to him, the government’s normal course of conduct takes on a whole new level of offensiveness. Additionally, Jennings’s release situation highlights not just the arbitrariness of the things prosecutors and courts demand, but their incompetence at choosing them logically and then enforcing them. Jennings’s lawyer wrote:
Ironically, tomorrow will be 6 days after Ray’s release, and he’s still not being monitored. The order setting the terms was not given to me until the day after the hearing, and it basically put Ray on house arrest. I objected, and they agreed to change it to allow complete “freedom of movement,” except for certain locations in LA (the justification for some of which they won’t explain to me.) At first, they wanted him out of the entire San Fernando Valley. That’s almost half of the City of LA. It’s also where I live and have my office. They agreed that he could visit me in either place, and in a 7.5 mile radius of either spot. As a result, about 40% of the Valley is now ok for him. It’s security theater of the worst sort.
It’s really, really important for Jennings to do a whole bunch of stuff, it seems, but not quite important enough for the government to put in a little effort to make it happen.
I suppose authorities just want us to rest assured that they’re making sure things are as needlessly complicated for Jennings as possible, as there’s really no reason for any of this. What sort of trouble is a guy who hasn’t seen freedom in over a decade going to get into in the San Fernando Valley that he can’t get into elsewhere? Are they worried he’s going to harass the friends and family members of the woman he didn’t murder? If he didn’t murder her, which is why they released him, then why on earth would anyone even consider him doing that a possibility?
If Jennings’s lawyer can’t figure out the reason for any of this, then figuring it out is probably impossible. His lawyer is absolutely right about it being security theater; the point isn’t to actually make anyone safer. It’s to make people feel safer, provided they don’t think about it too hard. Unfortunately, based on Jennings’s lawyer’s newest update, it’s clear the idiocy of this isn’t stopping anytime soon:
It’s even weirder now. The DA’s Office didn’t ask for GPS tracking. So the monitor only detects when he comes and goes from his residence. But he has no restrictions on coming and going, save for not approaching certain specified people, and places. And they would not know from the monitor if he complied or not.
Even if Jennings did pose some threat, his predicament would be infuriating. After all, the various restrictions don’t even seem to accomplish what they’re intended to do. On top of that, if the case against him is falling apart because he’s innocent, and authorities have finally realized that, then who cares if he flees? Let him go to some non-extradition country and sit happily on the beach. He’s earned it.
In reality, all Jennings wants to do is to go back to North Carolina to be with his family until his next hearing. Even if that does happen, though, and his lawyer is certainly doing everything in his power to make that happen, it won’t be enough. The fact he’s been stuck in the same place where he was wrongfully convicted, a place far from people who love him, for no good reason is terrible. The fact he’s been forced to navigate a web of unnecessary and ineffective requirements further proves just how little authorities care. His case is one travesty after another.
Unfortunately for Jennings, being the government doesn’t just mean not having to say you’re sorry, but also affirmatively continuing to interfere with the lives of the people you’ve wronged. Hopefully that stops for Jennings soon. Hopefully he gets some compensation for being wronged too, though he might not want to hold his breath.
After all he’s been through, he’s now trying to survive, suddenly on his own without a home or job, forced to seek help where he can find it. If anyone deserves a little kindness and a helping hand, Ray Jennings does.