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Louisiana Held a Man in Jail for Over 8 Years Without Ever Convicting Him of a Crime

Louisiana Held a Man in Jail for Over 8 Years Without Ever Convicting Him of a Crime

This piece is a commentary, part of The Appeal’s collection of opinion and analysis.

In 2010 Democrats controlled the House, Senate, and presidency. Barack Obama was just heading into his second year in office. Social media was basically brand new. Adele had just won the Grammy for Best New Artist the year before. And millions of people in the United States had a naive hopefulness about the future of the country.

That February, over eight years ago, police in the New Orleans neighborhood of Carrollton raided a home where they said a 43-year-old man named Kevin Smith lived. Police claimed that they found small baggies of cocaine in a safe in the home—according to Smith’s attorney, however, Smith did not actually reside at this address. But he was arrested on drug charges nonetheless. Because of a previous conviction, the DA’s office had the ability—even though Smith was just facing a nonviolent drug charge—to prosecute him under a repeat felony statute in the state that would lead to up to 20 years in prison.

That’s ugly and problematic, and it’s normal. Jails and prisons in the United States are full of nonviolent drug offenders who were given harsh sentences, including life in prison, once they were found guilty.

And that’s the rub.

Smith has never been convicted of the crime that he was arrested for.

Smith sat in jail for the rest of 2010 and all of 2011. He was locked up for all of 2012 because his defense requested continuances several times and court was closed due to Hurricane Isaac that fall. He sat in jail for all of 2013, 2014, and 2015. In 2014, after Smith had sat in jail for four years, prosecutors offered him a plea deal. They’d let him go on time served if he would just plead guilty.

But Smith refused. And that matters. He maintained that he did not have any cocaine and was not guilty of the crimes that police and prosecutors were accusing him of. Now, we’re talking about a man who’d just spent four years in jail and could potentially spend about 15 more if convicted.

But the madness continued. Without ever being convicted by a jury of his peers, local authorities kept Kevin Smith in jail anyway. He remained there for the rest of 2015, for all of 2016, then for all of 2017.

Then he finally got a break. On November 13, 2017, the judge in Smith’s case granted a defense motion to quash the indictment against him. Having been held in jail for nearly eight outrageous years without ever being convicted, it looked like Smith was finally going to get justice.

At that point, I forgot about the case. I read stories of his impending release, was disgusted that our justice system even had the power to incarcerate a man for years who had not even been convicted of a crime. I assumed that he had been released in time to get home for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

The case then disappeared from public view, but little did we know that the injustice continued.

Smith was not a free man. I had no idea until several days ago when his family and friends got my attention through comments on my Instagram page telling me that they saw me share his story last November and that he was still in jail. I asked them to email me and immediately got this reply.

Good Morning Mr. King!
Kevin is still incarcerated! He was released from Orleans Parish Prison, however the parole board is holding him until March 04, 2022. The Orleans Parish District Attorney was very sore that he was not convicted so Kevin believes that he has something to do with him being held on the parole end! He had been in jail since Feb 2010. Kevin is currently being held at the River Correctional Facility.

Had his case gone to trial? Had he been found guilty sometime between November and now? I asked his family and friends all of these questions and more, and each time they came back to tell me “no.” Smith had still not been found guilty of a crime.

But he was still being held in jail — this time at a private prison, River Correctional Facility, managed by LaSalle Corrections and a family that has gotten filthy rich off of jailing more people per capita than any state in the country.

How was this even possible? It appears that state officials claimed that Smith violated his parole by not properly changing his mailing address years ago, according to one of his former attorneys. Yes, I’m dead serious.

And his family says that Smith will serve out his parole in a correctional facility until 2022 when, according to the court docket, his parole expires.

“Simply put, the District Attorney was not able to convict him,” Martin Regan, one of Smith’s former attorneys, told me. “They dragged their feet and when they got to the parole board they brought people in who did not know the case. The parole board accepted the testimony of some unsworn witnesses who inaccurately presented the case. It was an injustice.”

Listen to me — I study injustice for a living. I’ve never seen anything so corrupt and outrageous in my life. This man is now going on his ninth year in jail without ever having been convicted for a crime. It appears that his body is being housed and used for profit in jail and for some type of vendetta from local officials.

Whatever the case, it’s an egregious injustice and we must all organize to make sure that Kevin Smith is released and that no such thing happens ever again.

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