A Muscogee County Superior Court judge reduced the bond of a man facing a sex crime charge this week, but in doing so he wrote a scathing condemnation of the District Attorney’s Office and its delay in bringing indictments.
Stanley Andrews has been incarcerated for more than 1,370 days awaiting Grand Jury indictment on three charges — aggravated sodomy, obstruction of a law enforcement officer and battery with physical harm.
In his order issued Tuesday cutting Andrews’ $16,600 bond in half, Superior Court Judge Ben Land wrote that long-term incarceration without indictment or a trial date “simply cannot be tolerated in a free society.”
And Land did not stop there.
“When an individual is locked up by our government for years with no formal criminal charge being asserted, justice is compromised and public trust is eroded,” Land wrote. “This is not what our Constitution contemplates and not the way our system is supposed to work.”
Andrews has been in the Muscogee County Jail for nearly three years and spent 11 months being held at West Central Georgia Regional Hospital for a psychological evaluation.
The case has been assigned to Land, the newest of the seven Superior Court judges who serve the six-county Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit, which includes Muscogee.
Judges can’t comment on a pending case. Reached this week, Land declined to comment on the conditions that led him to the language in the order. He said he would let the order speak for itself.
District Attorney Julia Slater said Monday the length of time it has taken to formally charge Andrews is “extremely unusual.” She pointed to several factors that have delayed the case,
— A ruling on a motion by the defense at a hearing on Feb. 15, 2016, placed this case in a legal status that prevented us from moving forward. During the next 29 months, it was unclear whether the DA’s Office would ever be able to proceed with this case.
— On July 18, 2018, after Andrews’s return from West Central Georgia Regional Hospital, the DA’s Office received notice of a change in the legal status which allowed us to proceed. The remaining 179 days have been spent updating a three-year-old case to prepare it for prosecution.
“In general, several factors influence the speed at which cases can be indicted,” Slater said. “For example, because forensic testing is now expected by jurors in a higher number of cases there is a longer wait at the crime lab to complete the tests. Before the DA’s Office formally charges an individual we should be certain we have the appropriate evidence against the defendant which usually includes testimony.”
The judicial frustration is not limited to Land.
Chief Muscogee County Superior Court Judge Gil McBride said on Wednesday that his office has been monitoring the backlog in the judicial system.
“The Grand Jury appears to be the choke point,” McBride said.,
According to data McBride has received from the Muscogee County Sheriff’s Office, there were 1,167 inmates in the jail Wednesday morning at 7:30.
The Georgia Uniform Rules of Superior Court state that an indictment is delayed it a person has been in jail for more than 45 days. As of Jan. 14, there were 452 inmates in the Muscogee County Jail awaiting indictment, according to data provided by McBride.
Land addressed the situation in his order on the Andrews’ case.
“The Muscogee County Jail is not designed to be the first and last stop for people who are guilty of crimes,” Land wrote. “It is designed to be a temporary housing facility for those individuals who are awaiting their trial dates. “If individuals accused of crimes are in fact guilty and deserve long-term incarceration, they should be indicted, tried and sentenced to prison upon conviction. If they are not, in fact, guilty they should be released and returned to society as free citizens.”
Georgia Sen. Randy Robertson, R-Cataula, spent more than 30 years at the Muscogee County Sheriff’s Office and is on the Senate Law Enforcement Committee.
“Judge Land’s ruling has snatched the bandage off of a long existing problem within our criminal justice system,” Robertson said. “Having individuals charged with serious crimes sitting in jail for long periods of time without indictment does nothing to provide relief to their victims and only adds time to the overall healing process. This problem also adds stress to the already overworked, understaffed, and underpaid men and women who work in our county jail.”
Columbus Mayor and public Safety Director Skip Henderson is working to get everyone involved in the process to find a solution. Henderson was aware of Land’s order and the frustration that was clear in it.
“He’s got quite a list of cases he’s trying to get through his court and he’s sharing his frustration,” Henderson said. “Here you got somebody who’s been sitting in jail for four years. … What I am viewing my role is is as being somebody who can go in and try and facilitate discussions on how we streamline the process. How do we make sure this flows quicker? How do we assure we don’t have anybody languishing in our jail for 1,400 days?”
At the same time Land reduced the bond for Andrews, he also reduced the bond for Javon McClendon, who is in the Muscogee County Jail on a murder charge. The judge cut McClendon’s bond from $150,000 to $100,000.
McClendon is charged in the death of 2017 shooting death of Javion Shorter. He has been jailed for 13 months without indictment, according to Land’s order. The judge cited the length of incarceration without indictment in his order.