William Haymon was just 13 years old when he was arrested for armed robbery in June 2018 and charged as an adult. Released on bond, Haymon was re-arrested eight months later on an aggravated assault charge, and his original bond was revoked. He has been held without bail since February 2019 in a Lexington, Mississippi adult regional jail.
The local district attorney, Akillie Malone-Oliver, says the delay is a result of turnover in the local police department that is investigating the charges. But in a state where the prosecution has no time limit within which to seek an indictment before a grand jury, Haymon may keep waiting.
Haymon’s attorney, Lawrence Blackmon, has argued that the state is violating his client’s constitutional right to a speedy trial and is illegally detaining the teen. He notes that “over the course of this battle for this kid’s freedom,” the district attorney has “made every excuse in the book.”
Blackmon is representing Haymon pro bono after the court-assigned public defender died this past year. That attorney had never visited the teen in the jail since taking the case. Blackmon has since filed a habeas corpus petition alleging unlawful detention, and a separate motion arguing that Haymon’s Sixth Amendment speedy trial rights are being violated.
The teen’s attorney further noted at a May hearing that the accuser in the first case has died, and the victim in the second does not want charges against Haymon pursued. Despite this, Circuit Court Judge Jannie Lewis-Blackmon (no relation) ruled in May that the defendant is not being unlawfully detained under habeas rules, and that his speedy trial rights weren’t violated. “The reason for the delay outweighs the length of the delay,” she noted, despite evidence that Haymon has been held for months without any movement at all on his case. Blackmon plans to appeal.
The lag, said the prosecutor, was the result of a turnover of police chiefs and investigators with the Durant Police Department. In addition, the investigator now responsible had only recently taken over the case and hadn’t yet reviewed it. The prosecutor, Malone-Oliver, defended her decision to oppose release, calling Haymon a “menace” with a long criminal history. She says she plans to present the case to the next grand jury that convenes, though the date depends on the coronavirus.
Haymon’s case is emblematic of problems in the state’s criminal system. Prosecutors cannot unduly delay trial once an indictment is handed down, but have unlimited time post-arrest to bring charges before the grand jury. That body meets only twice a year. Louisiana, by comparison, has a 60-day deadline to secure an indictment, and federal prosecutors have just 30 days.
In Holmes County, where Haymon is jailed, defendants were incarcerated an average of 417 days. Advocates from the MacArthur Justice Center suggested a 90-day deadline to state lawmakers in 2016, when criminal procedure rules were revised; the advice wasn’t adopted.
In 2014, the MacArthur Center and the ACLU filed a federal civil rights suit against Scott County, Mississippi, over several similar cases of defendants being held for months or years without indictment. The case was settled in 2017 with the county agreeing to fixes in bail and public defender systems, but no changes to indictment delays.
Paloma Wu, of the Mississippi Center for Justice, said Haymon is “one of thousands” in this situation. “It’s not falling through the cracks, that’s an inaccurate way to talk about this case,” she said. “This is not an exception to the rule, this is the rule.”
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