U.S. Court of Appeals Slams Nevada Courts, Prosecutors
This isn’t about DUI, but about our failing criminal justice system generally — and the rare willingness of one court to recognize it.
In November 1987, Joni Goldyn opened checking and savings accounts with the Nevada Federal Credit Union, which promptly gave her a $500 line of credit and a check guarantee card. Goldyn used up the funds in her account and most of the line of credit, but continued writing checks which were accepted by merchants. The credit union continued covering her checks, as the check guarantee card obligated it to. As the credit union’s collection officer testified at trial: “If a member uses a check guarantee card with the check, the bank is liable, and we do have to honor those checks.” Goldyn was convicted by a jury of five counts of writing bad checks. Because of her prior record, the judge gave her five life sentences.
On appeal, the Nevada Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the conviction and sentence. After twelve years in prison, she was released and placed on lifetime parole. She filed a writ of habeus corpus with the federal court, again arguing the obvious: the checks were good because they were covered by her line of credit. If the credit union was obligated to cover them, she argued, then they can sue her but she can’t have written bad checks.
A few days ago, the U.S. Court of Appeals (9th Circuit) granted the writ and reversed the conviction. In its published opinion (Goldyn v. Hayes, No. 04-17338; February 1, 2006), the Court abandoned the unwritten never-speak-ill-of-another-judge rule:
No rational trier of fact could have found that Goldyn committed the crime of writing bad checks as defined by Nevada law. And no rational judicial system would have upheld her conviction. We are saddened and disappointed that the state supreme court unanimously affirmed a conviction carrying multiple life sentences based on such cursory and inadequate review of the record in light of the applicable statute…
Had the Nevada courts and prosecutor’s office taken more seriously their “obligation to serve the cause of justice,” United States v. Agurs (cite), Goldyn would not have spent twelve years behind bars for conduct that is not a crime.
The Court added:
Because we are granting Goldyn’s habeas petition for the reasons expressed above, we do not consider her numerous other claims, some of which raise similarly significant issues that cast further doubt on the state’s commitment to the pursuit of justice in this case.
(Thanks to Manny Daskal of Eureka, CA.)