JACKSON, Miss. — The Mississippi Supreme Court has overturned convictions of a man because prosecutors can’t prove they ever filed criminal charging papers against him.
In a unanimous opinion handed down Thursday, justices found that William Ashwell could not be convicted of burglary and escape even though he agreed to waive indictment and plead guilty in 2006.
That’s because prosecutors never filed criminal charges against Ashwell. The court record showed no proof of a charge, although a prosecutor said it normally would have been filed. Lawrence County Circuit Judge Prentiss Harrell found in the case that the document must have existed because it was referenced in Ashwell’s plea hearing and in a prosecutor’s sworn statement. The Court of Appeals had previously upheld that ruling.
Writing for the court, Presiding Justice Jess Dickinson reiterated a rule that even a guilty plea to the two felonies couldn’t overcome a failure to charge a criminal offense.
Justice Jim Kitchens blamed the failure in part on a cattle-call hearing where Harrell accepted Ashwell’s guilty plea along with pleas from 11 other defendants accused of separate crimes.
He and other judges wrote that prosecutors must tell a judge what specific facts exist to support each conviction.
Associate Justice Robert Chamberlin wrote that if there had been some other factual evidence of Ashwell’s crimes in the record, the state might have been able to overcome the failure to file charge documents. Chamberlin said evidence suggests the charging document may have existed, but says no recorded evidence establishing a crime occurred makes it necessary to toss the conviction.