[NOTE TO OUR READERS: We present this story as it poses an interesting ethical question. Is escape an ethical response to a conviction under a bad policy? Even if the convicted would have served only three months time? And should twenty-five years of exemplary life cause a prosecutor to choose not to seek the return of such an escapee? It is, in the end, the odd outcome of a flawed system, and we offer here the perspectives of the attorneys on either side.]

Alfred Martin will be heading back to Virginia after a Michigan court ordered him extradited on charges that he walked away from a one year prison sentence in 1974. (Martin was sentenced to ten years, but all but one year of the sentence was suspended.) Martin had been sentenced for selling $10 worth of marijuana to a co-worker, and now faces charges of escape, as well as theft by conversion for failing to complete payments on a stereo and a television that he had bought on installment shortly before his original arrest and conviction.

Martin, a broker for the Mortgage Company of Michigan, had led "an exemplary life since his conviction," according to Judge William Callahan, who nevertheless ruled in favor of the state of Virginia. Callahan also said that Martin and his family had been "a credit to the state" during their twenty-five years in Michigan.

Virginia had tried once before to have Martin extradited, in 1976. At that time, then-Governor William Milikan granted him legal asylum in Michigan. Since that time, however, several Supreme Court rulings have supported the rights of states to retrieve persons from other states regardless of the circumstances.

Gregory R. Neidle, Martin's attorney, told The Week Online, "the prosecutor (Joan Ziglar of Martinsville, VA) materially misrepresented Mr. Martin's situation both to the Governor of Virginia and to the Michigan court. There was no indication in any of her papers that my client had previously fought this for three years resulting in the granting of asylum. Legally, therefore, we believe that Mr. Martin has been wrongly extradited. From the standpoint of justice, he is a man who had no record prior to his arrest twenty-five years ago, and he's had no record since he's arrived in Michigan. He's a mortgage broker, a successful man, with a wife of twenty-six years and three children. There is absolutely no reasonable justification for sending Alfred Martin back to prison."

Joan Ziglar has been the prosecutor in the town of Martinsville, population 16,000, for just under a year. Martinsville, she says, has a serious drug problem, in part due to its midpoint status between New York and Florida. According to Ziglar, approximately 70% of her cases are either directly or indirectly drug-related. She spoke with The Week Online:

WOL: Mr. Martin walked away from his sentence almost twenty-five years ago. Why, after all this time, did you decide to pursue this case?

Ziglar: When I was first elected, I sat down with my staff to discuss our priorities. One of those priorities was to pursue extradition of felons who had fled the jurisdiction. Mr. Martin fits that description and when the state of Michigan notified us that they had stopped him, I reopened his file just like I would for any other fugitive. I would also mention that unlike other extradition cases, where someone has fled before trial, Mr. Martin had been convicted here. He had escaped from detention.

WOL: But even the judge in Michigan commented that he had led an exemplary life there. What do you hope to accomplish by putting him back in jail?

Ziglar: Well, there are others here who are awaiting trial, and I want them all to know that if you run, no matter how far or long, we will come after you. So you might as well stay and take your medicine now. I also believe that we have to send a message that we will fight drugs, even marijuana. America is fed up with drugs, and I believe that it is my job to fight for a safer America.

WOL: So now he will face his original sentence plus two others, right?

Ziglar: Mr. Martin faces a maximum of five years for his escape, and a maximum of twenty years for the felony theft-by conversion charge. I would add that while he had originally been sentenced to two five year terms, all but six months of each of those had been suspended. And, going by the parole rules in 1974, he would have only served a total of three months of that year. Today, under truth in sentencing, he would have had to serve 85% of that year.

WOL: And will you seek the maximum?

Ziglar: Other than cases such as murder, I never ask for a specific sentence. I will argue to the jury that Mr. Martin is guilty of the charges, and that he should be punished appropriately. I will leave it to the jury to make the determination on what that may be.

ACTION ITEM: If you have an opinion on this case, take a moment to send a letter to one of the Virginia newspapers listed below. You might want to mention that incarcerating Mr. Martin, who clearly poses no danger to anyone, will cost the taxpayers of Virginia upwards of $30,000 per year.
Letters to the Editor
Editorial Pages
Box 85333
Richmond,VA 23293
fax: (804) 775-8090

Letters to the Editor
Virginia Pilot
P.O. Box 449
Norfolk, VA 23501-0449
fax: (757) 446-2051

Progress Index
15 Franklin
Petersburg, VA 23803

Please send us copies of your letters, to: DRCNet, 2000 P St., NW, Suite 615, Washington, DC 20036, fax to (202) 293-8344, or e-mail to alert-feedback@drcnet.org.

-- END --
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Issue #70, 12/11/98 Exemplary Citizen to be Extradited on 25 Year-Old $10 Marijuana Conviction | Supreme Court Strikes Down Car Search Law | Congressional Report: Citibank Facilitated Salinas Money Laundering | Exciting Resources Available Online | Job Opportunity | Fellowships and Academic Opportunities | Giving the Gift of Hope | Editorial: Human Rights Declared but Not Observed
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