I recently read an opinion from the Second District Court of Appeal in Florida concerning Rolland Shultz. Mr. Shultz has been in prison for the past 30 years based on an illegal sentence. He is still in prison now while I am writing this. I want to ask him how did the system fail him and what should have been done differently to prevent this mistake.
Mr. Shultz was sixteen in 1978 when he was charged as an adult for very serious crimes. He entered a plea to attempted sexual battery and burglary of a dwelling and was sentenced to 2 years prison followed by a lifetime of probation. When he violated his probation in 1980, he was sentenced to 99 years in prison. In 1978 and 1980, he was sentenced as a youthful offender so the maximum sentence that could be imposed legally was 6 years in prison. He recently filed a petition for his release and was denied release by at the trial court level. Thankfully he appealed and hopefully he will be released soon.
In asking how did the system fail him, I realize there were several people and several levels that could have helped avoid this 30 year illegal imprisonment. Why didn’t the prosecutor speak up when the judge initially placed him on lifetime probation or sentenced him to 99 years prison when he violated? Did he have a defense attorney initially and at the violation of probation hearing? If he did, why didn’t his attorney tell the judge it was an illegal sentence or file an appeal to challenge the illegal sentence? If he did not have an attorney, why wasn’t an attorney there to represent him? Why didn’t the “jailhouse attorneys” in prison tell him that his 99 year sentence was illegal? Why did the trial court deny his petition for release?
This is an extreme example of what can happen when people just sit back and let things happen. There are safeguards in the system that are supposed to prevent something like this from happening-court appointed counsel, appellate courts-but the safeguards only work if people know their rights. I’m sure that if someone had just told Mr. Shultz his sentence was illegal and told him what to do to challenge it, he could have been released years ago and maybe would have enjoyed his youth. Hopefully nothing like this will ever happen again.