Think you have the right to basic due process—such as the right to have an attorney, the right to have notice of the charges against you, the right to gather evidence in your favor and to speak in your defense—before you can be convicted of a crime? Not in Virginia, at least according to Amos v. Commonwealth, issued earlier this month by the Virginia Court of Appeals.
Felecia Amos had been a witness for the Arlington County Commonwealth’s Attorney (Virginia’s name for a district attorney) at a probation revocation hearing for her ex-husband, Antonio Amos. Mr. Amos was on probation after having been criminally convicted of assaulting and battering Ms. Amos. Ms. Amos testified at the hearing (and had earlier complained to prosecutors), that her ex-husband had harassed her, in violation of his probation. Mr. Amos testified that he had done no such thing. At the end of the hearing the court ruled against the prosecution, holding that no parole violation had been proven. Nothing remarkable or unusual about that.
What the court did, next, however, was extraordinary. It called Ms. Amos, who had remained in the courtroom as a spectator after testifying, to the podium, told her that she was a “scorned woman” who had “lied” and sentenced her to ten days in jail. Ms. Amos was immediately taken into custody. She had no lawyer, no notice or reason to believe that she would face criminal charges and was not allowed to say a word in her defense.
After being released on bail Ms. Amos appealed, without an attorney, to Virginia’s Court of Appeals. On August 7, 2012 a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals held that the trial court had done nothing wrong in sentencing her to jail without even a semblance of due process. One judge dissented.
Shortly after the decision was announced Ms. Amos hired me to represent her. On August 21, acting on her behalf, I filed a petition for rehearing en banc asking that the full Court of Appeals (not just a three judge panel) hear the case again. The petition, which highlights what I believe were extensive violations of Ms. Amos’ clearly established constitutional rights, can be found here.
We expect to learn soon whether the petition for rehearing will be granted.