Video: Joe Hunt explains why he should have been acquitted of robbery.

Joe Hunt explains why he should have been acquitted of robbery using the “Claim of Right” legal doctrine, which exempts people who are reclaiming what is rightfully theirs. Collecting on a legitimate debt is not a robbery at all, because you lack something called the animus furandi of robbery, which is the intent to take property belonging to another.

Transcript:

It feels pretty technical but it affected me and it had really harsh repercussions on my life.

I was charged and convicted of a robbery, and one of theories is that I came in and I had extorted a check for 1.5 million dollars from Levin.

Now unfortunately, my attorneys, at that trial in 1987, their legal education did not extent to something called the Claim of Right Doctrine, which was common law defense to allegations of robbery in California and throughout the United States. That you are taking back from somebody your own personal property or collecting on a legitimate debt is not a robbery at all because you lack something called the animus furandi of robbery, which is the intent to take property belonging to another.

So lacking that mental state, you can’t be convicted of robbery because that is now is a stated element of robbery in law. So for example, you know back in the 1800s if somebody took your horse, if you pursued them and shot them, you might be guilty of manslaughter or murder, but you wouldn’t be guilty of robbery, because it’s your horse.

Now under the state’s theory, Levin owes me 4 million dollars and that is something that he acknowledged publicly and to prosecution witnesses. The state’s theory was that I was seeking to force him to pay me what he owed me from a legitimate business transaction, that being the case, the jury should have been instructed on the Claim of Right defense.

And had they been instructed, given the fact that the prosecution theory was as described, I would have been acquitted of robbery. Unfortunately, when this issue was raised, it was considered too late to have anything done about it, due to certain legal procedural rules.

Joe describes how many people who never even pulled a trigger wind up doing life sentences for murder.

Joe describes the case of 12 gang members who all received life sentences because they were in a van with one gang member who spontaneously decided to pull a trigger.

“A number of people that are in prison who never did anything that shows a sort of moral abandon or depravity to justify a ‘death in prison’ sentence…. They were peripheral characters in a crime that spiraled out of control.”

Transcript:
So you have a number of people that are in prison who never did anything that shows a sort of moral abandon or depravity to justify a death in prison sentence because that’s what life without is. It’s death by imprisonment sentence it’s a slow death, 60 years in the case some of these of men that were locked up earlier 70 years in prison.

They were peripheral characters in a crime that spiraled out of control that wasn’t conceived at the beginning to take another person’s life and in there because a lot of these guys were teenagers at the time of the incident that gave rise to their life sentence. They didn’t really have the maturity or clarity to recognize that their behavior could have resulted in the taking of another person’s life but they might have participated in a whole several robberies with assurance being given by all concerned that no one is going to get killed and we are just going to show the gun to intimidate them and then sitting in a getaway car being a wheel man and the guy who goes in actually shoots somebody much much to their shock and in some cases indignation of the base men.

I worked on this one case where there twelve guys in a van. They were Vietnamese and they were being pursued by a car filled with rival gang members, this call and your telephone number will be monitored and recorded, when suddenly one of the guys in the van was not talking about it or discussing it with anybody else because one of the guys in the van became a state witness, that witness describes what happened as one of the guys just suddenly jumps out of the van and runs up to the car of the pursuing gang people and opens fire.

They all, all people all the 12 people in the van end up getting charged under the national and probable consequences doctrine with the murder. Even though they hadn’t agreed to this behavior and when the shooter gets back to the van they immediately, all the people in the van according the state’s own witness said what the hell did you do you just go off and do that without talking anybody and they were so mad they were considering shooting that guy for what he had done.

Nevertheless, they all got life sentences for that so that’s the sort of anomalies that can occur because of these inflexible murder doctrines and aiding and vetting doctrines. They cast a really wide net and a lot of the people that are caught with these life without sentences and life sentences are there because of vicarious liability and they don’t deserve it it’s really not defensible in their case.

I say that not speaking — because obviously I’m not the conscience of society — but you know its generally recognized that California in particular has a much harsher penological regime then anybody else in the entire civilized world. I mean there’s more people doing life without in California then there are in the whole rest of the world so far as the statistics show, and so per capita, the per capita statistic, it’s just off the chart.

So it’s something that I feel having met some of these men that are now 20, 25 years older 30 years older and are scheduled to death for death in prison that it should be looked at. It is an injustice because they never actually made a conscious decision to take another person’s life willfully or deliberately or intentionally.

Levin hunters: This 1996 Los Angeles Times story summarizes the reasonable doubts around Ron Levin’s disappearance.

LOS ANGELES TIMES

Dead or Alive?
Billionaire Boys Club founder, convicted of murder, contends victim is still living. Prosecutors doubt witnesses’ accounts.

July 12, 1996
Alan Abrahamson

Ron Levin is dead. Or maybe he’s not.

Joe Hunt helped kill him and then buried the body in the Angeles National Forest.

Or maybe he didn’t and, like Elvis, Levin keeps turning up: at a funeral, driving a car through Brentwood, even relaxing in a taverna on a trendy Greek island.

Levin’s body has never been found.

And therein lies the riddle that has dominated a reprise of the Billionaire Boys Club saga–the drama that riveted Los Angeles in the 1980s and played out again over recent months at the Criminal Courts Building.

Is Levin really dead? Or has Levin, a skilled con artist, staged his own disappearance and pulled the ultimate con?

Hunt, the charismatic leader of the club and himself a man who’s been described as a con of some renown, was convicted nine years ago of murder. Since March, he and his lawyers have been back in court, arguing that he deserves a new trial, mostly on grounds that Levin is alive and well.

Read the rest at LATimes.com

Video: How does society benefit when a nonviolent person spends decades behind bars?

Parole boards base their decisions on whether or not a person poses a threat to society.

Joe Hunt argues that his three-decade documented history of nonviolence, even under the “pressure cooker” of prison, proves he poses no threat of future crimes.

Transcript:
I recognize that the whole issue of whether I’m guilty or not, from a perspective of a third party who didn’t live my life, and obviously can’t recall something that would exonerate me, because they weren’t there. And perhaps they weren’t even alive then, they were born subsequent to my arrest and conviction and the events described.

I recognize that, there’s no way they can look through all of this and know for sure one way or the other. So what I would say is that what I want them to think about is that I’ve been in prison now for 31 years. And I did some years in county before that, county jail, and during that whole time that I’ve been in custody, I did not get involved in any sort of violent interaction with other prisoners. I have absolutely no write ups for violence or for drugs or any of that kind of serious misbehavior.

So prison is just like its shown in the movies like there’s, that’s something that Hollywood does justice. The prison movies that show the gang life and the violence and active main life which is where I have been living over the years. It’s accurate. That’s the way life is. It’s a pressure cooker. People are often at their worst and the fact that I have been able to live under that environment and walk a path of peace and non-violence, I think says something about who I am right now.

Regardless of whatever did or didn’t happen in 1984, just setting that aside for the sake of argument, the question then becomes for society to consider: Is it okay a person that has obviously made a commitment to non-violence and to living a moral and decent existence even under the harsh circumstances of prison — should that person be considered for parole? And I hope when it comes to that question, that people say yes that person is worthy of consideration for parole.

You know, whether I should actually be paroled would be decision by the board of prison hearings, but if my sentence is commuted, I’d be eligible for that consideration, and then society’s representatives can decide whether, based on my life in prison, in my last 30 years, I represent a threat to society.

Most people don’t realize that’s the core criteria about whether people are paroled or not. It’s a criteria of the evaluation of future endangerment. So the question is, is this guy who is almost 60 now, is he a threat to society?

And I would think that even my worst detractors, the people who just align with the prosecution theory, would recognize that I am not a threat to society, that the circumstance that they alleged to have occurred and the motivations, and the whole complex interaction between this notorious con man Ron Levin and the BBC — which was an unusual occurrence in and of itself — that whole bizarre incarnation of circumstances is not going to be reproduced.

I’m not like some guy who is accused of doing a series of home burglaries because I got a habit a heroin habit and I’m trying to get drugs. I’m not a person who has been diagnosed with some mental disorder that causes them to be vicious and I’m not a person who is accused of having some qualities or characteristics that makes me a predator.

So at the age of 60, I think, objectively speaking, there’s just no other future dangerousness. I think that that supports the decision for commutation and for potentially parole.

That’s a life parole. Whenever you get paroled on a life sentence you remain under supervision, under a watchful eye, for the rest of your life.

Joe Hunt answers the question, “What is the first thing you would do if you were out of prison?”

It’s a question you might idly ask of friends, as part of a what-if game: “What if you were in prison for thirtysomething years, and got out. Where would you want to go first?”

For Joe, this isn’t a game, but his real life. After more than thirty years in prison, he had a ready answer to the question.

Transcript:

I want to go to the beach with my family, my wife, and a few close friends. When I was growing up, my mother used to take me to the beach with my siblings. My brother and my sister, Catherine. I mean, if they could both be there, that would be wonderful.

But it would be the beach because I have so many wonderful memories of my mom – may she rest in peace – and our family before all the years of trouble.

The beach is the complete opposite of prison. It’s wide open in all directions… And of course, the natural forces – the tides, the winds, the sun, and everything is in contrast to prison. Life in prison, which is structured so that it is bars, it’s unforgiving. So yeah, it would be the beach with friends and family.

Video: Joe Hunt discusses how he helped other prisoners get legal and medical help.

Initially, Joe Hunt’s work as a “jailhouse lawyer” was out of self-interest, but as he matured, he realized it was a powerful way to do good for others.

Here, Joe describes how his legal work led to a court order to get treatment for a severe burn victim, and also laid the groundwork for the first inmate treatment of Hepatitis C at his facility.

Transcript:

The initial inclination to help others was to find basically a trait that worked in the prison society, because like any other place, if you have a role to play, it confers a particular level of safety.

I mean there are a few reasons, one of them was I seemed to have a knack for it. I became notorious in the prison circles for being competent in that area because of successfully defending myself with San Mateo, and certainly with guys that were up in San Mateo county.

And there was the human level, which is somebody asks for your help, and you’re able to give it. This is quite natural, for me at least, to want to do something in that regard.

As I said also, it works. It’s functional in a prison situation. You don’t want to be categorized as muscle, it’d be better to be part of the brain or the resource on that level. But, I’ve always drawn a clean line from the beginning about choosing what cases I work on. I’ve had situations where people have come to me sometimes in a little committee and told me I was going to work on a particular legal project, and I’ve said no. That for me has always been non-negotiable. I will not submit to that kind of pressure, and I haven’t.

So, in the beginning, there were selfish reasons, and later on as I grew as a man and deepened my meditation and broadened myself spiritually – I saw it as a way of doing good, of doing something other than leaving wreckage behind me. I’m referring to my early twenties when I created a lot of wreckage or participated in a variety of train wrecks.

And so, I guess it was Angel… just to give you the story – Angel is still a California prisoner, and he had, he had been burned in an accident after a high speed chase, but it had burned over like 85% of his body. He had scarring everywhere over his head, over his face, his eyes – didn’t really have any eyelids, and he had scars that prevented him from closing his hands. His fingers looked like they were made of wax and melted.

And, now there was this report from the doctor at UC Davis Medical Center saying that many of these conditions could be alleviated if he got surgery, but for some reason that surgery was not forthcoming. Angel was not a primary English speaker, and he pushed the… he asked me for help, and I worked on it. Ultimately, the result was the Superior Court found the prison system had been grossly indifferent to his serious medical needs and ordered that he get the treatment that the UC Davis medical doctor said would alleviate it.

And he did get that surgery, and he was able to start playing soccer again. He was able to close his eyes at night after the surgery. Angel was sleeping like a zombie, eyes wide open all night, and the wound on the back of his head that had never closed was closed. So it stopped oozing puss. Anyhow, that was a project I worked on. Things like that are pretty gratifying.

I also did the medical work that led to the first prisoner getting treatment for Hepatitis C back in the day.

Interview with Joe about overincarceration in America

Joe discusses the direction of the American prison system. “The system has drifted from its roots. A lot of people are being locked up that are not a threat to society.”

 

Transcript:

Well, the traditional role of prisons in society before there was this explosion in the prison-industrial complex was to keep people that were predators off the streets.

People that were serial bank robbers, serial rapists, serial murderers. And also to punish people severely enough to check the worst impulses of humankind.

I think that the prisons, as one who’s lived within it, I can’t help but have ideas about it. As one who’s read a lot of books about incarceration, theology, and the explosion of incarceration in the United States, I feel that we’ve — that the system has drifted from its roots. It’s no longer — a lot of people are being locked up who are not threats to society.

I mean, in my experience about, I would guess, over half the men that are in prison yards are just regular guys. They’re not morally superior, or inferior to the man on the street. And I know that’s a very provocative thing to say, but from the inside looking at these — I mean, some of the BBC guys were definitely morally inferior to the average guy at prison.

At least those guys were as they existed in the early 1980s. I mean some of the guys that I was running with there, on reflection, they did not have a conscience. They were not sufficiently concerned about the well-being of other people. They were cavalier about other people’s feelings and property and rights and dignity.

I won’t go into specific stories or names but we were not a bunch of decent and upstanding people as they tend to try to portray themselves on the stand.

The incarceration in the United States is like 5 or 6 times that of the rest of the free world. So why is that going on? Why are so many people either in jail, in prison, or on probation? Is it really necessary to have a functioning society to have that many people locked up? And the cost is just massive.

There’s so much wreckage, where guys that could be out on the street having a job and a relationship with their family are in here and the taxpayers spending $60,000 a year for their upkeep in perpetuity. I just don’t think the balance is being set properly.

I think that Governor Brown is addressing that for reasons that run parallel to some of the points that I’ve been making and for other reasons. He’s a profoundly learned expositor of changing the relationship between prison and society. So it seems pretty obvious not just to me but to a growing movement of people that the balance should be a given.

Report wants life without parole abolished

ABC NEWS

By Kevin Johnson and USA Today

A record 140,610 inmates in state and federal prisons are serving life sentences and nearly one-third of those have no possibility of parole, according to a criminal justice research group that supports alternatives to incarceration.

The Sentencing Project, whose reports are regularly cited in academic and government reviews examining criminal justice policy, concluded that the number of inmates sentenced to life without parole has more than tripled to 41,095 since 1992. The report, citing in part the rising cost of incarceration, urges that life without parole be abolished.

The recommendation was met with strong opposition from some law enforcement officials who said life sentences, including life without parole, help drive down violent crime.

Joseph Cassilly, past president of the National District Attorneys Association, acknowledged that long prison terms are a “huge drain on resources.”

Read more at ABC News

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