12 October 2007

Jamal Hart Denied Habeas Corpus Appeal

Free Him Now!

On October 4 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit summarily turned down Jamal Hart’s habeas corpus petition, which would have freed him after more than ten years in prison. The judges affirmed the decision of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, which denied Hart’s petition on February 26. Hart, son of death row political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal, was sentenced in 1998 to 15 and a half years on bogus firearms possession charges. He was framed up for his prominent activism in the campaign to free his father, whose own federal appeal is currently before the same Third Circuit court.

Hart was first charged under Pennsylvania state laws, which would have resulted in probation. However, the Justice Department under Democratic president Bill Clinton intervened to use federal laws to exponentially extend the sentencing range for Hart. The draconian sentence was due to the prosecution’s labeling Hart a “career criminal.” Hart’s petition argued that this outrage was based in part on a non-existent 1995 assault conviction, and that his maximum sentence should have been at most eight years—time he has already served. In denying Hart’s appeal, the Third Circuit court upheld a lower court’s specious argument that it lacked jurisdiction.

The October court ruling goes out of its way to attack Hart’s attorneys for affirming that Hart was targeted because of his well-known efforts on behalf of his father. Hart’s attorneys argued: “As Mr. Hart grew more vocal and his father’s case continued to make its way through the courts and into national and international headlines, Mr. Hart became a target of police harassment. This harassment culminated when he was arrested on false charges of weapons possession and receipt of stolen property, and the state charges were then federalized.” In response, the judges stated, “We are deeply concerned by counsel’s making such serious allegations without providing any proof.”

But proof of such persecution is hardly difficult to find. Recently, one Walter Whalen, Hart’s case manager at the Schuylkill Federal Correctional Institution, openly displayed a provocative poster declaring Mumia Abu-Jamal guilty. Whalen had also improperly adjusted Hart’s security level to prevent him from being transferred to a lower-level security facility. The Partisan Defense Committee sent a letter of protest against the provocations. Eventually, the prison administration removed the poster and, on review, conceded that Hart is eligible to be considered for transfer to a low security institution.

It is noteworthy that Robert E. Cowen, one of the judges who this month denied Jamal Hart’s appeal, is on the panel that will pass judgment on Mumia Abu-Jamal’s federal appeal, a decision that could come at any moment. As we wrote after Hart’s first run-in with the Third Circuit court in “Racist Court Throws Out Jamal Hart Appeal” (WV No. 708, 5 March 1999): “Those who promote illusions in the racist ‘justice’ system by calling for a new trial for Mumia should consider the following: it is the Third Circuit court, which just approved the sentence of his son to more than 15 years of prison hell, which will play a critical role in the outcome of Mumia’s final appeal. Free Jamal Hart! Free Mumia Abu-Jamal! Abolish the racist death penalty!”

(reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 900, 12 October 2007)

Workers Vanguard is the newspaper of the Spartacist League with which the Partisan Defense Committee is affiliated.