Prisons

A Judge Has Ordered Him Released From Prison—Twice. The Government Still Won't Set Him Free.

Bobby Sneed's story highlights how far some government agents will go to keep people locked up, flouting the same legal standards they are charged with upholding.

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We don't know where Bobby Sneed will celebrate his 75th birthday this weekend, but two locations look increasingly likely: either the Louisiana State Penitentiary, also known as Angola, or a nearby jail. He has counted the majority of his milestones behind prison walls, having been incarcerated for more than 47 years for his role in a 1974 burglary. 

This year was going to be different. The Louisiana Board of Pardons and Committee on Parole voted unanimously to release him months ago. Yet Sneed has remained in prison long past his March 29, 2021, release date and despite a November 18 court decision ordering his release.

Another ruling came down early last week: Sneed must be freed, a judge said. And as he was waiting by the gate for pickup, prison officials again refused to release him, instead rearresting him and transferring him to West Feliciana Parish Detention Center in St. Francisville, Louisiana.

It was an additional plot twist in Sneed's legal odyssey, set in motion by the Committee on Parole trying to undo its own decision and violating state law in the process. Sneed's story highlights how far some government agents will go to keep people locked up—flouting the same legal standards they are charged with upholding, even after they've publicly conceded the person poses no danger to society.

"The 'minimum requirements of due process' in the parole revocation context require 'disclosure of the evidence against him,' the 'right to confront and cross-examine adverse witnesses,' a 'neutral and detached' hearing body, and 'a written statement by the factfinders as to evidence relied on,'" wrote Judge Ron Johnson of the 19th Judicial District Court in East Baton Rouge Parish. "Because it is undisputed that no such procedures were followed when Mr. Sneed's parole was stripped…this Court finds that [he] was deprived…of due process of law."

In mid-March, not long after the Committee on Parole approved Sneed's release in a hearing that lasted 17 minutes, he collapsed in one of the prison dormitories. He was admitted to the infirmary, where he allegedly tested positive for amphetamine and methamphetamine. But there was no complete chain of custody on those urine samples, and thus no way to confirm to whom they actually belonged. And while the doctor's notes said that Sneed admitted to drug use, she later told Thomas Frampton, Sneed's attorney, that she wasn't sure why that was in her notes, because Sneed never told her that. He had been in and out of consciousness, unable to speak for himself.

Sneed maintained his innocence, and a disciplinary committee ruled in his favor. Yet that didn't stop the Committee on Parole from illegally moving to revoke his freedom during a brief May hearing, long after his release date had come and gone. At the time, he was supposed to be home with family. Instead, he sat in solitary confinement.

To avoid complying with the second court ruling ordering Sneed released, the Committee on Parole issued an arrest warrant Friday on another contraband charge. 

This was the same panel that already acknowledged that Sneed no longer poses a risk to the community. (Sneed, a Vietnam veteran, suffered a stroke in 2005, after which point he had to relearn how to walk and talk.) But what if he is guilty of using contraband? Should that change their determination? "I don't believe that there's any threat to public safety….By keeping him incarcerated, at his age and with [his] medical conditions, it's more costly with very finite taxpayer dollars to keep him [locked up] than to help him get substance abuse treatment," says Kerry Myers, deputy director of the Louisiana Parole Project. "What's at stake is: What's the best use of resources?"

Prior to that May rescission hearing, Francis Abbott, executive director of the Louisiana Board of Pardons and Committee on Parole, told me that there was good reason to move forward as they did. "We've got documents that were submitted to the board that are not open to the public," he said. Sneed's legal team was also barred from seeing those documents. It was only after the hearing that the evidence—detailing, for instance, the doctor's comments on Sneed's alleged drug use—was provided to them. That paperwork allowed Frampton to track down the doctor who treated Bobby: the one who conceded that Sneed hadn't, in fact, admitted to anything. But Frampton wasn't able to counter the government's claims during the hearing, as he had not yet been provided with the basics.

That hearing, which I observed via Zoom, failed to incorporate basic legal standards, with the defendant unaware of the supposed evidence against him and with his team not allowed to call witnesses. "Indeed, Respondents' position was that they did not need to afford Mr. Sneed a proper revocation hearing," notes Judge Johnson in last week's decision.

His ruling came in response to Sneed's second federal civil rights lawsuit against Abbott and Tim Hooper, the warden at Angola. To circumvent the first suit, the government's motion-to-dismiss filing asserted that Sneed "failed to allege or show that Director Abbott possessed any actual statutory authority to take any official action with respect to [Sneed's] parole status or that he actually did so."

That argument and admission would circle back to haunt them once the public records were released. "Hold off on any paperwork," Abbott wrote to Whitney Troxclair, a parole administrator, on March 26 at 6:50 a.m., three days before Sneed's scheduled release. About an hour later, he then forwarded that email to Sheryl Ranatza, the Parole Board chair, apprising her of what he had done. "FYI Granted last Thursday and was scheduled to release Monday." In other words, the government seemingly admits that Abbott did not have the statutory authority to stop Sneed's release. And yet it appears that's what he did. 

"Thanks for your continued interest in this matter, unfortunately we will not be commenting as this is an ongoing legal matter," Abbott told Reason last week.

In 1974, Sneed stood guard while three of his accomplices robbed a home and ultimately killed one of the residents who lived there. Though he was two blocks away when that murder occurred, he was charged with principal to commit second-degree murder—a conviction that was overturned after he successfully petitioned for the court to vacate it. The charge, which is similar to the felony murder rule, allowed the government to prosecute him for murder while also conceding he didn't kill anyone, on the grounds that it occurred during the commission of a related crime. He was re-convicted in 1987. "Mr. Sneed is deeply remorseful for his role in the murder of Mr. Jones," reads Sneed's suit. "His incarceration has given him time to reflect on his role in the offense and how he could have prevented the senseless act of violence that occurred." Out of the six defendants involved in that burglary, Sneed is the only one who remains in prison. 

Following the prison's renewed refusal to set Sneed free, Frampton filed a motion to hold the state officials in contempt. So months after the government openly recognized that Sneed is no longer a hazard to the community, we'll soon find out if they'll succeed in clawing him back to prison for yet another birthday.

NEXT: Taking a Page From the Texas Abortion Ban, California's Governor Threatens To Attack Gun Rights With Private Lawsuits

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  1. The government sneeds to release him.

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  2. Now do the Jan 6 protesters now political prisoners

    1. Well, I mean yeah, obviously those HEAVILY ARMED INSURRECTIONISTS are the exception to the Koch / Soros / Reason soft-on-crime rule.

      #1/6WasWorseThan9/11

      1. They tried to overthrow the government with fire extinguishers.
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        1. FLAGPOLES ! Smearing poop on the walls ! Fell asleep in Treason 101.

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  3. Stuff like this wouldn't happen if we'd just #AbolishThePolice and #EmptyThePrisons like Reason.com's benefactor Charles Koch wants.

    #CheapLaborAboveAll

  4. Maybe the judge should issue a third order, I'm sure they would listen to him then. But if they refuse to obey the judge, what can he do? It's not as if judges have any power to enforce their orders, you're perfectly free to ignore them if you want.

    1. You mean I didn't have to pay court ordered child support?

    2. I think the judge should issue a third order. The third order would name those individuals to be jailed for contempt of court until Bobby Sneed is released.

  5. I guess they released the J6 dissidents?
    Or is that a “local story?”

    1. It's a story Reason won't discuss. Its hilarious. Volokh posts about a boatload of boring posts each day but nothing on J6.

      1. Because Reason is no better than CNN when it comes to race baiting through selective news coverage.

  6. Formerly Chuck's.

  7. Shame on the Warden and shame on the prison guards! Why are drugs available inside the prison? Don't the guards manage input and output?

    1. It certainly doesn't sound like they were "available" to the prisoners in general.

  8. They suspected him of drug use. I want to know how these drugs are allowed to get in. Who is screening the guards and vendors? Why are inmates allowed to interact with one another so freely? Confine them to cells, only out for short times in limited numbers for daily exercise. Back to the cell after that. I reckon you'd prevent violence, forming of gangs, and hamper the drug trade significantly. Prison would be a feared and unwelcome consequence.

    1. There are two types of people within a prison. One type is diligently and thoroughly searched when having contact with those from outside of the prison, while the other type is not. That fact should for the most part answer the first question.

  9. Hmmmm. I wonder how many prison officials being incarcerated it would take for the court order to be, shall we say, "validated"? They would stay in for at least as long as this Bobby Sneed. Once Sneed is out, the court then could decide how much longer a sentence for the officials would be appropriate punishment.

    1. This is the thing I don't get. Fucking hold people in contempt and order the Sheriff to detain them!

      1. That's only for the little people, not for the state's agents.

      2. How is this even a question?

        Judges will happily throw us proles in a hole for a single crosseyed look.... Yet somehow false imprisonment gets nothing more than a strongly worded memo?

  10. "What's at stake is: What's the best use of resources?"

    Not so. Shat is at stake is therule of law and those chaarged with enforcing/upholding it. AND this man's liberty, already granted him by the relevant court.

    This judge should order his marshall to go arrest the punks who refuse to follow his orders, and hold them in the lockup until they release him. THEN charge them with contempt, perhaps go after their tickets to practice law or enforce it as govrenment employees.
    I rememer when US Marshalls were deployed to integrate the schools in Montgomery Alabama way back when. The governor at the time was raging mad, ivid, and spitting fire but the armed US Marshalls carried more weight. It took a few days for everyone to realise the school house was not going to auto0ignite nd burn to the ground with all the various shades of students inside it. LIfe has gone on since.

  11. Are court order valid orders or aren’t they? If they are, how come those seemingly violating them are still walking around free and it appears unpunished.

  12. If the warden is ignoring a direct court order, have the warden arrested and charged. If the prisoner still isn't set free, arrest the assistant warden. This is not that complicated.

    1. I may not undertsand correctly, but I'm under the impression that contempt of court charges can be doled out in a hearing (ala Chicago 7 trial) and detainees can be sent directly to jail.

      Getting the lawyers and another judge to sort it while you're in the system.

    2. I agree. How can a warden ignore a judge?

  13. Whether someone is a hazard to the community isn’t the proper standard to determine whether someone should be released from prison. Furthermore, parole is an optional reduction in a sentence, not a right. So, I disagree with the reasoning in the article.

    Having said all that, it nevertheless sounds like Sneed’s punishment was usually harsh and that he should be released.

  14. Billy Binion is a lying sack of crap.

    Bobby Sneed was found guilty of more than just “his role” in a robbery.

    He was found guilty of murder and ordered held without parole eligibility for life. There may have been subsequent appeals and processes, but this Sneed is a dirtbag who doesn’t deserve a blog post.

    Let him rot forever.

    And let Billy rot for another fact-poor article.

    https://law.justia.com/cases/louisiana/supreme-court/1976/328-so-2d-126-1.html

    1. Felony murder and "role in a robbery" might refer to the same thing, but I agree, there is a large difference in perception of "role in a robbery" and "robbing a couple in their own home, beating them and leaving them tied up for dead, with the husband dying at some point during the night before the wife could free herself".

      It was difficult to parse details from that appeals document, but it doesn't seem like his role was simply "lookout" or "getaway driver" as some felony murder raps are.

      1. Correction..dude was apparently the lookout. So.... Different light yet again.

        Maybe "role in the robbery and murder"?

      2. Kleptocracy jurisprudence classifies passing a joint as felony Kingpin Drug Dealing whenever the stretch can be made. Does this impair the prosecutor credibility? If not for the tens of millions of spoiler votes cast for libertarian candidates since 1972, a reefer or fistful of seeds would to this day be grounds for a decade in jail, and anyone downwind could be framed as conspirer, accessory, abettor or what-have you. Laws against robbery would earn more respect if not diluted with superstitious excuses for coercing people.

    2. M4019597: You're only hitting 50% here.

      "He was found guilty of murder and ordered held without parole eligibility for life." Wrong. From the appeals document you linked, "They were each sentenced on April 24, 1975 to life imprisonment at hard labor, not eligible for parole, probation or suspension of sentence for a period of twenty years." Twenty years is not life. Sneed has served over 45 years so far. I think it unlikely that the original judge and jury intended him to be in prison that long.

      OTOH, Binion was misleading in describing Sneed as just "standing guard" and "two blocks away when the murder occurred". '[T]he State's attorney asked "How do you know Mr. Sneed please, Ma'am, Mrs.Jones?" As the answer disclosed, Sneed had frequented the Jones house as a small boy doing chores. He would therefore be familiar with the premises, and Maude Jones was familiar with his voice which she recognized while the beating was in progress.' So Sneed was in the house and knew what was being done to Mr. and Mrs. Jones. Where he and the other thugs were when Mr. Jones actually died is irrelevant; they inflicted fatal injuries and left him to die without treatment.

      Leaving aside the felony murder charges, Mr. Jones's death may have been "accidental", but it was an accident caused not by reckless indifference, but by something worse. Any of the thugs could have called an ambulance, but none of them did. A life sentence with no parole possible until the perpetrators were old and sick seems appropriate to me even if there was no other crime.

      But this manslaughter was part of a robbery. Nowadays, with the stricter sentences that became popular after the 1970's, it's likely that judge or jury would have imposed life without parole for this particular felony murder. I've seen many cases where, IMO, felony murder charges were excessive, such as a getaway driver who was never in the building where the killing occurred, but Sneed's case is exactly what felony murder was intended to punish - direct participation in a crime where the death of a victim was likely, whether or not each participant intended to kill or caused the death.

      1. Translation: "with the stricter sentences that became popular after the 1970's" = "after Nixon was declared winner of the 1968 election"

        1. Did you not notice the date of Sneed's crime and trial, or are you unaware that 1975 is after 1968, not before? Or perhaps you've confused Nixon and Reagan? (Hint: only one of them hired burglars for the White House staff.)

  15. Sneed had frequented the Jones house as a small boy doing chores. He would therefore be familiar with the premises, and Maude Jones was familiar with his voice which she recognized while the beating was in progress. [...] A life sentence with no parole possible until the perpetrators were old and sick seems appropriate to me even if there was no other crime.

    Thanks for the info. I agree.

  16. Dramatis Personae: a white National Socialist named Abbott; a black gentleman convicted of extrajudicial asset forfeiture named Sneed.
    Scene One: a Louisiana prison called Angola
    Act One: (Don’t tell me… let me guess…)

  17. Judge needs to start holding some folks in contempt.

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