The need for social justice and the abuses that African Americans face in America’s criminal justice system is no longer capable of being ignored. Every day another innocent person is exonerated, the system is exposed, and the decades of  life lost behind prison walls that cannot be returned are grieved. We’ve also learned from the judges convicted in Pennsylvania in the “kids-for-cash” scandal, a situation where children were being sold to investors that operated private juvenile detention facilities, that even children are not safe in the hands of the criminal justice system.

  This story of the Gadsden 6 details the abuses that six Black children faced when no one was looking in Gadsden, Alabama, in 1988. Today we are demanding and seeking justice!

Sign the petition:

  On April 27, 1988, Judge Robert E. Lewis, named after Confederate general Robert E. Lee, transferred six Black juvenile boys to adult court for appx. 30 non-violent property crimes of burglary and theft of property. This transfer was done without notice that it was about to occur, without a hearing, and without legal or parental representation. In fact, Judge Lewis signed this order in the confines of his judicial chamber with no one present except for the prosecutor who requested the transfer. No one else was even aware that the motion had been filed. This entire ex parte arraignment, i.e. backroom deal, was totally illegal. See Commentary to Canon 3, Canon of Judicial Ethics.

  It took over 20 years to finally gain access to these sealed juvenile files and discover the injustice. Needless to say, by the time they were discovered and the facts were revealed, the damage had already been done: Twenty (20) wrongful adult convictions; 170 years combined sentences; over 30 years total served, and many other abuses. Over 30 years later, we are still fighting to undo an injustice that never should have occurred. 

   In September 2015, a legal action was filed in the Etowah County Circuit Court requesting that these illegal convictions be declared void and vacated due to the fact that the juveniles had never been legally transferred to adult court in any manner authorized by law. Eight months later, on May 2, 2016, Judge William B. Ogletree issued an Order denying this petition on highly inappropriate grounds, cementing the fact that what had been done 32 years prior was intentional and not a mistake.

  Instead of righting these wrongs, which are based on indisputable juvenile records and supporting constitutional and statutory law, Judge Ogletree opted to engage in the type of judicial misconduct that we see all to often in America’s judicial system when injustice is uncovered: Judge Ogletree made up law, right there on the spot, to justify denying relief.

  The highlighted portions of Judge Ogletree’s Order tells the story.

As you can see, the part stating “previously transferred” is the factual basis that Judge Ogletree contends is the reason why these children were  transferred to adult court without a hearing, notice or legal representation. Judge Ogletree then cites Section 12-15-203 (i), Code 1975, as the statutory law that supports this decision. However, anyone who reads this statute will see that words “previously certified” do not appear anywhere within this (or any other) statute, nor is it listed as a factual predicate authorizing transfer.

Judge Ogletree cited Title 12, Title 12-15-203(i), Code 1975, to support his ruling.

    This “previously certified” provision, if that’s what you want to call it, was totally made up. It is not a law!!! Section 12-15-203 plainly states that a child must have been previously convicted or adjudicated as a youthful in adult court before that child can be summarily transferred to adult court for future deliquent acts. While it is true that two of the six members of the GADSDEN 6 had been “previously certified” to adult court in the past, none of the six children (including the two who had been previously certified) had ever been convicted or adjudicated as a youthful offender in adult court when Judge Lewis issued the transfer order on April 27, 1988. Therefore, their transfer to adult court without a hearing, without notice to their parents, and without notice to or representation by counsel, was egregious misconduct and wrong.

  The “previously certified” reason is being made up as we go along to justify the wrong. It is no different than when police murder an innocent Black person for no reason other than for being Black, but then makes up an excuse or reason to justify the murder. Making up reasons to justify injustice is part of the systemic issues and abuses that Black Americans often complain of when dealing with the criminal justice system. This situation provides a clear example of why people needlessly spend additional years and decades in prison, long after proof of wrongdoing is made known. The law has to be applied equally to all people, including Black people, even when doing so undos intentional discrimination.

  According to the Canons on Judicial Ethics, Judge Ogletree must respect and comply with the law, See Canon 2, and be faithful to the law and competent in it. See Canon 3:

In his order, Judge Ogletree cited the law but then refused to comply with it, most likely because the law demanded justice in the case. Clearly, this is misconduct and abuse of authority by Judge Ogletree.

Please join us as we demand Justice for the Gadsden 6. The law is very clear. Judge Ogletree must put forth proof that any member of the Gadsden 6 who was transferred to adult court without due process had been convicted or adjudicated as a youthful offender prior to April 27, 1988, as the law states (a fact that can be easily determined by public records), or all convictions must be declared void. Call Judge William Ogletree today and demand that he apply the juvenile laws of this state as they are written by our legislature, not in a manner that denies justice and fairness.

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