Hidden Phone Charges: Texas Inmate Gets 60 Years For Possession of Cell Phone

thumb_camera_phone_2Derrick Ross took the term “cell phone” a bit too literally. Ross, 38, acquired a cell phone and charger while serving time at Coffeild prison in Texas. Due to Texas habitual offender laws, he has received an absurd 60 years for the violation.

Allyson Mitchell, an assistant special prosecutor in Texas, prosecuted Derrick before Judge Deborah Oakes Evans. He was represented by defense counsel Barbara Law, who tried to show that the phone might not have been Derrick’s. Derrick ran from an officer who was suspicious of his behavior and he was seen throwing the phone on to a roof during the flight on March 27, 2007.

It took a jury only 30 minutes to convict. The jury was told about Ross’ prior three felony convictions during the penalty stage. He had a car burglarly conviction in 1989, a car theft conviction in 1990, and an unauthorized use of a motor vehicle in 1993. He was given 25 years in 1993 — already a considerable sentence for such an offense.

Yet, even with these prior sentences, the range for this last offense would have been 25 years to 99 years or life. This is already draconian since you would only normally receive one or two years in most states for such a conviction. (Even in Texas, the sentence is 2 to 10 years).

After another 30 minutes the jury of seven women and five men came back with 60 years, which was added consecutively (not concurrently) to his current 25 year sentence.
After 30 minutes of deliberation the jury assessed his punishment at 60 years in

Mitchell justified the sentence by alleging that he used the telephone for criminal purposes: “I believe that the jury’s verdict will send a message to the TDCJ inmates that still have cell phones and the visitors and unethical officers that provide them cell phones. The message is that the citizens of Anderson County take this charge seriously and are not afraid to send someone to prison for a long time for violating this law.”

Most people have already gotten the message that Texas juries are “not afraid to send someone to prison for a long time for violating this law.” Even with the use of the phone for criminal conspiracies, a 60 year sentence is grotesque. However, the Supreme Court has effectively gutted the limitation on such sentencings under the Eighth Amendment cruel and unusual punishment clause. In Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63 (2003), the Court ruled that it did not violate the Constitution for a California jury to impose a 50 years to life sentence under its three-strikes law for a man convicted of shoplifting nine videotapes from a KMart. These petty theft charges would normally be treated as misdemeanors with a $150 fine, but the court and prosecutor insisted on treating them as a felony to trigger the three-strikes law.

On the same day, the Court upheld the sentence of Gary Ewing who stole three golf clubs worth $399 each from the pro shop of the El Segundo Golf Course in El Segundo, California. Again, the Court in Ewing v. California, 538 U.S. 11 (2003), upheld the 25-to-life sentence under California’s three strikes law in a decision by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

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16 thoughts on “Hidden Phone Charges: Texas Inmate Gets 60 Years For Possession of Cell Phone”

  1. 90 theft of a vehicle 93 unauthorized use of a vehicle o4evading arrest
    07 prohibited Item in a correctional facility
    def fits in the three strikes you’re stupid category

  2. Dont mess with Texas.If you are constant f@#$-up then we find a way to get our point across ,seeing as we cant just shoot your sorry @$$ anymore!

  3. The United Nations Covenant on Civil and Political Rights prohibits imprisonment for acts that aren’t defined as criminal in international law. Why don’t our courts rely on this document to supplement other documents and to protect us from criminals in government and criminals in our courts?


  4. And yet the S.Ct. sez this isn’t an 8th Am. Violation.

    I guess not now, because although it is obviously cruel, it is no longer unusual.

    I know that if my child were sentenced to decades in prison for a non-violent, non-consequential ‘crime’, I would not sit idly by and curse the heavens.
    These draconian sentences are effectively death penalties by attrition.
    What would any parent do if their child was going to be taken away from them forever, and transposed into a violent, brutal existence for the rest of their days.
    When the highest court in the land says this is acceptable, when it clearly is unjust, and there are no other courts of appeal, at some point the damn is going to burst. Out of 300 million people, I am surprised that there hasn’t already been a more public expression of anguish in response to such unjust unappealable sentences.

  5. Buddha:

    I am glad someone agrees with me on the meat in KC and the midwest in general being way above the rest. I used to live in St. Louis and when I came out east I noticed 2 things – the women are not as pretty and the meat sucks, both pig and cow. I dont know if there is a correlation but on observation only, well who knows.

  6. Thanks, Mike.

    And yes, we do have the best meat in the country. 😀 All that much better for making the best BBQ in the country.

  7. Buddha,
    Welcome back. Vacation is not an option, especially when you live in beautiful KC, the place with the best meat in the country.

  8. Texas, which in some ways considers itself the most Christian State, has proven to be the least compassionate state. The entire world to I would assume a majority of Texans exists in a state of good, or evil. What they define as evil is framed by their inability to see gradations of behavior, or a hierarchy of offenses. At the same time they can’t imagine any miscarriages of justice harming them. The put complete faith in their LEO’s and their prosecutors, but distrust all of the rest of government.

    Eniobob, thanks for the link, if any police officer deserved to be in Texas it would be Arpaio. Actually, if any police officer deserved to be in jail it would also be Arpaio.

  9. raff and eniobob,

    Thanks, it’s good to be back. That’s what I get for taking a vacation week before last: a solid week of physical life interfering with my digital life! There is no rest for the wicked . . . or words to that effect.

  10. Sounds like the poor guy ought to be given some money to attend an auto mechanic school. It would certainly be cheaper than 60 years in prison and he would be paying taxes for at least 30 years, not using them up.

    Is there something in the water in Texas? Or does this kind of thing go on everywhere?
    If it does then there is something wrong with our legal system.

    I now know what my retirement plan is going to be – go to Texas and steal 3 apples in each of three weeks at the age of 80. I will get 3 squares a day a warm bed and plenty of time to read. That way I save my estate for the children and the Texas State Penal System has to pay for all my medications, and health care requirements thereby freeing up assets for my children and grandchildren (if there are any).

    I love it when a good plan falls into place.

  11. The sarcasm is thick today. Is it just me or is everything stupid and crazy that happens in this country happening in Texas?
    Prof. Turley used the correct word to describe the additional sentence, “absurb”! But when it happens in Texas the correct word to describe the additional sentence is “Texas normal”.

  12. eniobob,

    Well . . . that wasn’t what I was expecting, but as disturbing as it was, it was not surprising given you are talking about Arpaio. He should be an honorary . . . er, um, Texan jurist.

    Disclaimer: I’m using the term “Texan jurist” as invective directed solely at Arpaio and should not be construed to imply that AY is a Nazi.

  13. And to think that a man is serving a life sentence for “eating grapes at a grocery store” I kid you not.

    I thought there was something in the truth in sentencing law. Oh, that only applies if they are enhancing your sentence, I am sorry.

    This is the type of crapola that make a minor criminal take drastic actions in some cases. What oh what would Mr. Twist be doing today. Mere crumbs in comparison.


    The response was written without the use of profanity, although many words came to mind and finger, but great restraint was used in not placing any offensive or abusive language. Not to say that it was not implied nor meant. Not single person was singled out as a target of my wrath, groups were mostly eliminated.

    The use of Latin, pig Latin and any references to Sr. Dana Hefner (Hugh Cousin) were intentionally omitted as it is too early.

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