Rejoining Society After Serving Time for a Crime You Did Not Commit

By Robert Bennett

Edited by Rhonda Riglesberger - JD Staff

Justice:Denied magazine, Issue 24, page 7

My name is Robert Bennett and I am a thirty-year-old white male American. In January of 2000, I was wrongfully convicted on a Terroristic Threats charge. (A B-Misdemeanor charge.) I could not afford an adequate defense lawyer and because of this I feel that my rights were violated by the justice system. It started one morning when I was on my way to work. A car came flying up and began tailgating me on a service road as I attempted to exit Interstate 35. The female driver came around me, honked her horn, and flashed her middle finger at me.

I blew it off and continued on my way. She pulled alongside of me at another intersection and again honked and flashed her middle finger. Growing angrier by the minute, I speeded up, passed her, and then cut her off. I realized my mistake and decided to just pull off the road to give us both time to get our heads on straight, and also because I wanted her to cool off, hoping this would allow us to continue driving without further incident.

The woman decided to follow me as I maneuvered my car to the right turn only lane where I figured that I would just park my car and wait. The angry woman intentionally maneuvered her car from the middle lane into my lane and chased me down two different streets. Unfortunately one of these streets dead-ended in an apartment complex, which then forced me to turn around and face the enraged woman head on.

She cursed at me and I cursed back at her. That is all that happened. I told her to stop following me and to go away. I drove away at that point and went on to work. The woman was not content to let the matter rest. She followed me to work and later filed charges against me. She was never in any physical danger but she told the police that I had physically threatened her. I did not unbuckle my seat belt at any time during our altercation or say anything that implied any criminal intent towards her whatsoever.

I blew off the entire situation thinking, Stupid person, and stupid situation. I truly believed that the situation should have never happened in the first place. The police waited until Christmas Eve to arrest me. They charged me with making Terrorist Threats. The police entered my home on Christmas morning and searched it without a search warrant. They illegally seized a little black bat from under my bed and used it as evidence against me.

I was forced to post a $6,000.00 bond, and because I bailed myself out of jail, I did not qualify for free legal counsel. I paid an attorney $2000.00 to represent me. I wanted to take my case all the way up to the Supreme Court if necessary to clear my name, but my attorney went to the D.A. and worked out a deal.

We went to court and I told the judge that I wanted to plead not guilty. The judge told me that I had a right to face my accuser and that I had the right to go to trial. My attorney told me that he would need another $3000.00 up front to take the case to trial. I did not have the money. I felt that my attorney had already failed me by cutting a deal with the D.A., and because I was short on money I subsequently pleaded no contest and placed my entire future in the hands of the Judge. She must have felt sorry for me because she only sentenced me to thirty days in jail. Then she mercifully cut my sentence in half.

My attorney reasoned that if I made this plea that I could later file an appeal. He hoped that I could have the charges reversed at a later date. Nothing could be further from the truth. I attempted to file an appeal, which was later rejected. It appears that I will never have the opportunity to clear my name, or to disassociate myself from this charge.

Since the time of my trial, I became involved in another situation where a woman called my home and left threats on my answering machine. I turned these tapes into the authorities, and attempted to press charges against this other woman. The police blamed the situation on me, and then re-arrested me for a non-moving violation. (This violation stemmed from an old citation for not having insurance on my vehicle. It is something that had taken place a year and a half earlier.) It did not have anything to do with the woman who left threats on my answering machine. If this story confuses you, it’s because I am still trying to figure out why the police are harassing me.

I have contacted a couple of different attorneys who have suggested that I sue Travis County. Since this incident I have not been able to find a good job, so I cannot afford an attorney to represent me. I am barely surviving now, as a result of what has happened to me. I cannot do anything about my financial situation, but I continue to live in the shadow of the false charges filed against me. My hopes for a decent life are distant and unobtainable in light of what has happened to me. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone.

I wonder if my life will ever right itself. It doesn’t seem to get any easier as the days and years pass. In fact it grows harder and harder to face each and every morning as I wake to the reality that as a convicted person, my life will remain upside down, as if in a perpetual state of disarray. I feel that I will remain a victim of the justice system for the remainder of my life unless a miracle happens, which would somehow allow me to redeem my name, and regain my social standing in the community. I am forced to live, eat, breathe and sleep with this incident haunting me. I am forced to pretend that my life is normal. If there is someone out there who can help me write an appeal or represent me pro-bono, please contact me at the following address.

Robert Bennett
1700 Burton Dr.
Austin TX 78741

Note by Rhonda Riglesberger.

Robert Bennett is only thirty years old. His story touched me because so many of us have seen what can happen to someone who has served his or her time, and paid dues to society. It is especially touching in Robert’s case because he is a poor man who could not afford adequate legal counsel. Due to lack of funds, Robert, who was innocent, pleaded no contest and thereby placed himself upon the mercy of a compassionate Texas judge who sentenced him to two weeks in the county jail. Although innocent of the charges filed against him Robert served his time and paid his dues. His problems did not end there, however, for he still lives in light of a bad situation with little or no hope of redeeming his name. Robert’s plight fits in with that of thousands of other wrongfully accused victims, whose nightmares begin when they attempt to rejoin society.