A Columbia Correctional Institution inmate appeared in court Thursday morning facing the choice to have timely movement of his case or to be represented by an attorney, continuing a drawn-out affair that is going on five years.
Aaron Allen, 49, appeared for a preliminary hearing on a charge of possession with intent to deliver marijuana in an amount less than 200 grams (about 7 ounces). Thursday was his third preliminary hearing in the case, which has not yet advanced beyond that point due to issues with representation.
Allen appeared for his first preliminary hearing in the case on Aug. 30, but refused to go forward without legal representation. Two weeks later, his case was called again, but he was not in the courtroom because a writ had not been issued to have him brought to court from CCI. The court record’s summary of the hearing also reads: “Defendant did express that he wanted an SPD (State Public Defender)… No attorney has been appointed.”
On Thursday, Allen was brought to the courtroom but left to represent himself.
The case stems from an incident on Feb. 1, 2013, in which Allen’s cellmate, Lanis Solomon, was found carrying balloons containing marijuana. Solomon told authorities that he received the balloons from Allen, who in turn got them from his girlfriend.
Charges were brought against Allen’s girlfriend but were dropped earlier this year.
On April 11 this year, Assistant District Attorney Crystal Long moved to have the case against Allen dismissed without prejudice. The case was dismissed, but new charges were filed with the same allegation Aug. 9.
Allen has been represented by five attorneys in the case. One attorney left upon moving to work in a different part of the state, with the others withdrawing at one point or another.
“This is the second go-around. This case is almost five years old and the DA waited over a year to even charge me with this case,” Allen said in court. “The attorneys that I had before withdrew, and while I did have a conflict with (one of the lawyers), the others withdrew on their own. I didn’t fire them or anything like that.”
According to Wisconsin code 370.03, a defendant has a right to a preliminary hearing within 20 days of their initial appearance if the defendant is released, and within 10 days if the defendant is in custody. Allen explained that an attorney was not available to him during his initial appearance, though he has continued to request counsel and refused to waive his right to a preliminary hearing within time limits.
“I haven’t been playing games with the court. The state has been causing all these postponements and interruptions,” Allen said. “The judge granted a motion to challenge the criminal complaint and the DA amended the complaint at the last minute when I came to challenge it.
“Time went on and time went on and the DA continued to postpone and she ended up dismissing the case against me and here we are again for the same thing. This has stopped me from being paroled — I don’t get conduct reports, I’m considered a model inmate and all of this is on record, and this (case) is the only thing that comes up with the parole board to keep me from getting paroled.”
Allen reiterated his desire for another dismissal, but was swiftly disappointed by Judge W. Andrew Voigt.
“I can tell you definitively that I’m not going to dismiss this case because you have been denied counsel,” Voigt said. “The issue here is that attorneys don’t grow on trees — they have a right to take whatever cases they want to take.”
Voigt told Allen that there was no short answer available and it would take time to find an attorney willing to be appointed to represent him.
“I have already started and I have been turned down by every lawyer that I have talked to so far,” Voigt said. “But that’s all I can tell you — I’m working on it.”
Given the status of the case at the end of the hearing, Voigt told Long that it would seem inappropriate to reschedule another preliminary hearing, opting instead to schedule a telephone conference Jan. 16.