A former Humphreys County sheriff’s deputy filed a motion Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Nashville to dismiss all charges against him in a police brutality case.
James Benjamin “Benji” Lee’s counsel, Assistant Federal Public Defenders Isaiah S. Gant and Dumaka Shabazz, filed the motion, citing that because the Federal Public Defenders office must close on Fridays — a result of the federal sequestration of funds — Lee is not receiving appropriate counsel.
Because of reduced funding through sequestration, the Federal Public Defenders office decided that it must furlough the lawyers in its office for one day each week through the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.
Through the motion, those public defenders argue that Lee has “80 percent of the counsel he had for his first trial” and the United States (in the U.S. Attorney’s office and the Department of Justice) is at “100 percent strength.” They argue this “unfairly tips the scales against Mr. Lee.”
Lee was a co-defendant in a trial that resulted in a hung jury and was declared a mistrial by U.S. District Judge Todd Campbell when a jury couldn’t agree on whether he and Timothy Hedge, a former sheriff’s deputy, who both severely kicked and beat an unarmed man with a metal baton, were guilty of police brutality. The trial is rescheduled for May 7.
The motion accuses the United States of violating Lee’s fundamental rights to counsel, due process and equal protection for “failing to fully fund counsel.”
“There is no such thing as a ‘partial right to counsel’ or ‘2/3 of a right to counsel’ or ‘4/5 of a right to counsel’ or any other fraction thereof,” the public defenders argue in the motion. “Under the Constitution, it is all or nothing.”
Hedge faces the same charges, but his privately retained counsel is “no way impinged upon by the sequestration of funds,” the motion reads. Lee’s counsel argues that there is no “reasonable justification … in allowing identical accused to face trail on identical charges, while hampering the defense of one accused but not the other.”
Amanda Gambill is with the Seigenthaler News Service — MTSU. She can be reached at email@example.com