Imagine, if you can, being incarcerated for 900 days, languishing in limbo, not allowed to leave prison even though you haven’t been charged with a crime. Sounds like something out of a Kafka novel or the kind of thing that would happen in a repressive country somewhere in the Third World. But it’s taking place right here in the United States of America.
Two and half years ago, Benito Vasquez-Hernandez and his son Moises were arrested and charged with hindering prosecution. Those charges were soon dropped by the prosecutor in Hillsboro, Oregon, but Benito was not released from jail because he is now being held as a material witness to a murder allegedly committed by another of his sons, Eloy Vasquez-Santiago.
The prosecutor, Jeff Lesowski, says he’s ever-so-sorry for any inconvenience he has caused Mr. Vasquez-Hernandez, but he’s got a murder trial to win:
“I’m trying to convict a man who has confessed to killing a mother. It’s not a real easy job. It’s not perfect.”
Thus does Mr. Lesowski enter the running for Understatement of the Century. Not perfect? A man who has done nothing is being held against his will. Perhaps Lesowski would like to trade places with Vasquez-Santiago and see how it feels.
This kind of detention is unheard of, according to Jann Carson, the associate director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Oregon:
“It really is a bit shocking to understand that somebody is being held this long that hasn’t been charged with a crime.It’s a long time for a deprivation of liberty.”
The only good news to come from this horrible situation so far is the fact that Moises Vasquez-Santiago was finally released after being held for 727 days because it was determined he is suffering from schizophrenia.
Attorneys for Benito Vasquez-Hernandez say the man is unable to understand court proceedings and that he is therefore not able to be cooperative with his legal counsel. When Lesowski offered to let Vasquez-Hernandez testimony via a video deposition, Vasquez-Hernandez was so confused that he refused the offer.
The Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky once wrote, “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” What exactly does it say about the United States when a man is imprisoned without charge for two and half years and doesn’t even know why he is being held? Aren’t we, as a society, supposed to be better than this?
This article was originally published by the same author at LiberalAmerica.org.