Mumia Abu-Jamal, the internationally recognized American political prisoner, thwarted a Philadelphia judge's secretive court order that could have eliminated his future appeal rights when he filed a last minute motion on August 23rd challenging that order sentencing him to life-without-parole.
Some supporters and detractors of Abu-Jamal expected the formal conversion of his controversial death sentence to life-without-parole since a federal appeals court's second rejection of requests from Philadelphia prosecutors to keep Abu-Jamal on death row in April 2011.
What was unexpected by Abu-Jamal supporters were the procedures surrounding the secretive court order that seemingly violated a number of Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure.
Abu-Jamal's Pro Se Motion for Post Sentence Relief and Reconsideration of Sentence referenced Rule 720 of Pa's Criminal Procedure which states in part that defendants shall "have the right" to make post-sentence motion but that motion must be filed "no later than 10 days after imposition of sentence."
That secretly issued resentencing order occurred on August 13, 2012, exactly ten days before Abu-Jamal filed his motion.
If that ten day filing period had expired, undiscovered due to secrecy shrouding issuance of the resentencing order, Abu-Jamal's legal ability to challenge his continued confinement would have suffered damage including his probable loss of future appeal rights.
Court rules and common courtesy require notice of court actions both pending actions and actions taken.
"This is the same backdoor stuff that's always done to him," attorney Rachel Wolkenstein said during an interview outside of Philadelphia's Criminal Justice Center after delivering Abu-Jamal's motion.
Wolkenstein, who's aided Abu-Jamal for over two decades, uncovered that secretly issued judicial order.
She became aware of it during a routine inspection of Philadelphia court records checking to see when a resentencing would occur.
Wolkenstein informed Abu-Jamal and his legal team, both of whom were unaware of that order.
Rule 114(b)(1) of Pa's Rules of Criminal Procedure states that a "copy of any order or court notice promptly shall be served on each party's attorney"" -- procedures apparently not followed in this resentencing of Abu-Jamal.
Another provision of those Procedures, Rule 704, states the sentencing judge must advise a defendant "of the time within which defendant must exercise" their right to appeal and other post-sentencing matters.
"A number of death sentences have been reversed in Pennsylvania and the persons given life sentences. As far as I know each of those persons received more formal proceeding than what happened here," Wolkenstein said.
Rule 114(A)(2) of Pa's Criminal Procedure states that "all orders and court notices promptly shall be placed in the criminal case file."
Yet Wolkenstein said when she asked Philadelphia court clerks for the resentencing file days after the order's issuance court clerks told her there was no file containing a record of that resentencing.