Inmate Dashaun Jamison's courtroom victory against the combined forces of criminal justice in Northumberland County last week was such a rare verdict that police, prosecutors and corrections administrators may wisely pause for an after-action review of what went wrong.
Jamison, 22, a state inmate in the Coal Township Correctional Facility who never finished high school, served as his own defense council, questioned the witnesses against him, challenged and offered testimony and closed with arguments that convinced a jury of citizens to dismiss five of six charges against him.
Jamison was charged by state police with two felony counts of aggravated assault and two of attempted aggravated assault. He was also charged with two misdemeanor counts of simple assault after two prison guards were taken to a hospital following a November 2010 incident at the State Correctional Institution at Coal Township.
He was found guilty of one of the aggravated assaults, a decision for which some jurors actually apologized. Jurors and an attorney praised Jamison for his skillful defense. Even Jamison seemed a little surprised and pleased, despite being convicted on one count.
"I took on the Northumberland County district attorney's office," Jamison said after the 11 p.m. verdict on Tuesday, "and I won."
The state's case, presented by proven stalwarts of the enforcement and corrections communities. Jamison's defense relied three defense witnesses —state prisoners, all, led into the courtroom wearing shackles?
The optics and demographics of that courtroom could not have been more black and white in terms of probabilities, predispositions and even video tape of the scuffle, shown repeatedly during the trial.
Skilled or charismatic as he may be, that is a lot of mesmerizing to attribute to a 22-year-old high school dropout.
Budding barrister Jamison could not have cracked that many of the charges against him if members of the jury had not detected a whiff of facts that were contrary to the state's assertions.
The U.S. reportedly has 5 percent of the world's population and 25 percent of the world's prisoners. The statistics have increased steeply since 1975. That may have created some distance between how people inside and outside of these institutions see incarceration today, compared to past decades.
Area corrections professionals may find it useful to read the Jamison verdict as a sign that there is different work to be done educating their staff and the public.