A 24-year-old man was sentenced to nearly six years in prison even though the jury found him not guilty of any crimes.
Georgia resident Ramad Chatman was serving a five-year probation term for a previous conviction — where he was found guilty of breaking and entering to steal a $120 television — when he was identified as a suspect in a 2014 armed robbery.
Learning that police were looking for him, Chatman turned himself in in November 2015, according to the Rome News Tribune.
“He turned himself in because he knew he was not guilty,” Chatman’s grandmother, Janice Chatman, told 11Alive.
Chatman had not been accused of violating his probation up to that point — having paid his fines on time, kept up with the required community service, and found steady employment.
But when a store clerk — who had been held at gunpoint during the 2014 robbery — saw Chatman’s picture on her Facebook feed months after the crime, she reported him to police.
“It triggered something in me,” she later testified. “And it just made me freak out.”
The evidence against him wasn’t substantial: the clerk’s testimony (which has changed several times) and a blurry security video from the day (in which the criminal’s face is unidentifiable).
The store was too dirty to collect fingerprints and police never uncovered a gun, stolen money, or anything else in Chatman’s possession that might be connected to the crime.
Taking all of this into account, a jury found him not guilty.
But Judge John Niedrach disagreed. He revoked Chatman’s probation — meaning Chatman will have to serve a full six years for his original crime.
This is in spite of the fact that his five-year probation would have been complete — and the crime expunged from his record — this July.
Judges are able to overturn probations without the support of a jury. And while a jury has to convict beyond a reasonable doubt, judges can revoke probation if they’re “about 51 percent sure” a violation was committed, according to Norman Fletcher, a former state Supreme Court Chief Justice.
With the probation plus the newly added prison time, he’ll have essentially served 10 years after only being convicted of stealing a $120 television.
Next, see why the world’s fanciest prison is also among its most effective. Then, read about the judge who sentenced a 19-year-old rapist to government-mandated celibacy.