Was the Sentence 2 Years or 3 Years?

August 8th, 2011
The transcript initially said Mr. Herrington was sentenced to 2 years, but a later, revised transcript said 3 years. What is he to do?

Jerry Herrington spent about a year trying to convince anyone who would listen that the court system had made a terrible mistake: even though court records had him down for a three-year sentence, he was sure that the judge in Manhattan had given him only two years.

He told court officers, prison officials, counselors and a minister, among others, that there was an error. But each time, he said, he got the same answer: The computer showed that he had been sentenced to three years. The only way to prove otherwise, Mr. Herrington said he was told, was to get a copy of the transcript of his sentencing hearing.

Mr. Herrington did not get the transcript until around the time of his release in July 2008, after he had served three years. Lo and behold, the transcript, which a prison official obtained for Mr. Herrington, quoted Justice Brenda Soloff as delivering a two-year sentence.

It appeared to be the vindication that Mr. Herrington had sought all along. He planned to use the transcript to sue the state for imprisoning him for too long.

But from there, the story only gets more complicated.

After recent inquiries by The New York Times, the court produced a second transcript in which every word was exactly the same, except for the sentencing: it said three years rather than two. Court officials said that there originally had been a transcription error of the hearing on March 14, 2007, and that three years was the correct sentence.

And that was that, court officials said. Yet Mr. Herrington, 60, remains unconvinced.

Can you imagine sitting in prison, knowing that you were only sentenced to 2 years, but due to a clerical error, you spend an additional year behind bars.

During his time in prison, Mr. Herrington said, he repeatedly requested his sentencing transcript. Prison officials told him that it was not in his file and that he would have to write to the court to request it. Court officials told him that the transcript should be in his prison file.

Mr. Herrington said he even complained immediately after he was sentenced, when an officer in a holding area at the courthouse showed him a document saying he had received three years in prison, with two years of post-release supervision. He said he told the officer that the document was wrong, but was told to wait for his sentencing transcript to arrive to clear up the discrepancy.

This could be a case where an audio recording, accessible instantly, could be far superior to a fallible transcript.