Bob Shell: Letters From Prison, Part 3

Portrait of Marion Franklin by Bob Shell


March 19, 2016

Because I have devoted much of my time while in prison to studying law in prison law libraries, I now know much more about the law than most people.  I have helped others to prepare and file court documents, and in the process have read court transcripts and other legal papers on a number of cases.  Many of the men whose court papers I have read are also innocent.  Admittedly, some aren’t but I do not discriminate in offering my help. I help these men because they have no one else to turn to.


Once a person is convicted, the right to an attorney extends only to direct appeal, and direct appeals very rarely succeed.  After denial of the direct appeal a person must move on to collateral attacks on their conviction.  In most cases this means they must do it themselves, without any legal help from anyone, because most of them cannot afford to hire a lawyer.  In every case I know of where a false conviction has been overturned, direct appeal and collateral attacks on the conviction have been denied by the courts.  In my case my direct appeal was denied by the  Virginia courts, and my collateral filings (habeas corpus petitions) were also denied.  I was forced to write my own habeas corpus petitions because I had no money left, and had only one year to do so after my appeal was denied.


Why is there a one year limit?  Because President Bill Clinton signed into law a draconian piece of legislation called the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA).  Whereas in the past there was no time limit on habeas corpus petitions, this law, which has nothing to do with terrorism or the death penalty, placed an absolute one-year time limit on habeas filings.  One year is simply not enough time for the average prisoner to learn enough about the law to write a proper and winning petition.  Mine failed, as you would expect, because I had not learned enough in that year to write an effective petition that the courts would approve.  Because the Constitution allows the right of habeas corpus to be abridged only in times of open rebellion, the AEDPA is clearly unconstitutional, but there has not been a test case to take this question to the U.S. Supreme Court.  The only other time the right to habeas corpus has been abridged was when Abraham Lincoln did so during the Civil War, which was pretty clearly “open rebellion.”

Bob Shell’s Former Photo Studio, Radford, Virginia.

After habeas corpus, options are very limited.  The only way around the limits is really to come up with new evidence that was not available at trial and would have been convincing to the jury if it had been available.  Obviously, that’s pretty rare.  So innocent people languish in prisons all across the country because the laws are stacked against them.  Once you are convicted courts considering your filings must consider everything in the light most favorable to the prevailing party, the state.  They are not allowed to be unbiased and objective, which is why so few prisoners prevail, regardless of their innocence.  The American legal system is clearly in need of a major overhaul to actually protect the rights of the accused.  I don’t see any move for this to be done.

The lesson here is that it’s not about the truth.  Courts don’t give a damn about that.


Photographs of former muse, Marion Franklin by Bob Shell. Copyright 2016


About The Author: Bob Shell is a professional photographer, author and former editor in chief of Shutterbug Magazine. He is currently serving a 35 year sentence at Pocahontas State Correctional Center, Pocahontas, Virginia for involuntary manslaughter for the death of Marion Franklin, one of his former models. Mr. Shell has served over 8 years of his sentence to date. To learn more about the case go here:


To read more articles by Bob Shell for Tony Ward Erotica, go here:

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