CHATTANOOGA, Tenn,, Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2023 – Plumber Ray is taking an augur to unclog a prosecutorial hairball clogging the free flow of justice in Hamilton County in Southeast Tennessee.
By David Tulis / NoogaRadio Network
The badly pummelled and snarlingly prosecuted Ray Rzeplinski is jabbing back in criminal court against charge stacking and prejudicial treatment by the district attorney, Coty Wamp.
In filings with Judge Amanda Dunn, he denounces “vindictive prosecution” in a 4-year-old case in which he is beaten twice, once put into the hospital, in SWAT action by Hamilton County sheriff’s deputies arresting him as he sat in the open garage at his house on Crabtree Road in Chattanooga.
ADA Nicole Evans obtains a superseding indictment — an upgrade with more teeth and bigger jaws — Nov. 23 in the 4-year-old case when in August 2019 deputies beat and arrested Mr. Rzeplinski. She does the upgrade even though there are two pending indictments making the same claims. The usually obsequious Hamilton County grand jury adds 47 new Class B felonies and increases the seriousness of seven charges from Class E felonies to class Bs.
“This new indictment (docket no.316374) was obtained to punish Mr. Rzeplinski for exercising his constitutional right to a jury trial and right to due process under both the federal and state constitutions,” says his motion, drafted and filed by Ben McGowan, assigned by criminal court judge Tom Greenholtz to represent and counsel Mr. Rzeplinski when he’d had the case.
The case hinges on a personal grudge of an officer in the Hamilton County sheriff’s department, Mr. Rzeplinski says, who turned up a 1996 record in Bradley County indicating a history unknown to Mr. Rzeplinski. This history is that as a 19-year-old he plea bargained a misdemeanor into a felony in his involvement in a simple burglary in which two young men in a car, with Mr. Rzeplinski remaining behind the steering wheel, entering into a store and stealing cigarettes. “All of the young men arrested in that case were improperly represented by the same individual public defender,” the legal filing says, “and were addressed en masse at their plea by the judge. Mr. Rzeplinski was diversion eligible for the offense but for some reason that resolution did not occur.”
Miss Wamp is trying to get the burglary classified as a crime of violence.
Miss Wamp sought to get the federal government to indict Mr. Rzeplinski for one of his weapons being an SBR, or short-barrel rifle, a weapon with an unclear pedigree under ATF regulations and recently removed from Tennessee’s list of prohibited weapons. Mr. Rzeplinski refuses to cooperate,and Miss Wamp resumes the prosecution.
“However, when informed on April 14, 2023, that there would be no federal prosecution Mr. Rzeplinski persisted in declining the probation plea offer, sought to exercise his constitutional right to a [trial by jury], and asked that his case be set for trial. At that time, ADA Evans *** made a record announcement of the offer and this case was given a trial date by this Court of January 16,2024. However, after Mr. Rzeplinski asserted his constitutional right to a jury trial and after this Court set the trial date, ADA Evans waited to notify defense counsel until October 6, 2023, that she was going to seek a new indictment.”
The new indictments arrive six months after the case is set for trial, and not released until Nov. 15. Mr. McGowan sends ADA Nicole Evans a letter Oct. 20 trying to persuade the DA’s office to not “pursue *** a retributive course” with an “oppressive superseding indictment,” one not based on any new facts.
Respectfully, just because something can be done does not always mean it should be. As you know, the role of a prosecutor is varied but is ultimately to achieve a just result. The longstanding plea bargain offer in this case from you and your predecessor was, to my recollection, a plea to the E felony with two (2) years supervised probation. Obviously, it is the State’s position that the guns cannot be returned because of his single conviction 27 years ago but that is the result irrespective of the outcome of this case, and I understand that. I also understand the frustration a prosecutor feels when someone will not accept what the State feels is a reasonable offer of a short probation.
As the accused refuses to enter the plea bargain mill key to the evisceration of just courts in the U.S., he is facing 1,270 years in prison if the state crushes his defenses.
His defenses are proofs of his state of mind. Namely, that he knew he was at worst a misdemeanant. The indictments recognize the prosecutor must prove mens rea, or guilty mind, guilty conscience. They use language that he “did unlawfully and intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly possess a firearm” while a felon. Mr. Rzeplinski has said his defense is “estoppel by entrapment,” that the state is stopped from prosecuting him because it said he is not a felon based on numerous background checks that effectively “cure” or expunge any malevolent record about his churlish past.
Mr. Rzeplinski knows he isn’t a felon because he has had multiple expungements as evidenced by retail gun purchases, two rounds of concealed carry permits in 2013 and 2017, numerous contracts with governments and government agencies, and a state plumber’s license with its character requirement.
After arguing cases on vindictiveness, Mr. Rzeplinski says,
“Circumstances of this case clearly present a realistic likelihood of prosecutorial vindictiveness, and therefore, this Court should find a presumption of vindictiveness and require the State to rebut the presumption or dismiss the indictment. It is difficult to imagine another case as clear as this, wherein a prosecutor – after a prior indictment and the passage of more than three years – increased seven counts of Class E felonies to Class B felonies and added an additional 47 Class B felonies following the defendant’s assertion of his right to a jury trial.”
The legal work is done by Ben McGowan of the Summers Rufolo law firm downtown at the public defender assignee rate oif F$50 an hour. Judging by the extent and quality of Mr. McGowan’s labors on behalf of Mr. Rzeplinski, it is evident that he belongs in what is probably the city’s leading defense law firm, with its strong record of appeals court wins and a commitment to principles of justice and equity.