Keith Burgess is a one-time South Carolina drug dealer and that rarest of jailhouse lawyers: a successful one, reports McClatchy Newspapers. Burgess, a 30-year-old high school dropout who later earned his GED, persuaded the Supreme Court to hear his appeal. Working with a fellow inmate, he handcrafted a heartfelt petition that could change how some criminals are sentenced. “He has accomplished what tens of thousands of attorneys across the country have not been able to,” said Stanford law Prof. Jeffrey Fisher, who now represents Burgess. “I told him he should really be proud of himself.” The Supreme Court will consider arguments and render a final decision later this year.
Burgess admits he sold 240 grams of crack cocaine in a parking lot outside a Florence, S.C., shopping mall. He contests his 156-month sentence. His case turns on whether a prior one-year prison term counts as a felony that triggers a lengthy sentence after his second conviction. He filed his Supreme Court petition last year as an “in forma pauperis” case so that he wouldn’t have to pay the court’s standard $300 filing fee. He reported having no assets. During the court’s 2006-2007 term, 7,186 in forma pauperis petitions were considered. Of these, the court accepted only seven for review. During the 2005-2006 term, the court heard one out of the 6,533 in forma pauperis petitions considered.