Slow Justice

As I read this morning’s newspaper, I was taken aback by a question that applies to two very different criminal cases: Just what is a speedy trial today? And what does that constitutional guarantee mean to those of us who depend on it?


The first story concerns Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, who was captured in 2004 in connection with two international terrorism cases—the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. His lawyers for argued that five years of detention had deprived Ghailani of his right to a speedy trial. That argument was rejected on Wednesday (July 13), and as a result Ghailani will now face a trial set for September. But the question his defense raised lingers in relation to the workings of the U.S. justice system in general. And it pertains to charges even against U.S. citizens for a wide-ranging assortment of alleged criminal behavior that may have nothing to do with terrorism or international intrigue. For Ghailani, six years of detention before trial was not judged to be an abridgement of his constitutional right. What about others?
The second story describes the Danziger case now playing out in New Orleans. In 2005, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, four police officers and two former officers shot a number of unarmed civilians on the Danziger Bridge, killing at least one man and wounding several others, including four members of a single family, the Bartholomews. The Louisiana governor, Mitch Landrieu, asked the Justice Department to help with this case, given a history of police corruption in the city. No doubt, the reasons for the five-year pre-trial delay have to do with the chaotic circumstances brought by the hurricane, an alleged cover-up by some within the police department, the complexity of events and the number of individuals harmed and also the fact that an investigation was required to sort it all out before bringing the charges. Here again, though, we see a lengthy delay in the justice process that on Monday (July 12, 2010) finally reached the indictment stage delivered by a grand jury. The actual prosecution of the case has yet to commence.
So what we see are two delays, one of six years and another of five years. What can we make of it? Whatever the framers of our Constitution originally had in mind when they guaranteed a “speedy trial,” the meting out of justice today appears to be a process that can require many stages and the involvement of local and regional courts, as well as the federal Justice Department. That is precisely what happened in the Danziger case. All of that takes time. One could argue that the current practice simply takes too long—for everyone. But one might counter by saying that “hasty justice” is no better, and that the court process simply takes as long as it takes—all things considered. What one cannot argue, it seems to me, is that a suspected foreign terrorist like Ghailani has suffered essentially worse delays than the people in the New Orleans Danziger case. Time is relative. Does that make the constitutional right to a speedy trial worth less? What do you think? I’m still pondering the notion that justice, even slow justice, is worth guaranteeing.

Karen Sue Smith

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Bill Collier
8 years 8 months ago
I'm not familiar with the specific details of the two referenced cases, but one reason that "speedy trial" sometimes seems to be a misnomer is that defense counsel can petiition courts for multiple enlargements of time to prepare the defense. In general, the more complex the case, the more time that defense counsel will need to absorb what can be mountains of evidence turned over by the prosecution. In addition, the prosecution's discovery obligations usually don't start until a defendant is formally charged, and charging may not take place until what may be an extensive investigation is completed.
All of this is not to say that the constitutional speedy trial guarantee is without problems in its day-to-day application, but finding common denominators among cases may be a very difficult endeavor.    
Pearce Shea
8 years 8 months ago
Bill is essentially right, that the criminal prosecution process, unless things are exceedingly cut and dried, tends to take quite a while. But you know Bolt's More's line about giving the Devil the benefit of the law applies here. Courts are regulated by complex and occasionally (though, really, rarely) antiquated legislation and policy. The laws in NO tend to be even odder than usual (odd to a lawyer, even, not just a laymen).

But things go slow to try and make sure that justice is served. Each stage seems largely necessary from one or the other attorney's perspective and things like production, review, etc can take AGES. The fact that the Danzingers had to wait so long has to do with all the factors you stated. There is a 1974 law governing speedy trials which ought to be helpful and I'd guess that the wikipedia page for the 6th amendment is also pretty educational. If we think about waiving due process or expediting parts of the legal process because we think the resolution obvious or the speedy trial necessary and the essence of justice, then we are willing to bend the laws for our own ends. Seems like a horrible idea.

So could some of the justice system be expedited? Sure. Ought it be? I don't know and that's for Judges and PhDs and lawmakers to duke out. It's beyond the common bloggers or even lawyers scope of knowledge to really grapple with this issue. It's enormously complex.
we vnornm
8 years 8 months ago
A Sad Story of Justice Delayed

Allegations that Jon Burge, a Chicago police officer, used torture, emerged in 1972.

In 1993 he was fired from the Chicago Police Department for using torture.

A number of his victims were convicted and sentenced to death for murders they did not commit leading then-Gov. George Ryan to free 167 inmates from Death Row in Illinois.

His legal conviction occurred last month. 

(In 2003, Barack Obama pushed a bill through the Illinois State Senate that mandates confessions to police to be videotaped.)

This story involves corruption and coverups and, most sadly, justice delayed.       (bvo)

or do google "chicago tribune" + "jon burge"


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