Sunday, July 18, 2010

Speedy Trials and the Gruel of Law

What would the Constitutional Fundamentalists at the Tea Party think?

On July 12, 2010, Judge Lewis A. Kaplan of the Southern District of New York United States District Court in Manhattan ruled that suspects can be held over six years and still get a speedy trial.

You may remember the U.S. Constitution has a Sixth (VI) Amendment stating: "In all criminal prosecutions the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial."

Apparently Judge Kaplan can't read at grade level, or thinks he is not obligated by the U.S. Constitution, or is just plain corrupt. Or maybe he believes in "judge made law." He appears to have set a new standard for speedy trial. "Speedy" does not mean in a short period of time. It is all about the alleged criminal's ability to defend himself. If that does not decrease in the pre-trial period of time, then the trial is speedy. Even if it takes six years to get around to it. Or, as Kaplan wrote in his opinion "There is no persuasive evidence that the delay in this prosecution has impaired Ghailani’s ability to defend himself in any respect or significantly prejudiced him in any other way pertinent to the speedy trial analysis."

Get prepared, America. Forget the assumption you are not guilty until proven to be. You can be held in jail for six years. And apparently interogated (aka tortured) by the CIA. Then, you get a trial.

The suspect, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, is accused of having some role in bombing American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. Maybe he deserved a long prison sentence. On the other hand, the case is one of many that brings to the forefront the United States government's extending of its legal arm to foreign soils. Should not Mr. Ghailani be tried in Kenya and Tanzania? Or perhaps President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton should be tried in Afghanistan for all the Afghans they have killed?

This is how liberty is engineered into oblivion. The government picks a case where the alleged criminal will have no public sympathy. It uses collaborating judges like Kaplan, and often arranges for a weak defense attorney for the victim. Maybe the ruling is appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, where if upheld it sets a precedent for the entire nation.

Once the precedent is set, the old interpretation of the word "speedy" is erased from the U.S. Constitution. It is replaced by the right of the government to delay trial as long as a judge can be persuaded that the defendant has not had his defense capability impaired. In the case of the majority of poor people, they have little ability to defend themselves as it is, so there can't be much erosion.

Or, again quoting Kaplan: "The Sixth Amendment guarantees "a speedy ... trial," but it nowhere defines speedy."

I did not know the U.S. Constitution included a dictionary. Most of the words in the Constitution are not defined in the Constitution. So words means whatever judges say they mean?

Today a guy who is labeled an Islamic terrorist. Tomorrow, a Tea Party or militia guy, or perhaps a Socialist or environmentalist trouble maker. Maybe just a whistleblower. Once a precedent is set, whoever controls the apparatus of state and judicial power has a mighty weapon against their enemies.

Again, we have a good illustration that we are subject to the Gruel of Law. Rich people will doubtless continue to get speedy trials, and acquittals if there is any doubt as to their guilt. The poor, and especially those who oppose the U.S. government's attempt to boss everyone in the world around, will get whatever swill American judges dish out.

See also United States of America vs. Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani

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