from the accused-criminals-apparently-have-no-rights dept
There’s general prosecutorial dissatisfaction with the founders’ decision to implement due process rights for accused criminals. Flowing from the “limits” of the Fourth Amendment into the Fifth and Sixth, it seems the system is set up for prosecutorial failure. At least, that’s the impression you get when you hear prosecutors actively arguing against enshrined rights.
Albuquerque, New Mexico is in the middle of a two-year experiment in case management. Far too often, accused were allowed to languish behind bars until the state decided to begin prosecuting their cases. The right to a speedy trial doesn’t seem to be so much a right as an easily-ignored guideline. People lose parts of their lives and, often, their employment for having done nothing more than be accused of committing a crime.
The order [PDF] says prosecutors have 10 days to work from arrest to arraignment and the rest of the schedule is sped up for both prosecutors and defendants. Most productions of evidence (from either side) must be handled in five days and preparing for trial (including providing lists of witnesses expected to testify) is limited to 25 days.
There have been few complaints from public defenders as defendants are being cut loose more frequently thanks to the state’s inability to meet this order’s definition of a speedy trial. All the complaints are coming from the prosecution’s side, which is the side with a greater amount of resources at its disposal.
Maddening, absurd and unjust.
Those are just some of the words Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez is using to describe a special set of court rules said to have created a backlog of 8,000 unindicted felony cases in the Albuquerque-area.
The critique is aimed at Bernalillo County District Court’s two-year experiment, known as the “Case Management Order.” The CMO was designed and implemented as a way to clear out the county’s notoriously jammed up district court calendar that caused overcrowding at the jail and left defendants waiting years for a resolution to their case.
“Maddening, absurd and unjust” could just as easily describe the system before the fixes were implemented. Defendants waiting years for their cases to be resolved is both absurd and unjust — which is exactly what state Supreme Court Justice Charles Daniel pointed out when instituting the order.
“When the CMO was issued, the Second Judicial District had a backlog of approximately 6,000 untried cases,” wrote Daniels. “Cases often took two to three years to resolve, creating serious speedy trial problems.”
The order simply pushes prosecutors to hew closer to the Constitutional ideal. There is a right to a speedy trial. There is no right to prosecute. And there’s nothing in the Constitution that even suggests rights should be suspended simply because the government has a backlog to work through.
DA Torrez claims the order has directly resulted in increased crime in the Albuquerque area. He also claims prosecutors don’t have enough resources to tackle cases in the limited timeframe the order demands. At this point, you might think Torrez would develop some empathy with the public defense side, which is chronically underfunded pretty much everywhere in the US because most voters and taxpayers have problems with paying to represent “guilty” people.
Torrez is one of those people. At no point does he recognize the order also cuts loose those falsely-accused or those who the state wouldn’t be able to successfully convict. Instead, he portrays this attempt to adhere to the “speedy trial” right as a revolving door for criminals.
Torrez says judges are throwing out cases based on the CMO’s strict rules, giving accused criminals a free pass until their case gets refiled, if ever.
“We’re dismissing cases and throwing cases out on technical grounds,” said Torrez. “We’re not making the criminal justice system function the way it should.”
Uh, you weren’t “making the criminal justice system function the way it should” before. That’s why you got hit with a judicial order forcing you to speed up your prosecutorial process.
And Torrez is definitely overstating the problem. CMO dismissals are the exception, not the rule, making his claim of a link between the CMO and crime rate spikes highly suspect.
On Thursday, Bernalillo district court officials came up with statistics on the number of case dismissals that have happened so far this year. Out of the 900 dismissed cases, only 13 percent were related to the CMO, according to the statistics.
There are few things uglier than an arm of the state complaining about the Constitution, even indirectly. It sounds like the DA’s office simply needs to learn to prioritize, starting with the rights of the citizens it puts behind bars.