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Saturday, February 23, 2008

Justice Delayed Is ...

"Justice delayed is justice denied."

Who says?

In my own experience, the exact opposite is more often true:

justice delayed is ... justice perfected, or at last ... finally attained.

The cliché is usually attributed to 19th Century English politician, William Gladstone, who also said,

"Liberalism is trust of the people tempered by prudence. Conservatism is distrust of the people tempered by fear."

Gladstone it seems was something of an enigma:

he opposed the abolition of slavery and proposed recognition of the Confederate States Of America.

On the other hand, he favored universal suffrage, at least for men, and opposed British imperialism.

His supporters called him the "Grand Old Man." His rival, Disraeli, preferred "God’s Only Mistake."

The "justice delayed" phrase is widely quoted these days by proponents of speedy justice for criminals. Prosecutors, victims rights advocates, politicians calling themselves "Conservatives," (don’t know what old Gladstone would call them) all bemoan delays built into the justice system.

Some years ago, Californians voted overwhelmingly for something called "The Speedy Trial Initiative" which was meant to streamline the trial process. State Supreme Court Chief Justice Ron George has been lobbying for a reform of the appellate process to relieve his court from the obligation to hear every capital appeal. He wants to transfer the onus to intermediate appellate courts (which are more numerous), just like other cases. The Supremes could then simply review the lower court’s opinons without the need to spend the time of independent judgment.

Those in power are annoyed by the fact that there are more than 600 people on the state’s death row, many of whom have been waiting for years to have cases heard. Many have no lawyers appointed to represent them. Others have been slogging through complicated and seemingly endless habeas corpus proceedings, bouncing back and forth from state and federal courts.

The only fly in the speedy justice ointment is that every day or two a "criminal's" conviction or death sentence is reversed after years and years of languishing, when new evidence uncovers the IN- justice that actually happened all those years ago. DNA tests (or other technological marvels) or reneging snitches and / or eyewitnesses or dishonest jurors are unwrapped, proving that the initial verdicts, which had been affirmed by all the courts along the way were dead wrong.

Miscarriages of justice are not limited to capital cases.

The L.A. Times today reported that the Northern California Innocence Project at Santa Clara University Law School (guided by Prof. Gerald Uelman) and the California Innocence Project at Cal Western Law School in San Diego "have succeeded in helping to exonerate 11 people, two based on DNA evidence, nine on other grounds... The two Innocence Projects are now actively investigating 288 cases and have a backlog of 700 cases." (L.A. Times, California, Saturday, February 24, 2008, p.B-3).

The facts were part of a Times article devoted to reporting the findings of a "blue ribbon commission" chaired by former L.A. D.A. John Van De Kamp, which found that exonerated prisoners, many who have served decades in prisons before being released, were inadequately compensated by the state for the loss of their freedom.

Advocates of speedy justice would have denied such prisoners any of the processes that had reviewed and eventually overturned their wrongful convictions and sentences by terminating their rights to appeal and habeas corpus to federal courts or to re-file dismissed appeals when new evidence is exposed.

The conservative strain of The Law favors certainty and cost efficiency in its justice system and closure for victims and their families over the nuisance of interminable appeals.

After all, as old GOM observed: "Conservatism is distrust of the people tempered by fear."

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