Justice Is the Crime: Pretrial Delay in Felony Cases

By Lewis Katz; Lawrence Litwin et al. | Go to book overview
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INTRODUCTION

In New York City a defendant charged with the attempted rape of a four-year-old child was permitted to plead guilty to attempted assault. The tearful prosecutor was prodded into agreeing to this plea because of the great backlog of cases facing the court.1 In the same city, thirteen Black Panthers were tried and acquitted on all counts of a conspiracy indictment. The case had lasted for twenty-five months, thirteen of those months in courtrooms, and the cost of the case was estimated at over two million dollars.2 While the Panther trial plodded along, prisoners in city detention centers rioted to protest the delay in bringing their cases to trial.3

In Cleveland a man jailed for ten months on a nonbailable offense was acquitted by a jury after only forty-five minutes of deliberation. Two days before the trial was to begin, the prosecutor reduced the charge. Had the defendant originally been held on the reduced charge he would have been eligible for release on bond.4 During the time he was in jail he was assaulted and beaten, and he had to be hospitalized for his injuries.

A San Francisco trial judge was censured by the California Supreme Court for the "slap on the wrist" sentences given to three defendants who pleaded guilty to rape charges and for his conduct towards the victim of the rape. Two of the defendants were subsequently arrested and charged with an attempted murder and burglary in which five shots were fired at a police officer.5

Almost two decades ago a committee headed by the late Mr. Justice Robert Jackson wrote: "There is widespread doubt that existing criminal procedures can be relied upon either adequately to protect society or to protect the individual accused."6 The widespread doubt has not been elimi

____________________
1
Mills, I Have Nothing to Do with Justice, LIFE, Mar. 12, 1971, at 57, 64.
2
N. Y. Times, May 14, 1971, at 20, col. 7.
3
N. Y. Times, Oct. 2, 1970, at 1, col. 3; Oct. 4, 1970, at 1, col. 8.
4
Cleveland Press, Feb. 23, 1971, § A, at 4, col. 5.
5
San Francisco Examiner, Jan. 21, 1971, at 6, col. 4; San Francisco Chronicle, Jan. 21, 1971, at 8, col. 1.
6
ABA Special Committee on the Administration of Criminal Justice, Criminal Justice: The Vital Problem of the Future, 39 A.B.A.J. 743 ( 1953) [hereinafter cited as The Vital Problem ].

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