The framers of the Constitution dealt with and were determined to prevent the tactics of tyranny. The Bill of Rights reflects this in that every mandate benefits the individual, usually by forcing government to follow strict procedures to protect these rights. When they wrote the Sixth Amendment guaranteeing a speedy trial, their intent wasn’t to provide one-size-fits-all or assembly line justice — they wanted to prevent government from indefinitely holding innocent citizens who were dissenters and whistle blowers. Unfortunately the pace of the modern world could never have been anticipated nor could the framers have envisioned that a speedy trial could instead become a benefit to the government.
A recent report on the efficiency of the Orleans Parish Criminal Court judges defines “efficiency” in terms of time per case rather than in terms of arriving at the truth, which some believe to be a better indicator. I’m a great believer in making the judicial system more efficient but let’s leave the “thirty-minutes or less” dictate to dominoes.
The report focuses on how quickly a judge can shepherd their caseloads through the overburdened system. “The crime commission praised the judges for largely keeping up…” and “The DA accepted 6,700 cases last year, up 31 percent from 2008….” The report pays tribute to judges who push through cases under the guise of the speedy trial clause. But speedy justice does not always equal fair justice.
Sometimes cases need time to be investigated and negotiated. Sometimes it takes time to convince an over-zealous prosecutor about the truth of his or her case — that the wrong charges have been filed, or even that the wrong person has been charged. Conversely, but just as importantly, it sometimes takes time for a defense attorney to “break through” to a recalcitrant client who might willingly consider a guilty plea rather than waste the time and expense of trial.
More than once I have been “forced” into a speedy trial by an efficient judge only to achieve a more unfair and costly result than one that could have been achieved through continued investigation and negotiation. Sure, efficiency is important — and the efficiency of, say, a widget factory can be measured by how many widgets get made per day. But this measure falls short when the product of the “factory” is justice. An efficient criminal justice system IS something to strive towards — but we must first and foremost ensure that it is JUST.