Saturday, January 13, 2007

Even Hitler would have had the right to a lawyer.

U.S. Constitution, Bill of Rights, 6th amendment:

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.

What did Al Capone, Charles Manson, Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, Eric Robert Rudolf and Timothy McVeigh all have in common?

The answer is that no one suggested that they not have access to a defense counsel. In other words, even the most horrible, despicable monsters in our history have had that right. Even when they went about it stupidly (like Bundy when he chose to represent himself) they have been entitled to a lawyer. It is the basis of our Constitution and legal system.

Those people who have represented them have sometimes been subject to public scorn and derision. While that may be understandable given how much these people are themselves hated, it is also a very short sighted and stupid reaction. For example, if to take an extreme case, if every possible lawyer were publically intimidated from serving, then in fact the defendant would have to be let go exactly because of the sixth amendment. Any conviction would by definition be unconstitutional.

However, it is entirely another matter when someone in an official government position chooses to intimidate defense counsel. For example, Charles "Cully" Stimson, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs.

Charles "Cully" Stimson, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs, said in a radio interview last week that companies might want to consider taking their business to firms that do not represent suspected terrorists.

Stimson's remarks were viewed by legal experts and advocacy groups as an attempt to intimidate law firms that provide legal help to all people, even unpopular defendants.

A Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Col. Brian Maka, said Stimson was not speaking for the Bush administration.

I'm glad that they distanced themselves officially from his remarks, but given his position they need to make it very clear that they won't tolerate this sort of behavior from a top official-- possibly by an official reprimand. Otherwise it sounds more like an official dodge than an actual condemnation of the remark.

After all, if a person accused of terrorist acts is in fact a terrorist, then why not put together the evidence you have and make the case in court? If you've got the evidence then don't complain that there is a defense, but instead go to court and beat the defense. Isn't that how the system is supposed to work? To be honest, I've often had my criticisms of our legal system and wondered if there might be an alternative to the adversarial system that we have set up, and in fact I've seen what I believe could be a better system in practice in my church, but as the U.S. legal system stands now, both sides have lawyers and they are supposed to each do the best job they can to make their case. So what we have here is a high government official, presumably sworn to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, actively seeking to undermine it.

The rights that our Constitution affords the accused in fact stands America in sharp contrast to some of our current and past opponents, whether we are talking about the infamous 'midnight trials' prevalent under communism or today's sharia based Islamic fundamentalist legal system.

It is in fact a sad day when our society, which was strong enough to give Charles Manson a day in court, now appoints someone to a key Federal position who can't even handle the fact that Osama bin Laden's taxi driver will be entitled to a lawyer.


Anonymous said...

I agree! This is contrary to what America has always stood for. The hard part is getting the public at large to understand that this is about the heart and soul of what our country is --- and not about being sympathetic to terrorists. People who see the world in black and white aren't about to discern the difference.

Anonymous said...

eaprez I agree with you, and think the consequences of this can be pretty negative if, as you, say Eli- it leads ultiamtely to the accused being unable to secure defense. We have to defend our process.

Good post, Eli. I always wonder where the outrage is, and it feels good to travel a bit and find some validation of disgust. I can count on you! I just had a feeling you would post about this. The world's gone mad.

shrimplate said...

There are implications here that I fear extend even beyong the mere withdrawal of constitutional rights to a fair trial.

Bush is decriminalizing war, by removing its protagonists from the sphere of criminal and constitutional law, and treating them outside that framework and instead placing them before the military, which he controls, of course.

Perhaps he sees that this may someday work to his own benefit regarding his own possible legal troubles.

Nothing is beyond these people.

shrimplate said...


More coffee please!