Wednesday, January 25, 2012

If men must be locked up before trial, remember the innocent man who sat in jail two years awaiting his 'speedy trial'

The Star Ledger editorial board wants bail "reform" in New Jersey -- to protect the public from potentially dangerous criminals. The editorial is, at least, honest: ". . . the reality is that we dole out punishment before convictions at every level today."  Read it here.

But the editorial board also remembers that protecting the public from the accused isn't the only legitimate consideration. It is also imperative to protect the presumptively innocent from the system.

"If we imprison people before trial, that underscores the need for more speedy trials. Alex Shalom of the New Jersey ACLU, a former public defender, represented a man charged with rape who was held for more than a year and, when he asked for a speedy trial, prosecutors said the DNA test was still not complete. After nearly two years in jail, the man was acquitted."

The editorial board adds: "And before a judge denies bail, a hearing should be held to determine the defendant’s actual danger to the community. This judgment can’t rely on bias or intuition."

We've previously complained on this blog about the injustice in freeing some men accused of crimes based on their ability to pay, while poor men -- often black -- are forced to serve a de facto sentence before even a scrap of evidence is admitted at trial.  (Remember Hofstra?) This is barbaric in the extreme, and someday, it will be widely considered as such (akin to the old practice of paying a substitute to answer the military draft).