Saturday, March 04, 2006

My assessment

The headline reads "Many Defendants' Cases Kept Secret."

The first line states: "Despite the Sixth Amendment's guarantee of public trials, nearly all records are being kept secret for more than 5,000 defendants who completed their journey through the federal courts over the last three years."

The object is to point out that secret trials take place, and suggest that this is wrong. But, perhaps, maybe it isn't wrong...

My housecleaning-muddled mind is looking at this, and the first thing I read is the Sixth Amendment: "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, ..."

Now, without looking at anything, and simply reading the language on the paper (you strict constructionists will love that!), it appears quite plainly to me that the amendment guarantees the RIGHT to a public trial, not a guarantee to a public trial. Rights can be waived, such as Miranda/Fifth Amendment. Given these facts, then one could argue that perhaps a defendant could waive his right to a public trial in lieu of a private one. In fact Wikidpedia, where the 6th Amendment link above will take you, considers that very concept, as well as a government interest in keeping a trial private.

Now let's look at the cases themselves. The article notes that the majority of the cases causing the concern deal with plea bargains for murder suspects or drug dealers, gang members. The pleas are kept private, which means, the article says, that the public doesn't get to see what kind, if any, of punishment the bargainers receive.

While I can understand the concern over not knowing the fate of a murder suspect, I think perhaps the tradeoff of receiving the trial and increased likelihood of a conviction of a more deplorable criminal or criminals might just be worth it. There's also the concept of repeat offenders. Drug dealers, from what I would guess, aren't wont to repent off a plea deal, and likely will commit further crimes if released as a result of the plea. Thus you're delaying the process and catching a bigger fish in the net. Perhaps that's worth it...

I think this article is much ado about little.

1 comment:

Michelle said...

From my understanding, pleas in murder matters here are much less common than in the States. Our plea set up is also very very different to your as well, and of course judicial activism in Oz is virtually non existant....thank god.