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|When Red Tape Becomes Duct Tape|
When the framers of the Constitution were, well…., framing they did some really smart things. They were looking for a document that would create a general outline for a new and forming government, but they were very careful to make sure that the “new” government did not fall into the same pattern of that “old” government that they had left behind. Many of these well planned phrases in the Constitution have allowed us to live in a country where Constitutional rights are taken very seriously. Even today, every new law that is written must meet the muster of whether or not it infringes on those Constitutional rights that were written many years ago. In a time where some politicians are not thought of as being anywhere near that “far sighted,” the Constitution was, and is, simply genius.
But, there is one little blurb in that old parchment paper that, while it was written with great foresight, it is one that is more and more folded into the crease of the page and unused. It’s called the 6th Amendment to the Constitution, and it is a part of the Bill of Rights. The authors of the Constitution knew full well, based on a variety of reasons, that only by the Grace of God, they had not been charged with a crime. Based on their outspoken protest of those things that they found contemptible, there are those who would have enjoyed nothing more than watching these “grandstanders” hauled off in shackles. Realizing that the potential for such was very real, they added a few sentences that guaranteed a person who had been charged with a crime to have a public and speedy trial in order to confront their accusers. Few would argue that this was a good thing. All of us want to have the right to get a case before court in a timely manner should we ever be accused of a crime. That is of course, unless you also happen to know that you are guilty of the crime. Those are the ones who will quietly put their thumb all over that “speedy verbiage.” They prefer it slow and easy…very slow and easy! Somewhat like the pace of a snail who has lost his ability to ooze.
So while our forefathers took great pride in their attempt to speed the process up, they didn’t really talk about those who would do everything possible to slow it down. Many of our courts today are bogged down in red tape based on frivolous challenges and appeals that seem to have no merit. But our process, as it applies to our court systems, are being slowed down by of all things “due process” and the rights that are available to those accused. Red tape, legal maneuvering, and technicalities have become the buzz words of those who will do all that is possible to avoid a case being brought to trial. These delays are to the defense’s advantage as time has a way of creating diminishing memories, unavailability of witnesses, misplaced evidence, and on and on. The delays seldom have anything to do with the facts of the crime, but more so about the facts of the matter. As in, it only matters what evidence is available at the time of the trial versus what evidence was available at the time the crime was committed. The passing of time typically does very little for the appearance of our physical presence and the passing of time typically does very little to a case getting any stronger. In fact, we end up looking worse, and so does the case. And, that is the entire point of the often ridiculous delays.
While our Constitution guarantees the right to a speedy trial, the more preferred method for some is a long, painful, and deliberate attempt to keep the case from going to trial at all. And while it should be obvious that I believe this to be a misuse of justice, I am also very quick to say that it is all done within the confines of what is lawful. Some of you may find this process to be the method you will choose should the fickle finger of fate ever end up pointing toward you.
But this red tape, which over a period of time goes through a transformation, becomes more of duct tape than red tape. It may have been applied as red tape, but through a series of events and over a period of years, the chemical makeup of the tape changes. What once was a red, shiny, and very temporary tape becomes much less attractive, in the shade of gray, is more cumbersome and permanent, and very difficult to remove. Through this process of legal photosynthesis, where the final product barely resembles its original form, we now have some cases that have been in the system for years without any legal adjudication. Maybe that is good for the person accused, but I am far from convinced that it is good for the system. Cheese and wine get better with age; court cases do not.
I have heard of story after story where those “other” people who are involved in these cases, also known as victims, have lost complete confidence in a system that they originally looked to for justice. Perhaps the one mistake the writers of our Constitution made was not adding a section to the 6th Amendment that not only guaranteed the right to a speedy trial but absolutely demanded it. Speedy is speedy and intended delays are intended delays. We are left with a system that can function well at times and at other times cannot function at all. And, unfortunately, the justice that we all should seek, is most often found in a corner of an office, wrapped securely in fading red tape, while some inconsequential appeal floats around the room like a feather in a breeze. Just when you think it will actually land, another breeze of hot air will billow it back up in the clouds of legal wasteland. In the meantime we wait, and wait, and wait. I’m pretty sure that this is not the justice that was being considered in the original pursuit.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. Stan L. Hall is the former (retired) director of the Victim Witness Program for the Gwinnett County District Attorney’s Office.
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