Friday, March 26, 2010

Justice Delayed Need Not Be Justice Denied

Justice is not simply pursued nobly, it is often pursued for an extraordinary length of time. And whether those engaged in the pursuit are law enforcement officers or law school students, at day's end when their pursuit of it has resulted in the delivery of it to those who long for it, the point of origin is - at best - a secondary concern.

I have noted the good works of the folks affiliated with the Michigan Innocence Clinic in this space previously and, once again, they have achieved something that is - at least in the opinion of this man - worthy of recognition and applause. In the fall of Aught-Nine they won Dwayne Provience - convicted of murder in 2001 (a murder for which he always proclaimed his innocence, which undoubtedly begs the question whether you have heard the one about the innocent man in prison) a new trial. Provience's cause proved worthy enough to a group whose standards for championing seem pretty damn high and champion it they did; doing work that Provience certainly appreciated but likely would have appreciated even more had his trial counsel done it for him back in Aught-One. When the court last fall overturned the conviction and freed Provience, the Wayne County Prosecutor noted his agreement with the decision - although he expressed the opinion that the State had enough evidence (in addition to the "evidence" that was discredited by the Clinic's work) to retry him.

Earlier this week, the Prosecutor changed his mind. Provience will not have to stand trial a second time. While the Assistant Prosecutor who apparently was going to try the case seemed to suggest in his statements that he personally is unmoved by all that the Clinic unearthed on Provience's behalf and that his office could in fact choose to try him again at a later date, based solely upon the various news articles I have read about this matter; at the present time that seems incredibly unlikely to happen.

While losing - which I submit is what the Assistant Prosecutor and the other folks from the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office now feel is what has happened - is something that no one ever enjoys, it does not require Bob Beamon's hops to jump to the conclusion that in this case - almost a decade after the verdict was taken - no one has lost. Litigation, whether in the criminal arena or the civil arena, is akin to athletics. It is a result-driven area of the law. The courtroom is a venue where score is kept and where more often than not close does not count. Everyone likes to win. It is human nature. And while winning and losing are usually related and yet mutually exclusive phenomenons, they do not necessarily have to be. And in the criminal justice system - significantly more so than in the civil arena (where we battle over things like monetary damages and real property) the goal is supposed to be justice. Not wins and losses. Nobody wins unless everybody wins.

And much closer to home this week, a dedicated group of detectives and police officers arrested two suspects in a thirty-two-year-old murder case out of Newark - a case in which the two suspects are accused of having murdered five teenage boys and thereafter burning the abandoned house in which they had killed the boys in order to cover up their crimes. The six relentless pursuers - all of whom first became involved in the chase for the killers more than two decades after the crimes were committed are Detectives Jack Eutsey and Louis Carrega of the Essex County Prosecutor's Office, Detective William Tietjen of the State Police and three members of the Newark Police Department's Cold Case Squad - Detectives Joseph Hadley and Murad Muhammad and Sergeant Darnell Henry.

It appears that this group of cops got their men in large part because they never wavered from the task at hand and because they wasted little time dwelling on the formidable nature of it. There is a line from a movie (the name of which escapes me) in which one character is explaining to another how impossible their mission is and he says, "It is not like looking for a needle in a haystack. It is like looking for a needle in a haystack of needles." A degree of difficulty not usually seen this side of the Triple Lindy.

In a three-decade old haystack of needles, six men persevered and found theirs. And it appears as if it has pointed them towards a long-overdue solution to a brutal crime. During their appearance at their arraignment, both of the suspects entered a plea of "not guilty", which it is their Constitutional right to do. Our system demands that we the people meet our burden of proving their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Whether we are able to do so is an as yet unwritten part of the story.

Several years ago I tried a civil case for a client out in Warren County. My adversary - who believe it or not was far more self impressed than even I am - wrote me a letter about six weeks prior to trial vigorously objecting to my proposed request to put off our trial for a couple of weeks because one of my medical experts was going to be away on a family vacation. My adversary, upset that my clients' insurer had not offered the plaintiffs any money to settle the case, closed his rather vitriolic piece of prose by proclaiming that, "Justice delayed is no justice."

Methinks that proposition might be a bit of a tough sell in the Provience household or in the households of the families of five young men who never had a chance to experience life as an adult.

That you know flag flying over the courthouse
Means certain things are set in stone
Who we are, what we'll do and what we won't.

Indeed it does.


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