iOS app Android app More

Robin Sax

Robin Sax

Posted: October 15, 2009 03:26 PM

"The People" Have the Right to a Speedy Trial, Too!

What's Your Reaction?

As the saying goes, "Justice delayed is justice denied." It has been over seven years since Elizabeth Smart was taken from her home and some six years, seven months since Brian David Mitchell was charged with her kidnapping and rape. When is justice coming for Elizabeth Smart and her family?

Just to refresh your memory (after all, it did all happen seven years ago):

Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped on June 4, 2002 and found alive on March 12, 2003. Six days after Smart was found and returned to her family on March 18, Brian David Mitchell was charged with her kidnapping and sexual assault, in addition to the charge of aggravated burglary.

So what has happened in seven years? In January, 2004, Mitchell's wife, Wanda Barzee, was found incompetent to stand trial on similar charges, including kidnapping, sexual assault, and burglary. In July 2005, Mitchell himself was found "incompetent to stand trial" by Judge Judith Atherton and sent to a Utah State psychiatric hospital. Mitchell is currently undergoing a third competency trial, in which Elizabeth Smart testified for the first time.

"Incompetent to stand trial" is quite different from being insane, cuckoo, nuts, or even psychopathic. Actually, the legal definition is quite specific and requires that the defendant lacks "substantial mental capacity to understand the proceedings and/or is unable to assist in his or her own defense."

There is no requirement of hearing voices, seeing things, being a religious zealot--just the basic requirement that you understand the proceedings and/or that you are able to assist in your own defense.

Mental incompetency is one of the oldest ploys in the book--and it often comes up in the most serious cases where a defendant decides: "I'm going to avoid trial and sentencing by feigning incompetency." Usually, after several visits from the psychiatrist and the realization that the case isn't going anywhere, the defendant becomes miraculously competent--only to become "ill" on the day of trial.

But Mitchell is a tenacious guy. He wasn't going to let this go without a fight and he clearly wanted to see what Elizabeth Smart had to say during her testimony. Dr. Michael Welner, a noted forensic psychiatrist and the Chairman of The Forensic Panel in New York City, was retained recently by the U.S. Attorney's Office. It was his job to answer any questions regarding Mitchell's competency to stand trial. He produced a report exceeding 200 pages that provoked objections from the defense (as well as motions to exclude him as a witness).

Although doctors have diagnosed Mitchell with a rare delusional disorder, this doesn't mean he would be unable to stand trial. I personally believe Mitchell is competent and should be tried!

And apparently, Dr. Welner agrees. He concluded that Smart's kidnapper's disorders include psychopathy, pedophilia and narcissism. But perhaps the most satisfying conclusion that he made was that Mitchell is suffering from "malingering" -- faking psychological symptoms to avoid criminal prosecution for the kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart.

And while this may have been obvious to many of us weeks ago, it was a great relief to see that prosecutors could file supplemental motions showing that they had proof that this theory had merit. The latest motion indicates that there were statements made by the defendant that were overheard by staff at the Utah State Hospital, that support a diagnosis of "malingering." These include:

A psychiatric technician at the hospital indicated that the defendant began a "word fast," where he refused to speak with doctors or his attorneys after learning that another patient was found competent to stand trial based on his conversations with staff members. There were also attempts on Mitchell's part to escape the hospital!

Therefore, if the psychologists know he is delaying and Elizabeth Smart and her family agree, when will the Utah court see this, too? I couldn't say it better than Ed Smart, Elizabeth's father, when he told "Good Morning America" that Mitchell "is the ultimate manipulator. He's manipulated the system to the nth degree. He is competent. He is a pedophile and he needs to be brought to trial."

Certainly, Ed Smart's comments echo the feelings of millions of Americans who want to see Mitchell face a jury--now!

Many people feel that the wheels of justice turn at a painfully slow pace. And, as a type-A person, I readily agree. But one can't help wondering: What is a "normal" length of time for bringing an accused person to trial?

One of the rights that the Sixth Amendment guarantees is that the accused has the right to a speedy trial. And while there is no exact definition as to what is
"speedy," I can tell you that if the prosecution had let the defendant sit there for seven years with some outlandish excuse, the case would have been dismissed a long time ago.

Let's look at some other infamous cases for guidance. In the OJ Simpson trial, it took six months for a trial to get underway (the killings occurred in June, 1994 and Simpson was facing trail by December 1994). I bring up this case only to show that in a prominent and complicated murder case, the government was able to get the case together within a year. However, there were no competency complications in that case.

In the case of Rev. John Szantyr, who served in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Worcester, MA, he was charged in 2003 and was found mentally competent to stand trial on child sexual assault charges from the '80s. He stood trial within the same year. This was pulled together in one year, not seven.

It is not just "Victim vs. Criminal" in the United States justice system - it's the "PEOPLE vs. the Accused." The reason for this is simple: the government is not just prosecuting an individual for committing a crime; our government is representing the People, and is enforcing the Laws of the Land. It is critical to American values, as John Adams once said, that the government is "bound by fixed laws, which the people have a voice in making, and a right to defend."

Why do I mention this little tidbit? Because not only does the defendant have a right to a speedy trial but so do "The People." And as a member of this latter group, I am exercising my right on behalf of us all to get this party started.

Elizabeth Smart and her family need justice, the state of Utah needs justice, and so do we, the people!

 
 

Follow Robin Sax on Twitter: www.twitter.com/robinsax