Saturday, June 16, 2007

This Time They Didn't Get It Right

Yesterday, the NYT reported:

WASHINGTON, June 14 — The Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 today that an Ohio prisoner’s challenge of his murder conviction must be thrown out because he missed a filing deadline by a few days — not through his or his lawyer’s fault, but because a federal judge made a mistake.

On a technicality that was actually an error by a federal judge and not the attorney or his client, the Supreme Court denied the appeal. According to the majority opinion written by Justice Thomas, federal appeals courts “routinely and uniformly dismiss untimely appeals,” and that the case of Mr. Bowles should be no exception.

And get this. Apparently we in the hoi polloi could not possibly understand what was going on, so Justice Thomas had to explain it to us:

Justice Thomas, apparently conceding that some people, especially nonlawyers, might be flabbergasted that a judge’s error could undo an appeal, noted: “Because Congress decides, within constitutional bounds, whether federal courts can hear cases at all, it can also determine when, and under what conditions, federal courts can hear them.”

In vigourous dissent:

In dissent, Justice Souter said the Supreme Court should have granted an exception to the 14-day limit, “as it certainly seems reasonable to rely on an order from a federal judge.”

“As a member of the federal judiciary, I cannot help but think that reliance on our orders is reasonable,” Justice Souter wrote. “I would also rest better knowing that my innocent errors will not jeopardize anyone’s rights unless absolutely necessary.”

I completely agree. I cannot believe that a defendant's constitutional rights to a full appeal were denied by a technicality that harmed no one, and by a federal jusdge at that. I'm appalled.

And you know how many days we're talking about? Three! Three lousy days!

Read it all
and weep for our country, that routinely denies people the basic rights that all people, as both citizens and as children of God, should be able to enjoy.



Troglodyteus said...

Your consternation is quite understandable. I agree with your position. However, I will not weep for our country. Instead I will take part in the process.

Possibly my utopian existence insulates me. I do not see America as routinely denying basic rights to her citizens. As an American do I have fewer rights than children of God? That, too, may be questionable

RFSJ said...

Hi Trog,

Thanks for the feedback. I think for a long time I felt as you did. But I see the way this administration has done its utmost to ensure that people have been denied their rights at places like Gitmo, Abu Graig, and the secret detention camps of Europe. Even war criminals have basic rights. That's part of the law of the land in the Geneva Conventions. I'm saddened that we seem to have forgetten that.