Harden Law Offices

104 Main Street, Lancaster, NH 03584 603.788.2080
15 Main Street, Littleton, NH 03561 603.444.2084
199 Heater Road, Lebanon, NH 03766 603.448.3737
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info@lenharden.com

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Go to Trial: Crash the Justice System

NH is facing a budget crisis which is reducing court days.  We have fewer and fewer judges and judge days due to budget cuts.  Court personnel are retiring and not being replaced.  There are currently 3 judicial vacancies one each in the Supreme, Superior and Circuit Courts.  All of these costs savings and personnel decisions mean justice is delayed more and more. We now have a court calling center and there are constantly talks about closing remote courts.
The system is barely operating right now.  One colorful Superior Court Judge has said from the bench many times “justice delayed is justice denied.”  The delays for court dates are becoming common.  I agree that if even just a small fraction of people decided to try cases the system would implode.   Recently, I have noticed that court dates have been set further and further out.  It is not unusual for a court date to take 12 months or more to be reached.  At some point the cases are so old that they lose a sense of urgency for the people involved.  Witnesses will have problems remembering facts; victims will feel dis-empowered and cheated;  defendants question whether justice will ever arrive.  As an active criminal defense lawyer, I am concerned about where these delays will lead.  Our system of justice demands timely trials by our peers.  There are only so many tax dollars available, but as the number of people incarcerated climbs so do the costs. Perhaps a less effective system of churning out guilty people is the best for our state and country?
Susan Burton’s questions “What would happen if we organized thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of people charged with crimes to refuse to play the game, to refuse to plea out? What if they all insisted on their Sixth Amendment right to trial? Couldn’t we bring the whole system to a halt just like that?” would put fuel on a crisis that would cause the system to break.  I don’t know what would remain after the break, but it would be radically different.  It is interesting to think what would happen if we all say “Ready for trial.”

NY Times Opinion:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/11/opinion/sunday/go-to-trial-crash-the-justice-system.html

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