I wanted to bring your attention to a very important article that highlights but one of the myriad problems facing our criminal justice system.
Though I’m sure it’s a problem in other cities around the country, Chicago has a particularly disturbing “culture” wherein police routinely fail to show up for their court appearances, thereby delaying the trial of the defendant for months and even years. These delays keep the defendants (most of whom cannot afford bail) in jail awaiting their “speedy trial” promised by the Constitution. Two serious consequences result from this: 1. Defendants are incarcerated for months and years before they’re even given a trial (if a trial ever comes) and 2. Defendants often opt to plead guilty to crimes simply as a way to get out of jail- in other words, this delay tactic by the cops/courts plays into the hands of the prosecution. In both cases the defendant loses… and the police are unscathed.
Police are required to appear by state law, and the police department’s own rules and regulations, yet the article points out that in real practice police are not sanctioned for failing to appear- in short, no consequences for the police, heavy, destructive consequences for the defendants.
Practices like these fly in the face of our Constitution’s protections and emphasize the desperate need for us to bring about substantive criminal justice reform.
Please take a moment to read this excellent piece. I’ve included some quotes here from the article to give you an idea of the problem facing defendants in the Chicago system (and likely elsewhere).
*** All Quotes From Article by Spencer Woodman – Chicago Reader ***
Court systems around the country are crippled by overwhelmed public defenders and over-scheduled courtrooms, but Cook County defendants also face judges and police commanders who fail to ensure that officers appear in court when needed.
Extended trial delays deprive defendants of their liberty for months or years as they await trial, causing them to lose jobs, incur debt, fall behind on schooling, and endure separation from loved ones.
Perhaps more disturbingly, numerous studies have shown that lengthy trial delays mean defendants are more likely to plead guilty and less likely to be acquitted at trial as compared with those able to bond out of jail. More than one former Cook County inmate said that after being held under pretrial detention for years, they’d concluded that their only way out of jail was to plead guilty for crimes they maintain they didn’t commit.
“Defendants are much more likely to take pleas just because they want to get out of jail,”
“These are not witnesses like other witnesses,” says Keith Ahmad, a top supervisor in the Cook County public defender’s office. The court is “very reluctant” to issue warrants for police witnesses who repeatedly fail to come to court, Ahmad says—warrants that would often be standard issue for other witnesses who fail to appear. “I’ve never seen a warrant issued for a police officer.”Police absenteeism not only runs afoul of state laws meant to ensure that witnesses appear in court; it also violates the Chicago Police Department’s own rules of conduct, which specifically prohibits officers from failing to report promptly when called to court. Yet the study noted that police absenteeism “does not appear to generate any sanctioning” of the officers themselves.