As most of those involved in the American criminal justice system understand, that system increasingly resembles an assembly line more than a search for justice. And this is nowhere more obvious than in the politically unpopular world of DUI.
A recent example of this shift in focus from justice to expediency is the Arizona Supreme Court’s recent directive to lower courts of that state to begin ”expedited disposition of DUI cases”. (No, not cases involving murder, rape, burglary, theft, wife beating, drug sales, child molesting — just drunk driving.) Based upon the recommendations of the Court’s own “DUI Case Processing Committee” (made up entirely of judges and beaurocrats; no prosecutors or defense attorneys were included), these new policies have already been implemented in pilot programs in designated courts before being adopted statewide.
Concerned that there will be a rush to “process” DUI cases at the expense of Constitutional protections, a group called the Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice has issued a “white paper” entitled Justice Without Quality is Justice Denied:
….Our primary objective is to ensure that our clients’ constitutional rights are scrupulously enforced. Our job is to ensure that our clients are treated fairly, and that each person accused of a crime has a meaningful day in court, before an even-handed, impartial and unbiased Trier-of-Fact. Our clients’ rights cannot be sacrificed in the name of expediency, or because the courts have a large number of cases to process.
Some members of the judiciary may not understand the importance of obtaining highly technical proof of standards for maintaining and operating these (breath) machines, and establishing whether there was compliance with state and federal regulations, manufacturer specifications and nationally accepted standards in the case before the court. Efforts to obtain such information are inaccurately described as “fishing expeditions” by prosecutors and some courts. But to the defendant, whose main accuser is a machine, such information is at least as important to him as similar information is critical to determine whether a jet airliner is airworthy.
The challenge is to improve the efficiency of the DUI process without detrimentally affecting the quality of justice administered. Justice delayed may be justice denied; but expediency without regard to fairness will produce injustice…
Included among a discussion of the issues in the white paper are two warnings from the U.S. Supreme Court handed down over 30 years ago:
“The volume of misdemeanor cases, far greater in number than felony prosecutions, may create an obsession for speedy dispositons, regardless of the fairness of the result, and we must continually guard against assembly-line justice, in which expediency is place ahead of fundamental fairness. Such an obsession with speed often results in inadequate attention given to the individual defendant, and the frequent result is futility and failure.” Argersinger v. Hamlin, 407 U.S. 25, 34-35 (1972).
“(T)he Constitution recognizes higher values than speed and efficiency. Indeed, one might fairly say of the Bill of Rights in general, and the Due Process Clause in particular, that they were designed to protect the fragile values of a vulnerable citizenry from the overbearing concern for efficiency and efficacy that may characterize praiseworthy government officials no less, and perhaps more, than mediocre ones.” Stanley v. Illinois, 405 U.S. 645, 656 (1972).
But, of course, that was 30 years ago…
(Thanks to Kathleen N. Carey of Phoenix.)