JUSTICE DELAYED IS JUSTICE DENIED
From THE BETTER CLARKSDALE FOUNDATION
by Marvin Reddick
The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees citizens the right to a speedy trial. Some courts in Mississippi, to include Coahoma County, are having some issues with assuring that this right is protected for citizens. To put it plainly, there is no speedy trial in Coahoma County. At least not for some. Mississippi in keeping with the Constitution has promulgated in Mississippi Code Annotated 99-17-1 a 270-day limit for criminal trials to take place. This is too often not the case.
What should be understood is that when an accused person is denied a speedy trial not only is that individual denied justice but victims and/or their families also go without closure.
In Clarksdale, Coahoma County, there has been much to do about this frivolous indictment of Maple Melton for allegedly embezzling, or rather transferring utility deposit credits (she is not accused of actually taking any money). It took nine counts for this indictment to total three thousand dollars.
We’ve even had a former mayor call the attorney general on this case when the current Mayor and Board of Commissioners decided to vote on whether to prosecute Maple Melton almost four years after her indictment.
On another side of this issue is the person accused of the capital murder of the beloved Mrs. Myrtle Messenger. Here you have a 2014 case on strong evidence and witness testimony, that almost five years after charges were filed, has not been tried. The accused had to be released on bond because of the number of years he has been awaiting trial.
This debacle emoted me almost to tears because as a person who grew up in Riverton a block away from the Messengers, I revered this fine lady. Her son Jerry was my classmate and friend as well as Michael. We grew up together. We were in and out of each other’s homes all the time. But at the end of the day I had to put my personal feelings aside and reassign the blame for this miscarriage of justice to where it belonged. The Coahoma County District Attorney, in almost five years, isn’t prepared to go to trial with this case with no ambiguous excuse. I don’t want to hear it! The Judge in this case granted a continuance for no good cause. I don’t want to hear it! And the Mississippi State Supreme Court in a state with one of if not the worst records of Sixth Amendment violations, is doing nothing. I don’t want to hear it! Justice delayed the accused in this case surmounted to justice denied the family of Mrs. Myrtle Messenger.
In a June 13, 2016 Mississippi Today article U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves placed the blame squarely on the shoulders of the State Supreme Court.
“The court lacks the will to hold prosecutors and trial judges accountable for egregious delays in criminal cases,” Reeves wrote in an opinion filed Friday. “The result is that accused persons wait longer and longer to go to trial.”
U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves
“Given the frequency of speedy trial issues it faces, it is astonishing that the Mississippi Supreme Court has not reversed a criminal conviction for a speedy trial violation since 1992,” Reeves wrote.
State court procedures posted on the Mississippi Supreme Court website call for a criminal trial date to be set within 60 days of indictment and a trial to be held within 270 days of an indictment unless good cause is given for a continuance.
At some point in this fiasco the pundits of criminal law will have to consider the constitutionality of Mississippi Code Annotated 99-17-1. As it stands judges have the discretion to grant a continuance for “good cause.” (That good cause as discerned by the judge in the Maple Melton case, in a continuance order signed on January 21, 2016 was the number of witnesses and a forecast for severe weather.) A determination has to be made that discretion on good cause continuances must be better defined for Mississippi Judges. This is utterly ridiculous!
Christi R. McCoy, a defense attorney in Oxford, also blames the District Attorneys and sites worthless indictments. “I have seen it over and over. They pick and choose what cases appear at the top of the docket,” McCoy said. “If the speedy trial rule were enforced, it also would cut down on a lot of worthless indictments. I see far too many of those in state court. Federal court is not immune, but it is rampant in state court.”