Did Tim Donaghy Preside Over Padilla Trial?

While righty Jules Crittenden has taken to calling us names, he shows he knows better than step to the plate and actually engage in a debate on the substance of the Padilla trial. I previously gave a write-up on the weakness of the evidence in the case, but I also want to correct a misperception that Padilla somehow got his fair shot at justice via his trial. The prosecutor and the judge did a number of things that gamed Padilla’s case.

First, anybody interested in our justice system should read the New York Times expose on the prosecutors’ novel use (rubber stamped by conservative judges at the 11th Circuit) of a conspiracy statute read so broad as to be made a joke.

Second, Crittenden is wrong in suggesting liberal support for one jury verdict – the Libbey case – renders it hypocritical for liberals to criticize the jury verdict in Padilla. America’s jury system is the best in the world. But there’s a big difference between best and infallible. The jury system struggles in high profile cases and where prosecutors are allowed to demagogue to our basest fears. Think of our past history of trying black defendants in the South before all-white juries for what I’m sure most would agree was a manifest failure of the jury system.

Each decision is open to analysis for fairness. Indeed, reanalyzing jury verdicts is a large part of what Appellate courts do.

I feel the Padilla case falls into both the notorious trial and demogoguery categories. I believe this not only because of the prosecutors’ over-the-top fear-mongering but also because of the prosecution-friendly rulings of the trial judge. In one jaw dropping episode the judge allowed the government to present one of the convicted wannabe terrorists from the Lackawana six as evidence of what the government believed Padilla wanted to be. The Judge also prevented the defense from putting on evidence of Padilla’s torture and lengthy incarceration without charge. To Padilla’s further detriment, he was tried jointly with codefendants who’s recorded statements were allowed before the jury though constituting hearsay to Padilla (he certainly wasn’t allowed to cross exam them or even call them as witnresses). I’m sure the judge issued a limiting order regarding the statements but given the massive amount of hearsay it’s sheer fantasy to believe the jury could distinguish between what evidence applied to which defendant.

Most troubling, however, was the court’s willingness to allow the government to present a witness with a hidden identity to authenticate the “Mujahideen Data Form.” The witness’ identity was kept secret not only from the public and the jury but from the defense as well. Moreover, the jury wasn’t even told the CIA agent was testifying anonymously but was misled into believing he was who he claimed to be (and believing the defense had an opportunity to fully vet him). To make matters worse, the trial court allowed the secret witness to testify about his conversations with an unidentified source from whom he allegedly received the documents as to where the document came from. The court then handcuffed the defense’s cross-exam because of a fear of revealing state secrets. It is important to remember that this wasn’t some side issue but was the evidence at the heart of the government’s case against Padilla. Of course, such an unprecedented evidentiary ruling throws out the Sixth Amendment right every American has to confront witnesses against him. (The Christian Science Monitor has a good breakdown of the whole sordid affair here).

Of course, you can probably guess the ending to this post. The judge involved in raining these rulings down upon Padilla – US District Judge Marcia Cooke – was appointed to the bench by probably the second most interested person in the Padilla verdict. That’s right – you guessed it – George W. Bush.

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  1. More on the Padilla Verdict § Unqualified Offerings - [...] what seem to be clear violations of his constitutional rights. Macswain at Comments from Left Field notes that not…

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