Man Jailed A Year, Acquitted In One-Minute Trial

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Preston Burns, 28, languished in the overcrowded Chester County, Pa., Prison for a year with no court date. The Philadelphia Inquirer calls him “a poster child for the adage that the wheels of justice grind slowly.” Yesterday, he experienced the opposite extreme. Chester County Court Judge James P. MacElree 2d held a swift, nonjury trial – and acquitted Burns of marijuana possession. A deputy sheriff called it “the fastest trial I ever saw.” Charles M.J. Nester, a public defender said, “I don’t think it lasted more than a minute.”

Burns had been in prison since last July 11, charged with possessing marijuana in 2001. After he agreed to do community service, his preliminary hearing was continued until July 25, 2002. He never appeared at that hearing, however, so the county issued a bench warrant and extradited him from another prison where he had served time for a drug conviction. He should have had a trial within a few months, but he was incorrectly identified as a parole violator, which meant it would have been the responsibility of a a parole officer to get him before a judge. Because he had no criminal history in Chester County, no one in the court system was looking after his case. Burns told the judge that fellow inmates assured him nothing was amiss in the length of time he had been jailed.


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