The Supreme Court issued two rulings yesterday concerning the consequences of long delays in the criminal justice system, the New York Times reports. The court declined to hear an appeal from a death row inmate who argued that he should not be executed because the 32 years he spent on death row amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. The court's decision not to hear the case touched off a lively debate among three justices.
The court also ruled that a Vermont man's right to a speedy trial had not been violated despite a three-year delay. When the court accepted the speedy-trial case, it appeared to be ready to decide whether delays by court-appointed lawyers provided by the state may sometimes amount to a violation of the right. The ordinary rule is that only the prosecution's delays count against the government. The tangled record in the case demonstrated that the defendant, Michael Brillon, had fired one of his lawyers and threatened the life of a second. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, for a seven-justice majority, said delays caused by the defendant or his lawyer, whether court-appointed or not, did not ordinarily count against the speedy-trial clock. “Unlike a prosecutor or the court,” Ginsburg wrote, “assigned counsel ordinarily is not considered a state actor.”