Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who covers criminal justice, terrorism and the courts for WNYC. She found her way into public radio after practicing law for five years, and can definitely say that walking the streets of New York City with a microphone is a lot more fun than being holed up in the office writing letters to opposing counsel.
Bomb Suspect Waives Right to Speedy Arraignment
Wednesday, May 05, 2010
New York, NY –
Terror suspect Faisal Shahzad has waived his right to a speedy arraignment. That means it could be a while before Shazad sees a judge for the first time. The decision could have legal costs for Shahzad -- and legal benefits.
Federal prosecutors first announced Shahzad would be presented in court on Tuesday, but he never appeared. The government says that's because he's been cooperating with investigators.
Shahzad is facing five charges in federal court in Lower Manhattan for allegedly trying to explode a car bomb in Times Square last Saturday. Investigators say they want more information from Shahzad, particularly details on his trip to Pakistan. So far, they haven't been able to confirm his claim that he received bomb-making training there.
Defendants usually appear in court within 48 hours of their arrest. Defense attorney Ed Wilford says if the government detains Shahzad too long, a judge could later find that prosecutors violated his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination -- especially if it turns out he didn't have a lawyer with him during much of the interrogation.
Wilford has defended several alleged terrorists, and he says the problem with their cases in particular is that the public just isn't that sympathetic about possible Constitutional violations. But other lawyers say putting off Shahzad's first court appearance wouldn't harm his case that much. Fordham Law School professor Jim Cohen says there's already a mountain of evidence against him. At this point, a speedy arraignment wouldn't do him much good anyway.
"What does he get out of it? He comes to court in front of the judge, the judge says, 'I need to tell you what your rights are. You have a right to remain silent, you have a right to an attorney. If you can't afford any attorney, I'm going to appoint one to represent you.' You know, the standard stuff. But what does he get from that?" Cohen asks.
Keeping Shahzad out of the courtroom for now, so he has more time to talk to investigators, may actually work in his favor. Columbia Law Professor Dan Richman says the delay could lead to a lighter sentence -- on one condition: "If he can really give effective cooperation to the government, that enables him to show that he's done something to offset planning his horrendous acts," Richman says.
But if Shahzad and his lawyers decide later to challenge the government's use of anything he's confessed to now, it will be up to prosecutors to show Shahzad was cooperating voluntarily.