Professor, lawyer and historian Gary Rowe gathered with several people from Haiti Tuesday, July 26, to discuss the U.S. judicial system and the constitution. Rowe focused on the history and contemporary issues in judicial independence.
Rowe began his talk with a brief history of the U.S. constitution, written in 1787. Rowe said the most important framer of the constitution was, James Madison.
Rowe’s main objective for the meeting was to speak of Judicial Independence focusing on the History of Judicial Independence as well as Contemporary Judicial Independence. He started off with a brief history of the constitution which was written in 1787.
The most important framer, James Madison, came up with most of the ideas behind the constitution. He had hoped to use the American Federal System. The national government would also now be able to stop and block local laws. Although this occurred, nobody wanted to accept this theory. In the 1790’s, during the period after the constitution, judges soon were considered part of the executive branch.
In 1803 there was an effort to impeach a judge, Samuel Chase, who the citizenry had disagreed with. Also during this time, in the state legislatures it was not uncommon to order new trials even if people had disagreed with the outcome. This is extremely uncommon today. It would be very unlikely to see something like this. Soon enough there were parades and protests in the streets that finally gave the constitution its name and significance.
It is important to have the judges involved in the process of the case, but not in every case. The constitution provides narrow grounds for impeachment. Judges usually stay tenure (this can last up to about 40 years which is still being debated; many think that it is too long of a tenure), unless they commit high crimes, or a misdemeanor. The problem with this though, is that high crimes and misdemeanors are undefined, so it is hard to try to impeach a judge because the definitions are not yet fully defined. Judges with tax invasions and perjury have been removed from the court, but there are still other crimes that persist among judges that are getting away with it; like those who are bad and immoral to litigants, but at the same time do not get removed from the court.
Also discussed was the topic of those who are believed to be innocent, but who are still on trial. There are two ways out of this dilemma. Either the president can grant a pardon to someone who was wrongfully accused. Or there is judicial redundancy where the person suffering believes there was a serious error. In these cases there are two routes one can take. They can appeal to higher and higher courts (they can appeal to the state court review and even up to the federal court review if need be.) Habeas Corpus can also occur which is the right of a citizen to be protected against all illegal imprisonment. Habeas corpus may also be expanded; this is something that congress has become upset with. Clemency was also briefly mentioned explaining that a person’s sentence may be reduced from death to life imprisonment. Another example of clemency would be a reduction from twenty years to seven years in prison.
Haiti claims that their justice lacks: resources, competent personnel, independence, and stature and public trust. In a report published last month, the United Nations Security Council concluded that Haiti’s judicial system is unacceptable; among other serious problems -- there is such a backlog of cases that people languish longer in prison awaiting trial than if they had been convicted. The participants’ main focus was to gain a greater understanding of the process by which criminals are apprehended, detained and tried; the administration of the court; and the various programs used to adjudicate disputes outside of the courtroom.
Topics of particular interest to the Haitians as provided by the U.S. State Department International Visitors Leadership Program, who sponsored their visit, included:
A robust question and answer period took place after Professor Rowe's presentation to clarify the issues surrounding the history of U.S. judicial independence.
Their itinerary at UCLA was arranged by the International Institute's International Visitors Bureau.
Published: Monday, August 08, 2005
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