Our country’s constitutional guarantee of a speedy trial is supposed to be a cornerstone of the U.S. justice system.
In the everyday reality of underfinanced courts, undermanned prosecutors and public defender staffs and court dockets that lengthen by the hour, what actually qualifies as timely access to a judge and jury is open to wide interpretation.
This week in Charlotte, an unusual legal fight over the Sixth Amendment right to a prompt day in court surfaced in a high-profile case.
In January, Charlotte physician Fidelis Edosomwan was arrested and accused of molesting two patients. In March, after Charlotte-Mecklenburg police encouraged others to come forward, Edosomwan was indicted on 16 more counts of sexual battery and sex offense.
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Edosomwan maintains his innocence. If convicted, he could spend years in prison.
Defense attorney George Laughrun said this week that his client has not worked in almost a year since voluntarily agreeing with state medical officials not to see patients until the charges are resolved.
Last month, Laughrun filed a “speedy trial motion” – the first in his 37-year career, he says. In it, he asked that the charges against Edosomwan be dropped because his legal protections had been breached. A hearing before Superior Court Bob Bell was scheduled for Friday.
“We don’t deserve better treatment than anybody else,” Laughrun said Wednesday morning. “But if you’re going to make a big deal about this, you should be ready to go.”
In response, District Attorney Andrew Murray, Laughrun’s former law partner, said his office is moving Edosomwan’s case along as quickly as it can. But with dozens of potential victims involved, “it is very complex and that takes time.”
At the same time, Murray acknowledged that a “speedy trial” in Mecklenburg County has become a relative term. Last year, almost 10,000 felony cases were filed here – more than double the number from 30 years ago and by far the most in the state. Fewer than 250 went to trial.
When Murray became an assistant district attorney in 1992, the county had four courtrooms assigned to felony cases in Superior Court. It still does.
In the end, Laughrun withdrew his speedy trial motion after he said he and the DA’s office agreed in principal to get Edosomwan’s case on the court calendar.
Speedy? Realistic? Acceptable? You decide.