We all learned about the court system in school. Among other things, we learned that the U.S. Constitution says that you have the right to a speedy trial. We also learned that if you get a bad outcome in court, it might be possible to appeal that decision to a higher court.
But what do you do when you’re not getting a speedy trial and your right to appeal is being blocked?
That’s exactly what happened to a Wisconsin man. He’d been convicted in a lower court, and had filed an appeal in the Wisconsin courts. Not one, not two, but four years later the Wisconsin courts were dragging their feet.
This is a mind-blowing amount of time. To put that in perspective, if you’d enrolled in college at the time he filed his appeal in the Wisconsin courts, you’d be graduating by the time he finally gave up in frustration and asked the Federal District Court to intervene.
For those of you who aren’t familiar, the Federal District Court is one level “up” from the state courts. If there’s a problem with the state courts, the Federal District Court is the first line of defense. The man’s argument in this case was that four years is an unreasonable amount of time to wait, and he’d like the federal court to step in.
Seems reasonable, right?
That’s what he thought. And then something even more unbelievable happened – the federal court denied the appeal. The federal court effectively stated that they wouldn’t even hear the case because he hadn’t finished the Wisconsin appeals process. Which was, oddly enough, the whole reason for the appeal – because he wanted to finish the appeals process in Wisconsin, but the state was dragging their feet.
So he kicked it up one more level – to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. The Circuit Courts of Appeals are the federal courts one level down from the Supreme Court, and fortunately they took the man’s case.
Wisconsin showed up and argued what they’d been arguing all along. “Four years for an appeal? We don’t have a problem.”
Fortunately for this man, the 7th Circuit saw the insanity in a four-year wait for a simple appeal. In a very harshly-worded decision, the 7th Circuit summarized the problem nicely:
why the state is so intent on avoiding responsibility for its own failings. And we were shocked anew by the state’s presentation at oral argument. When asked whether the Attorney General had filed anything with the Wisconsin Supreme Court alerting it to the serious problems in the lower courts, counsel insisted, “We don’t have a problem.” That view is indefensible: a miscarriage of justice occurs when a convicted prisoner must wait four years for appellate review.
My experience tells me that the wheels of the justice system in Wisconsin can turn quite slowly. I’m hoping that this ruling from the 7th Circuit will be a wake-up call to the court system, and make those wheels spin faster going forward.
Of course the best way to not have your appeal delayed is to not be convicted in the first place. Representation from a highly-qualified lawyer is always your first, best line of defense to any legal problems. If you have a legal problem, I highly encourage you to give me a call today!