There are multiple defendants awaiting court action in Potter County. Several pending matters have to do with alleged baby selling. Several have to do with an alleged homicide.
Some defendants await arraignment. Some await preliminary hearings.
What is taking all this time? In TV crime shows, people get arraigned zip-zap, and preliminary hearings occur right after the commercial.
Well, in the real world of Potter County, the justice system doesn’t work so expeditiously.
In the alleged baby selling case, some defendants are attorneys, or kin to attorneys. That changes things.
While we might think that this should make no difference, any more than would apply if the accused were teachers or doctors, we should think again. Local attorneys have too much contact with the local magisterial judges (district justices, we used to call them) for the magisterial judges not to have “personal conflicts” that cause them to disqualify themselves. Arraignments and prelims are handled by the “minor judiciary”—magisterial judges.
What happens when the magisterial judge who normally would hold a preliminary disqualifies himself or herself? The Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts is asked to assign someone else to handle that matter.
Not just any someone, of course. Someone who is qualified to function as a magisterial judge. That is, someone who has been elected to that office and has not since been defeated, and has taken the courses and passed the tests required before one can serve as a magisterial judge, and has served in that capacity, and has retired and has been appointed a senior magisterial judge.
Such a request has been made, for assignment of such a visiting senior judge, weeks ago. As I write this, no one has been assigned. I have not heard why there is such a delay.
As to the homicide-related cases, there aren’t that many murder-qualified attorneys close at hand. There are criminal defense attorneys, but they have more occasion to defend persons accused of other crimes. The public defender probably could not represent all the defendants; I’m thinking one would be the limit. Counsel would have to be appointed or assigned by the court for other defendants who are poor enough to qualify for public defender services.
So, there have been delays. And there may be more.
Most of us know someone connected to the homicide case, and we find ourselves horrified by the very fact of the death, clearly by murder of some degree, of a young man, and by the alleged involvement of three other young people—one not even close to adulthood.
Maybe it is something like the fascination the Casey Anthony murder trial holds for us. There’s an element of bewilderment. How can such things happen? But at least that happened in Florida, in a community we can imagine to be different in some significant way from our community. How can terrible, tragic crimes happen here?
Is it possible that young people would think that anyone should be killed for “snitching” about what must surely be far less important wrongdoing than homicide (killing of a human)? If their “friend” had implicated them in, say, a burglary, that means he must be punished by death? Their liberty is worth more than his life? This is a “code of honor”? “Honor among thieves” is seen as such a fine ideal?
Not so long ago, the victim and each person accused in connection with the homicide were kids, growing up in a small, rural community. They went to school, played sports, enjoyed recreation, attended social events, had friends, dated, did kid stuff.
Before that, they were babies, toddlers. In their baby and little kid pictures, they probably looked adorable. They were so cute, so full of promise—or so I imagine. What happened, to cause them to begin to think it is okay to participate in unlawful activities? In what circles are these activities the norm? How do young people start imagining that they are achieving something when they break the law? When and how do they place themselves on the wrong side of the law, the side where they would assist or protect criminals, and would not assist law enforcement or the victim of a crime?
I doubt that we will get very good answers to those questions, as the process unfolds with all deliberate speed, in Potter County.
TV shows? Movies? Computer and other games that seem to glorify or trivialize crime? War? Other influences that seem to devalue life? Is that how young people develop attitudes that cause them to be at war with their communities, and in conflict with community standards?
What is the best that can be hoped for, as an outcome, if the criminal justice system does its job correctly and arrives at a just conclusion? If justice is done, what form will it take? And won’t the best possible outcome available bring further tragedy and heartache?
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