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Big cases bog down state's courts
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Forsyth County News


There is some question as to who first expressed the opinion that “justice delayed is justice denied,” but the sentiment is one with which we can agree.

The American system of justice is among the finest in the world. But the methodical, ponderous steps that sometimes are involved in bringing a case to trial are frequently exasperating.

A pending death penalty case in Forsyth County is the perfect example. Marcin Sosniak is one of three men facing death penalty prosecutions in connection with the slaying of four people at a farmhouse in Forsyth County in March of 2006. All have pled not guilty. Well over five years since the killings, none has gone to trial.

Twice in the last four months, Sosniak has been slated for trial, only to have proceedings delayed. His attorneys now have filed a motion arguing that his right to a speedy trial has been violated. A hearing on that motion is expected to be held this week.

High profile cases, especially those in which prosecutors seek the death penalty, frequently are expensive logistical nightmares that can become almost overwhelming in their complexity. Sosniak’s case is made more complicated by the fact he is represented by attorneys paid for through the state’s indigent defense program, which has had more than its share of financial issues in recent years.

Sosniak’s attorney argues that the lack of funding by the state has resulted in so many delays in the case that it would be “unconstitutional” to proceed.

It remains to be seen whether a judge will concur with the defense attorney, but it’s no secret that the state’s indigent defense program has been badly underfunded in the past. Attorneys in a number of cases have in the past asked to be removed because they weren’t being paid for their time by the state as required under the law.

The pre-trial delay in such prosecutions is but part of the problem. If a defendant is convicted in a death penalty prosecution, the waiting has just begun. Post-conviction, inmates frequently reside on death row for more than a decade, and sometimes for as long as 20 years. Statistical evidence indicates the length of time between conviction and execution has steadily lengthened over the past 25 years.

Which is not to say there should be a rush to execute after conviction. There has to be time for an adequate appeal process, as evidenced by those cases where prisoners are released after years in prison after the finding of new evidence or overturning of the old.

The highly publicized execution of Troy Davis last month came some 22 years after he killed a police officer.

Whether the death penalty is an appropriate measure for a civilized society is an emotional argument that rightfully fosters passionate debate. But those on both sides of the debate should be in agreement that a system that takes decades to bring a case to trial and then to impose the mandated punishment is one that does a poor job of delivering justice.

There are only so many straws that can be stacked upon a camel’s back before it breaks. One has to wonder whether, without significant reform and committed funding, that final straw may soon be dropped on the state’s judicial system.