In the midst of a national emergency, U.S. Department of Justice officials are making some quite scary moves. As a piece from Politico on Saturday told:
The Justice Department has quietly asked Congress for the ability to ask chief judges to detain people indefinitely without trial during emergencies — part of a push for new powers that comes as the novel coronavirus spreads throughout the United States.
The DOJ requests — which are unlikely to make it through a Democratic-led House — span several stages of the legal process, from initial arrest to how cases are processed and investigated.
One part proposed that Congress grant the attorney general power to ask a chief judge of any district court to pause court proceedings “whenever the district court is fully or partially closed by virtue of any natural disaster, civil disobedience, or other emergency situation.”
In addition that proposal would grant those top judges broad authority to pause court proceedings during emergencies. This apparently for “any statutes or rules of procedure otherwise affecting pre-arrest, post-arrest, pre-trial, trial, and post-trial procedures in criminal and juvenile proceedings and all civil process and proceedings.”
Another would reportedly waive the statute of limitations for criminal investigations as well as civil trials during an emergency and could last as long as “one year following the end of the national emergency.”
Executive Director of National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers Norman L. Reimer said, “Not only would it be a violation of that, but it says ‘affecting pre-arrest.’” Plus he added, “So that means you could be arrested and never brought before a judge until they decide that the emergency or the civil disobedience is over. I find it absolutely terrifying. Especially in a time of emergency, we should be very careful about granting new powers to the government.”
Beyond that, the DOJ is reportedly trying to change the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure in some cases to expand the use of videoconference hearings and to let some of those hearings happen without defendants’ consent.
“Video teleconferencing may be used to conduct an appearance under this rule,” read a draft with potential new language for Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 5(f), crossing out “if the defendant consents.” Along with, “Video teleconferencing may be used to arraign a defendant,” reads draft text of rule 10(c), again striking out “if the defendant consents.”
Reimer claimed, “If it were with the consent of the accused person it would be fine.” Then stated, “But if it’s not with the consent of the accused person, it’s a terrible road to go down. We have a right to public trials. People have a right to be present in court.”
The Justice Department so far has refused to answer for such a sneaky move. The American people deserve more.