Thursday, August 11, 2005

More Cuban Spy news and the Grinch

The Cuban spy case continues to get lots of coverage. The Sun-Sentinel explains why Miami-Cubans are angry; The Miami Herald has an op-ed defending the 11th Circuit's decision, an article about the future of the case, and an article describing how one groups is asking for their release. The Herald opinion:

At first glance, a federal appellate court's decision requiring a new trial for five Cubans accused of spying appears to be a harsh and unwarranted censure of Miami and the prevailing anti-Castro sentiment in this community. The court remanded the case for a new trial -- elsewhere -- because ''pervasive community prejudice'' precluded the probability of a fair trial in Miami for the defendants.
Principle of fairness
No community would find this a welcome message. However, a close reading of the court's 93-page decision suggests that this is not so much a slap at the community as reaffirmation of the principle that fairness is the paramount ingredient of the American system of justice. To understand this decision, it's important to point out what the court did not say, as well as what it said:

• It did not say that the jury was biased. In fact, the court cited an applicable ruling to the effect that the law does not require proof ''that local prejudice actually entered the jury box.'' Where community sentiment is strong (Who can deny that here?) and other factors such as pre-trial publicity come into play, a change of venue is necessary in the interest of fairness, the court said.

• It did not suggest that the defendants should have been acquitted on the basis of the evidence. Indeed, in reviewing the evidence matter-of-factly, the court referred to the defendants as ''agents'' and ''Wasp Network members.'' However, it noted that guilt or innocence based on evidence is not a determining factor when an appellate court reviews whether a change of venue was needed in order to ensure a fair trial.

• No single factor led the court to decide that only a change of venue could suit the interests of justice. Rather, it cited pre-trial publicity; a variety of other Cuba-related news stories around the same time, most prominently the Elián González controversy, that incited community passions; and ''improper prosecutorial references,'' including a statement that the ''jurors would be abandoning their community'' -- in the court's words -- if they did not convict.
Community passions
All of this, in the court's decision, amounted to a ''perfect storm'' of inflammatory conditions mandating a change of venue. It also noted that, in another legal action around that time, the government itself argued for a change of venue out of Miami on the theory that community passions were not ideal for rendering an impartial verdict in a case involving Cuba.
We do not endorse the notion that an impartial jury cannot be found in Miami to judge a case with Cuban connections. Neither did the appellate court. The court simply found that the interests of fairness would best have been served at the time by moving the spy trial elsewhere before the trial began. In the interest of fairness, we agree.

In other news, seven years the Grinch received. Teach him, it will. I'm not sure if that's Yoda or Seuss speak... sorry.

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