Jerry Sandusky Scandal

Commentary | Speed of trial may be grounds for appeal

If you blinked, you might have missed it. The express that brought the circus into town has already left.

In lightning-fast speed, Jerry Sandusky was indicted, tried and convicted of some of the most heinous crimes imaginable. In a little more than six months, he went from being a respected citizen to an ogre of unspeakable depths.

With the evidence produced at trial, his guilt was certain, as the defense had no counterbalance to the accusations; and for his conduct, he probably will spend the rest of his life in jail.

In the legal world, for a case of this complexity to move to a final resolution so quickly is unheard of. And this break-neck speed may be grounds for a successful appeal.

We all know the trappings of our legal system: the right to a trial by jury, the right to counsel, etc. Although not specifically stated, there also is an inherent right to have adequate time to prepare a defense.

How much time depends on the circumstances of the case.

There is no rigid formula but, generally speaking, the more complex the case, the more time one is given to get ready.

A person issued a speeding ticket usually gets a few months between the citation and trial — not much different from the time afforded Sandusky. And therein lies the problem: Without sufficient time to investigate the claims, Sandusky’s defense was smothered under an avalanche; thus, a counterargument could not be presented in court and a guilty verdict was preordained.

Well, if six months is not enough time, what is? We can look to the recently concluded sex abuse trial in Philadelphia involving the Roman Catholic Church. The issues mirrored those in the Sandusky matter — a cover-up of children being sexually abused by a predator and conduct spanning a couple of decades. The time from indictment to trial was about a year. This time frame is also in line with the trial scheduling of Tim Curley and Gary Schultz, as that trial should happen by year’s end.

If one is dissatisfied with using cases from outside Centre County, we can also use the local docket for some guidance.

Occurring at the same time as the Sandusky trial was the second trial of three men accused in a robbery spree. These defendants were arrested in early 2010, which raises the larger question: Why the rush in trying Sandusky?

Although accused and now convicted, Sandusky, like all Americans, was entitled to a fair trial. A crucial element to a fair trial is having adequate time to prepare a defense. Without that, all the window dressings in the world will not remove the stench of a hurried proceeding.

The state of Pennsylvania had more than three years to prepare its case.

Sandusky’s defense team was given a limited time and, during the crucial weeks leading up to the trial date, had thousands upon thousands of pages of grand jury evidence dumped upon it.

Sound fair? The timing of the trial will be a major emphasis on appeal. It will be interesting to see how the appellate courts rule on this issue because we may just get the circus back in town, with Sandusky as the ringmaster — a wholly preventable occurrence.

Louis Lombardi is a community columnist for the Centre Daily Times. He is an attorney and former New York City police captain who lives in Patton Township. He can be reached or follow him on his blog