Slow Justice Takes Toll
Wisconsin State Journal :: LOCAL :: B1
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
Susan Lampert Smith
The old saw "justice delayed is justice denied" normally applies to the defendant.
That's why the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees everyone the right to a speedy and public trial.
But delays in bringing a case also affect the victim and the victim's family.
In the last week, I've heard from the victims' side in two criminal cases. They have little in common: one is a sexual assault case in Crawford County, one a homicide by intoxicated driving case in Columbia County.
What they do share are victims' relatives who feel they are being denied justice as the cases seem slow to make it to court. Oh, and coincidentally, both defendants are being represented by Madison defense attorney Chris Van Wagner.
Not coincidentally, Van Wagner is the kind of guy I'd hire myself if I wanted to stay out of jail. He's smart and aggressive.
I can't see where he's to blame for the fact that Nicholas Pulver, 22, of Wyocena, has yet to be tried on charges of homicide by intoxicated use of a motor vehicle. Pulver was first charged in July 2004, but Van Wagner has been Pulver's attorney only since Sept. 1 of this year. The trial is currently set for February 2007.
But I do understand the feelings of Renee Whirry, the mother of Scott Grams, 22, who died in April 2004 when his car collided with Pulver's. Pulver is accused of crossing the center line of Highway 22 while under the influence of marijuana.
Since then, Pulver has been free on bond and has been arrested for driving while intoxicated, speeding and driving after his license was revoked.
"Our son's death seems unimportant," Whirry wrote to this newspaper and others.
Van Wagner says his client denies using marijuana the day of the accident. Much of the delay before he joined the case, he said, was due to challenges to the constitutionality of the impaired driver law, which was new when Pulver was charged.
In the other case, that of Frank Pintz, 65, of Prairie du Chien, Van Wagner says that justice is indeed being denied.
"My client is innocent," he said.
But family members of the victim, a girl who was 7 at the time of the first alleged assault, say the delay is worse for her and her family. They are troubled that Pintz has spent one winter vacationing in Arizona and may spend part of this coming winter there, too. Trials scheduled for August and September were postponed, and the next is set for January.
Van Wagner says the most recent delay was necessary because the prosecution turned over a nine-page expert witness report on Sept. 21, three days before jury selection was supposed to begin. Van Wagner said the latest delay was necessary to ensure a fair trial, saying that surprise evidence "went out of style with Perry Mason."
But the prosecutor in the case, Crawford County District Attorney Tim Baxter, said he is unhappy about the delays.
"I hate them," he said. "I hate them on behalf of the victims. I have a little girl victim and her family" who want the case finished.
Circuit Judge William Dyke, who was brought in to hear the case from Iowa County, said he couldn't comment on the reasons he granted the delays.
If that case does indeed go to trial in late January, it doesn't seem to me that a 13-month lag between charging and trial is all that long.
But I do think it depends where you're sitting.
If you're the relative of a little girl victim, or the mother of a dead son, time can seem like eternity.
Justice Is Finally Served
On January 26, 2007, after a 5-day trial, the jury brought back a not guilty verdict. Frank Pintz was acquitted on all charges of sexual assault. [See Sexual Abuse - Acquitted - Wisconsin State Journal]
Attorney Christopher T. Van Wagner
Attorney Chris Van Wagner exclusively devotes his legal practice to helping people accused (or convicted) of criminal offenses or drunk driving. In practice since 1981, Chris Van Wagner has tried nearly 100 felony cases to verdict ranging from low level fraud causes to homicide in both state and federal courts. [See About Christopher T. Van Wagner]