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Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Yolo County ACLU Requests Change of Venue for Topete Case

Many who read the Davis Enterprise on Sunday, undoubtedly saw the story that the Yolo County Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union called "upon the Yolo County Court to quickly secure a change in venue for the trial of Marco Topete, the accused killer of Sheriff's officer and former court baliff Tony Diaz."

Yolo County ACLU President Natlie Wormeli makes the argument based on the Sixth Amendment to the US Constitution, which reads:
"In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State..."
The Sixth Amendment, many people do not realize, guarantees the right not only to a speedy trial, to have the right to face the accuser, and to the right to an attorney, but also the right to a public trial.

The ACLU is making a different argument than that of the media, who have argued that this is a First Amendment issue, a freedom of press. And whose primary concern naturally was that the press corps were excluded from the arraignment of a high profile case of public interest.

According to Ms. Wormeli:
"This change [of venue] is necessary to assure basic rights to the accused as guaranteed under the United States Constitution."
She continued:
"The Sheriff's Office forgot the basic charge of the Sixth Amendment... Everyone can understand the emotion the bailiffs must feel at the loss of their comrade. This is no excuse, however, for unprofessional and constitutionally prohibited conduct."
Natasha Minsker, an attorney with the ACLU of Northern California added:
"The right to a public trial is a fundamental human right, protected by numerous international treaties, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. An open courthouse is the hallmark of a free society." A public trial concurrently protects both the rights of the defendant and the greater right of the people to know.
The Vanguard had Natasha Minsker on its June 25, 2008 Radio Show which discussed this issue as a whole. [You can catch that show by clicking here, the conversation with Natasha Minsker begins around the 35 minute mark]

Natalie Wormeli believes that this violation raises concerns about who controls the legal procedures in Yolo County--the Sheriff or the Judges.

She wonders "whether the judge of the court can conduct a proper and fair trial in such an atmosphere."
"Those who attended last Saturday's funeral for Officer Diaz, including representatives of the YCACLU, were moved by the obvious suffering of Tony Diaz' family and the heartwarming support from his fellow officers in the face of this heinous crime. It is at these times that the criminal justice system, beginning with the trial court, faces its greatest challenge. When justice is pursued with every attention to fair procedure, even under these exceptional circumstances, then all citizens can be assured that the system is credible, reliable, and fair. The sacrifice of Officer Diaz demands that nothing interfere with a speedy and impartial public trial for his accused killer. The ability of the Yolo County Court to provide such proper procedures is in serious question. To remove any taint or threat of a procedural challenge later, the best thing to do is move the trial to another county."
The Vanguard continues to believe that the best course of action in this case is to move the trial to another county to insure that Mr. Topete receives a fair trial and that if he is indeed found guilty of this crime and is indeed the perpetrator of this callous and horrific act upon a peace officer, who attempted to rescue a baby, then Mr. Topete should spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole.

However, above all else, the constitution must be adhered to. The right to a fair and public trial must be afforded to the defendant in this case.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting