Thursday, February 15, 2007

A speedy and public trial

On Jan. 14, 2000, Martin A. Armstrong, a globe-trotting investment manager, was told to produce $15 million in gold and antiquities, as well as documents, in response to a civil suit by the government accusing him of securities fraud involving hundreds of millions of dollars.

When he said that he did not have the items and could not produce them, a federal judge ordered him jailed for contempt of court.

Seven years later, Mr. Armstrong sits in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Lower Manhattan.

Imprisoned two years before Enron and WorldCom brought corporate crime to center stage, Mr. Armstrong, 57, is the white-collar defendant whom time forgot. Over the years, the losses of his former clients have been repaid by a bank involved in his trades.

Still, he remains jailed on one of the longest-running charges of contempt. In many cases, a federal law limits to 18 months how long someone can be held under civil contempt while the court tries to coerce compliance with an order. Even in cases of criminal contempt, whose goal is punishment rather than coercion, an individual is entitled to the full protections of due process after six months.

Amendment VI

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.

Amendment VII

In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

Amendment VIII

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.


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