One week ago yesterday, the Supreme Court announced its decision not to hear Seale’s appeal on the statute of limitations issue. Justices Scalia and Stevens dissented, arguing in essence that the matter was important, affected other cases, and should be heard and decided once and for all.
So Seale remains in jail, and no one knows what to do about the two dozen other cases. If you investigate and prosecute, you could spend all the time and resources, get a conviction, only to see it later overturned. Or you may wait and decide to see what the Court eventually does on the issue, which could take a couple of years, and meanwhile witnesses and defendants die and cases grow even colder.
The urgency of the matter apparently meant nothing to the seven other justices. They simply didn’t want to hear the case, apparently wary of setting a precedent that would end up overloading their docket.
So administrative, procedural concerns seem once again to have outweighed concerns that justice, however delayed, be done once and for all the victims of these old race murders.
There may be some truth to the adage that justice is too important a matter to be left to the lawyers.
On November 1, the Supreme Court issued a decision declining to hear the appeal of James Ford Seale on the question of whether the statute of limitations applied to his case. Justice Scalia and Stevens agreed for once that the Court should hear it, because it would affect many other cases, but they were overruled by the other justices.
The implications of the case are many. In the short term, it means that Seale will remain in prison. It also means that the appeal will continue, and that the Court could consider the issue at a later time.
In a larger sense, it means that the issue of the applicability of the statute of limitations to crimes such as Seale’s remains unsettled. The 5th Circuit estimated that two dozen other cases may be affected by the ruling.
If prosecutors in Mississippi and other southern states proceed with prosecutions of race murders from the sixties with the same statute of limitation problems, any convictions could later be overturned. This would result in a waste of resources, resources that could otherwise be used prosecuting these types of cases that don’t have statute of limitations problems.
Meanwhile, the odds look better and better that James Ford Seale, a very ill man, may well die in prison before the issue is finally resolved.
To get the Mississippi perspective of the story, see this article in the Jackson Clarion-Ledger.