After twenty-two years of not being able to successfully identify the person responsible for the death of “Baby Hope,” police in New York City have arrested and charged a man with murder. The man is accused of sexually assaulting the four-year-old child and then killing her and stuffing her body in a picnic cooler. The picnic cooler was found near the side of the highway in 1991.
The general legal rule says there is no statute of limitation on a homicide. This means that the crime of homicide will be prosecuted should a suspect emerge after any period of time. In the case of “Baby Hope,” the suspect in question confessed to police following an interrogation.
What can a criminal defense attorney do to ensure an impartial jury, where publicity has been ongoing for twenty-two years, and where the public’s need for resolution will likely outweigh the rights of the accused? The public interest in this case has always been very high, as it will be when a child dies. Not only was the child unidentified for many years, her death was also never reported—heightening the public’s outrage that such a crime could go unnoticed even by the child’s own family.
The emotional intensity following a child’s death—never mind her murder—creates an initial hurdle in jury selection for any criminal defense attorney. The fact that the case has received publicity in the same region from where the jury will be selected creates a major hurdle for the experienced defense attorney. Lastly, missing witnesses, lost evidence, the defendant’s police confession, and the City of New York’s interest in closing the case all mean that there will be more obstacles to mounting a defense in favor of protecting the rights of the accused.
One thing defendants should keep in mind is that, even after confessing to a crime, they still maintain their constitutional rights to a fair trial. The right to be treated impartially is guaranteed by the United States Constitution. Granted, the defendant counseled by his criminal law attorney may choose to bypass a jury trial because of the nature of the crime. That decision still does not mean the defendant’s right to a jury trial would ever be automatically removed.
Speaking to an experienced and seasoned criminal defense attorney accustomed to dealing with the criminal law system begins the process of developing the best defense possible.