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Legally Speaking: Trump tweets could slow prosecution of NYC suspect

Police work near a damaged Home Depot truck after a motorist drove onto a bike path near the World Trade Center memorial, striking and killing several people, Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/Andres Kudacki)

In his usual style of saying exactly what he thinks without any filters, President Donald Trump tweeted that he wants Sayfullo Saipov, the New York City terror attack suspect, to be eligible for the death penalty.

Many Americans might feel the same way and may even say the exact same thing and there is absolutely no problem with that. We, as Americans, have the right to believe anything we want and to often voice that belief.

However, some would argue it should be a bit different when it comes to the president of the United States, at least when it comes to sharing that opinion. Let me explain.

Trump is one of the most heard, repeated and quoted individuals in our country. His statements trickle down and are heard by almost everyone, including potential jurors. Judges and attorneys have to work hard to make sure that those selected from that jury pool are fair and impartial.

When one of the most influential people in our country makes comments like the tweet above, it makes it much more difficult for an unbiased jury to be empaneled — not impossible, just more tedious.

The attorneys have to file, respond and argue motions to change venue and take more time in questioning potential jurors.

Although I am sure prosecutors appreciate the support from the commander in chief, most would likely agree that saying nothing would be better for our justice system.

With this talk about the death penalty, let’s take a look at whether that is even a real possibility in this case.

With his disgraceful and tragic acts, Saipov allegedly committed crimes under both state and federal jurisdiction including murder, attempted murder and terrorism. As such, both New York and federal prosecutors can file charges against him simultaneously.

Oftentimes, the prosecutors will work together and decide who will proceed first. After all, there is no need to waste the judicial resources, taxpayer money and time for two prosecutions when one will get the job done. I predict we will see that type of cooperation here in this case.

If it is the death penalty that is the utmost goal, then the federal case will go forward first because New York abolished the death penalty in 2007.

The federal government does recognize the death penalty, although it is slow to actually execute anyone. Since 1988, 76 defendants have been sentenced to death and only three have been executed.

Federal prosecutors have already indicated that the death penalty is on the table. As such, most legal steps will be taken with that ultimate goal in mind.

However, this case, like many other capital cases, has a long way to go and will take a lot of time — perhaps even more if Trump continues to voice his opinion.

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