WASHINGTON -- Sen. Howell Heflin, former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, said Wednesday the 14 months it took to bring John Hinckley to trial shows the need for overhauling the criminal justice system.
'The slow, cumbersome and too-often ineffective American criminal justice system must be overhauld so it can more efficiently and effectively deal with the rising epidemic of violent crime in this nation,' Heflin said.
The Alabama Democrat said in a Senate speech the long delay in bringing Hinckley to trial for trying to assassinate President Reagan shows 'the desperate need' for changes in the justice system.
Heflin noted that during the time since Reagan was shot, Pope John Paul II was shot and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat murdered. Their assailants, he said, have already been convicted and jailed or executed.
Delays in bringing defendants to trial breed 'contempt for the system' and add to the crime problem, Heflin said. 'The inordinate and inexcusable delay in the Hinckley case highlights a major weakness in our judicial system and creates the widely held public perception that criminals are given soft treatment by the authorities or are allowed to escape punishment altogether,' Heflin said.
He urged the Senate to set up a bipartisan 'Crime Caucus' to seek passage of legislation.
'We must put aside petty partisan politics and unite in an effort to wage a successful war on crime,' he said. 'A bipartisan Crime Caucus could serve as an impetus for us to actually accomplish something in this battle.'
Heflin also said he was 'greatly disappointed' over administration inaction despite its 'purported hard stance against crime.'
He said the Attorney General's Task Force on Violent Crime received 'a great deal of publicity' last year.
'But we have seen little action taken to combat crime and no substantive anti-crime legislation enacted,' he said.