Shortly before I graduated law school, I had the chance to participate in an International Law Competition in Washington, D.C. It was a fantastic opportunity where students enthusiastically argued various points of international law against other students from around the world. Hearing so many global perspectives and interpretations of law was truly memorable, a once-in-a-lifetime experience that highlighted the importance of time – the time it takes to hear all sides, the time it takes to consider and review facts, the time it takes to do things correctly. True, the competition was only a few days, but that lesson in the time has endured.
While in D.C., I was fortunate to also watch an argument at the United States Supreme Court, another experience where the significance of time became a lesson learned. The experience of being at the highest court in the United States was humbling, something I’ll never forget, but what I remember most about that day wasn’t inside the courtroom, but instead, inside the gift shop. Yes, the gift shop. It was a small turtle figurine, fashioned out of marble. Little did I know then that the meaning of this turtle would be something I experience daily as a prosecutor.
I was curious at the store, why the turtle? I learned that the turtle represents the slow and steady pace of justice. The significance of the turtle is important. Justice should be slow and steady.
As a prosecutor, it could be easy to rush to judgment, to slap on charges in order to make a more expedient decision on a case, but that is not justice. Our job is to consider all the evidence, weigh the different sides, and pursue justice being purposeful in our actions, steady in our decisions, and always upholding the law of the land.
What does justice look like to me? Justice is a deliberate, meticulous, and well-thought-out decision. One where we spend countless hours with victims to ensure their voice is heard. Many late night phone calls with law enforcement to ensure their voice is heard. It’s thoughtful conversations with peers about the consequences of a charging decision or the impact on a community of a decision to not charge, or perhaps speaking with a defense attorney about a mutual resolution. It’s leaving no stone unturned.
As your Delaware County prosecutor, I’ve been asked numerous times, what is taking “so long” on particular cases? The answer is simple — the pursuit of justice, and that effort is different for each unique case. Whether there are one or more charges, one or more defendants, one or more victims, or whether the crime occurred on one day or throughout the course of months or even years — the evidence in each case takes time to thoroughly and correctly gather, and review. That process must run its course so nothing is missed.
As your Delaware County prosecutor, I swore an oath to pursue justice in order to achieve the best outcome for our community and victims, and that takes time. We won’t give in to outside pressure to speed things along and rush to judgment. I’m reminded of a saying, “The wheels of justice turn slowly, but grind exceedingly fine.” As community members, we all deserve a justice system where the work is done deliberately and thoroughly. If that means “the wheels of justice turn slowly,” then yes, slowly our wheels will turn.
Melissa A. Schiffel is Delaware County prosecutor.