US Court Case Against El Chapo Guzmán Expected to Be 'Major Undertaking'
By Sylvia Longmire
Contributor, In Homeland Security
For decades, the Mexican government has been chasing Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán, arguably the world’s most notorious drug lord. Now that he has been captured and successfully extradited to the U.S., prosecutors are beginning to understand the herculean proportions that the legal case against Guzmán will take in the coming months—and possibly years.
According to a New York Times report, at a recent hearing in Federal District Court in Brooklyn, prosecutors said Guzmán’s trial could last three months and include up to 1,500 audio recordings of the defendant and his allies alongside nearly 10,000 pages of documents. The optimistic projection for a trial date is currently set for April 2018, but many things could happen within the next year to push that date back even further.
Complications already seem to be emerging. During that hearing on May 5, prosecutors raised an argument over whether Guzmán’s lawyers, federal defenders Michelle Gelernt and Michael Schneider, could continue to represent him. Per the Times, “The government has said the two have a conflict of interest because other lawyers in their office had, in the past, briefly represented two prosecution witnesses who were preparing to testify at trial.” The judge declared this to be a non-issue and allowed the defenders to remain in place.
El Chapo’s ‘Physical and Mental Distress’
El Chapo and his wife, beauty queen Emma Coronel, have also been very vocal since his initial detention in Mexico that the kingpin’s confinement situation is causing him physical and mental distress. Guzman complained in Mexico that the lights were kept on 24 hours a day, he was disturbed every two hours and not allowed to sleep, and that the guards were constantly harassing him. Here in the U.S., Guzmán has been kept in solitary confinement at the most secure wing of the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC), a federal jail in Lower Manhattan across the river from the Brooklyn court. Gelernt and Schneider are also complaining that Guzman’s detention circumstances are making it difficult for them to prepare him for trial. The judge rejected his defender’s pleas to ease his restrictions, saying they were necessary to prevent the drug lord from maintaining any control over Sinaloa cartel trafficking operations while in jail.
Ensuring El Chapo Doesn’t Escape – Again
The measures being taken to keep Guzmán under lock and key should surprise no one, considering that he escaped twice from maximum security prisons in Mexico. He also has a history of issuing assassination orders from his prison cell—something prosecutors are determined to prevent. And although the environment in the MCC is decidedly Spartan, many of Guzmán’s complaints have also been frivolous. For example, in one motion, Guzmán’s lawyers claimed the tap water had disturbed his throat, prompting him to ask for bottled water. They also said their client briefly feared that he was hearing voices, though the government contends that he was merely picking up the sounds of a radio being played nearby, according to another New York Times report.
There is no doubt this will be one of the highest profile criminal cases tried in the U.S. in recent history. Due to prosecutors’ desires to secure the harshest punishment for Guzmán and his defenders’ efforts to make life as easy as possible for the drug lord, many more motions—and likely court delays—should be anticipated as this case moves forward.