Why Is the El Chapo Verdict Taking So Long?
The jury enters its second week of deliberations for the world’s most notorious drug kingpin.
The jury weighing Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman’s fate will enter its second week of deliberations on Tuesday.
And the purported Mexican kingpin appears to be enjoying America’s jury process.
Guzman has effectively been isolated during his detention. He does not sit in the courtroom while the panel of eight women and four men meet in a private room to discuss the 10 counts he faces in a decades-long cocaine trafficking conspiracy.
He is produced, however, when jurors have questions for the judge, which are delivered via notes. There were three notes Monday afternoon, a chance for the navy suit-sporting Guzman to interact with people. After U.S. Marshals led Guzman into the courtroom, he ebulliently shook his lawyers’ hands, even laughing. He waved at his devoted wife, one-time beauty queen Emma Coronel.
Jurors asked to hear testimony from two government witnesses, the latest in several such requests. They also asked a question on how to handle the first count against Guzman: engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise.
The fact that jurors have not yet returned a verdict, coupled with requests for testimony and clarification on procedure in a case with overwhelming evidence, has prompted some to ask what’s taking so long.
Several legal experts told The Daily Beast that Chapo observers shouldn’t be so impatient.
Daniel R. Alonso, an attorney at Exiger who has headed the criminal division at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of New York, cautioned against reading into the length of deliberations.
“It’s a very complicated case factually,” Alonso said, even though “it’s simple conceptually: the guy was a drug lord.”
“It is lots of counts. It is lots of witnesses. It is lots of drugs,” he said. “If you have a conscientious jury, it’s not odd at all for them to methodically go through the evidence.”
“Does that mean they’re definitely heading towards a verdict and not a hung jury? No,” he said, but “that’s by no means something we could say right now.”
Paul Shechtman, a veteran attorney who teaches criminal procedure at Columbia Law School, voiced similar sentiments.
“Long trials often lead to long deliberations and particularly when there are many counts some of which charge many acts,” Shechtman said. “Reading what a jury is up to from its notes, or from the length of deliberations, can be foolish.”
“Probably the best advice for anyone watching the deliberations is: chill.”
One former federal prosecutor, however, said, “It seems like it’s taking a little bit longer than it should.”
“If I were a prosecutor right now, on that case, I wouldn’t be like, really really confident,” he said. “So if it’s an overwhelming case, some people may raise an eyebrow and say ‘oh, that’s taking an uncomfortably long time.’”
A law enforcement official told The Daily Beast that the local, state and federal agencies who worked on the case remain optimistic, albeit impatient.
“It’s kind of like giving birth,” the official remarked. “Every day, you’re anticipating and looking forward to this event or outcome...you’re ready to go, and then you have to wait another day.”