Written Maryknoll Lay Missioner Joe Loney
All of us have our dreams, our hopes and our motivations for who we are and what we do. As a Maryknoll Lay Missioner, my dream is to help bring about “heavenly justice.” I must help to make justice a reality for the disadvantaged.
Marcelo and Daniel Castillo are brothers, living in Cochabamba, Bolivia. They grew up together and they were raised single-handed by their mother. Life was never easy, yet they managed to grow up. Naturally, they had to share often, sometimes even sharing hardships.
Now they are sharing a new and different hardship. In 2010 they were arrested, charged and held without bail for an accusation of child, sexual assault. They tried to hire their own lawyer. Their efforts and even the efforts of their mother failed. During pretrial proceedings, they had four different lawyers-some from the local, public defender´s office and some court appointed. Given their lack of a high school diploma, they did not understand their rights.
On the day scheduled for their trial in 2013, their lawyer did not show up. Their mother, Doña Victoria, pleaded with the judge to give her time to hire a lawyer. The judge refused and appointed two attorneys to represent them and ordered that the trial start as scheduled. The lawyers did not even have time to review the court or prosecutorial files. Marcello and Daniel did not have private conferences with their defense lawyers. Although the trial lasted four days, the lawyers never visited them in the jail. The lawyers did not present any witnesses or any other evidence on their behalf. At the time of the final argument, the defense lawyer for Daniel did not make a final argument of any kind—not even asking for leniency. Marcelo and Daniel were convicted and sentenced to ten and twenty years in prison respectively.
I met the Castillo brothers after their appeals had been rejected while visiting the men at El Abra prison in Cochabamba, Bolivia. After listening to their story, I could not help but recall my days as an assistant public defender in Detroit. I could not imagine agreeing to represent someone charged with a major felony without carefully reviewing the files, engaging in several, confidential conferences with my client, conducting an investigation and exploring all the possible defenses and the legal options short of a trial to resolve the case.
I decided that I had to consult Bolivian criminal defense lawyers. Most of the Bolivian lawyers simply threw up their hands and told me that there was nothing to be done. My conscience, however, told me that this was not just.
I read their court files, I consulted others and I pondered the depth of the violation of their basic human right to a competent defense attorney.
After research and consultation with local Bolivian attorney and university professor Henry Pinto Davolos, I decided to draft a complaint to the Inter American Commission on Human Rights the Organization of American States (OEA). Bolivia is a member of the OEA. We filed the petition for review in May of 2015. Recently, the Commission for Human Rights (CIDH) notified me that they have accepted the petition for review and have requested that the Bolivian government answer the complaint (case No. P-609-15 Bolivia).
While the process in the OEA is admittedly slow, the boost to the self-esteem of the Castillo brothers when I informed them of the news and the fact that a local Bolivian newspaper had printed a large article on their case, provided the Castillo brothers and me with the encouragement we needed to continue. I hope to find some of what I call “heavenly justice” for the Castillo brothers. Similarly, I hope to establish a binding precedent so that no judge will appoint and permit lawyers who are unprepared to defend women and men charged with criminal defenses on the day of trial.
“Equal justice is a dream. We must make it a reality.” – John Cummiskey