Will Warren Jeffs face Texas justice sooner than later?

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Warren Jeffs is fighting extradition.

Maybe Texas justice presents a more fearful specter than Utah‘s.  Maybe it’s too expensive. Maybe it’s just part of Jeffs’ legal battle.

Whatever the reason, Warren Jeffs refused to sign the extradition order that would send him to Texas for criminal trial for bigamy and sexual assault.

In a petition and a supplemental memorandum filed in 3rd District Court to quash the extradition warrant, Jeffs’ attorneys noted that based on the Supreme Court’s ruling, he was now entitled to a speedy trial, bail and a host of other protections that were being violated and “ignored” by Utah and Texas.

“They have shrouded their ungodly alliance in the semantics of extradition law, hoping to conceal the otherwise obvious effects of their conspiracy against Mr. Jeffs’ basic civil rights by inviting this court to ignore them,” the defense wrote.

With the Utah Supreme Court overturning Jeffs’ original conviction on the grounds that the jury received erroneous jury instructions (here for previous post on this), Utah retains the option to retry the polygamist religious leader or send him to Texas. However, argue his defense attorneys,sending him to Texas would be unfair.

Rather than attempting to immediately retry Jeffs, defense attorneys say prosecutors are “punting” by “using (the warrant) as an offensive line to protect its weakened prosecution, buying time until it can figure out what to do next in its now frantic effort to defeat Mr. Jeffs and the unpopular religion he represents,” the motion states.

Because of the wording in the Supreme Court decision, Jeffs’ attorneys said it was “unlikely Utah could obtain another conviction.” Furthermore, any conclusion to a trial in Texas could potentially be years away, defense attorneys say, further delaying legal action in Utah.

By delaying the case longer, witnesses will be more difficult to locate, memories will fade and documents may be lost, defense attorneys argued.

“Utah and Texas don’t care about that, though. They seek to procrastinate the prosecution of Mr. Jeffs’ long-standing Utah case indefinitely, while Texas, which has not even begun its prosecution, can start from scratch in yet another governmental attempt to remove the FLDS prophet from the public sphere,” court records state.

Because Utah still retains the right to retry Jeffs, despite being set back by the Utah Supreme Court, Jeffs is arguing that Utah should either let him off the hook and dismiss the charges against him before sending him to Texas, or try him and get it over with here. The last thing he wants is to go to trial in Texas only to face return to Utah later for retrial.

Which raises the question: should Utah’s 3rd District Court, where Jeffs filed is motion, allow Utah to extradite Jeffs or should it force Utah to prosecute Jeffs first?

Utah statute states that it’s the governor’s call. “If a criminal prosecution has been instituted against such person under the laws of this state and is still pending the governor, in his discretion, may either surrender him on demand of the executive authority of another state or hold him until he has been tried and discharged or convicted and punished in this state.” Utah Code Ann. § 77-30-19. (italics added for emphasis)

Under this statute, then, the Governor retains authority “in his discretion” to send Jeffs to Texas or keep him here, in so far as Jeffs has neither been “tried and discharge or convicted and punished.” While Jeffs’ has been tried, he has not yet been discharged of the criminal allegations against him, not has he been convicted and punished. On its face, it appears that Jeffs’ case against extradition is weak. The Governor has the discretion to choose to send him or not, and apparently has already signed the extradition order.

If anything, it delays the final order of extradition, but only for so long. If Utah wants Jeffs to face a court in Texas, there’s a good chance that he will–if not now, at least before his legal battle’s are over.

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