There are no official deadlines, yet the next month could determine the course of former USF professor Sami Al-Arian’s case. If Al-Arian persists in his request for a speedy trial, he would have at least one month of preparation to represent himself in court. In addition, he would have to set time aside to review thousands of hours of taped conversations, if he is given access.
Al-Arian informed his attorneys at a hearing May 1 that he wishes to represent himself against charges of racketeering and conspiracy to murder for the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. However, for U.S. District Judge James Moody to allow the request, Al-Arian needs to file documents sooner rather than later, according to officials in Moody’s office.
Al-Arian’s wife, Nahla, said late Sunday night that Al-Arian is in the process of writing a motion to formally represent himself.
“There’s no real deadline, but Judge Moody would be less inclined to grant the request without him filing early,” said Frank Louderback, one of Al-Arian’s attorneys. “But we’re not sure when, or if, he will.”
Mrs. Al-Arian also said Al-Arian is going to present his motion in the coming weeks.
Louderback said Al-Arian’s trial could be held as early as July, despite the volume of evidence. Defensive attorneys have said it could take up to 18 months to thoroughly investigate evidence against Al-Arian.
Al-Arian requested to go to trial as soon as possible with the speedy trial deadline, which ends 70 days from when the indictment becomes public.
Al-Arian was indicted Feb. 20 on charges alleging that he has ties to terrorism.
Louderback said though attorneys have not advised their client on any representation decisions, if Al-Arian does represent himself, the trial could be an arduous one for the court.
“It’s difficult for everybody. Obviously, he is not skilled in courtroom rules and rules of criminal procedure,” Louderback said. “And the judge has to be careful not to appear to be acting as a coach.”
However, the judge could provide Al-Arian with a “stand-by counsel” for assistance in a trial that could last six months to a year.
The Al-Arian case could take another twist once further evidence is made accessible. At a hearing Wednesday, defense attorneys learned they would be provided as early as this week with more than 200 statements on cassette tapes that are being held as evidence by the FBI.
Louderback said his understanding is that Al-Arian, too, will have access to review the tapes.
“Tapes are being made, and they are to be delivered to Coleman (Correctional Facility) by the FBI,” Louderback said. “I’ve been assured that Coleman was going to provide listening devices to both Dr. Al-Arian and Mr. Moody so they may review tapes.”
Officials relocated Al-Arian from the Hillsborough County Jail at Orient Road to the Coleman Correctional Facility in Sumter County on March 28 for security purposes.
“We don’t know at this point if they set up a room. We haven’t got that far in the process,” Louderback said. “Our position is that they should have unrestricted access to the tapes.”
Since Al-Arian was relocated to Coleman, Louderback said attorneys have met “weekly and occasionally” with him. Louderback added that he does not believe Al-Arian wants to represent himself because he wishes for more time to meet with attorneys.
“The fact that he’s there will not cut down on the amount of contact, it just makes it more difficult,” Louderback said.