11 September 2006

Taliban on Trial in New York on 9/11

Is awkwardness sufficient grounds for a one-day continuance? Via The Legal Reader, the Associated Press reports the sad tale of an unfortunately-nicknamed defendant:
It's tough enough facing narcotics charges in federal court. Try being introduced to jurors with the nickname "Taliban" on the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

D'Angelo Nunez is due to go on trial Monday in federal court, just a 10-minute walk from the World Trade Center site, on charges listed in an indictment that gives his alias as "Taliban."

"I may be the only attorney in the United States in this particular position," attorney George Goltzer complained to U.S. District Judge Denise Cote last week. "I couldn't think of a worse nickname and I couldn't think of a worse place to try this case with that particular nickname."
The judge agreed to make adjustments in courtroom references to the defendant, whose trial has nothing to do with terrorism.

. . . .

Goltzer blamed the government for his client's plight, telling the judge that its confidential informant began calling Nunez "Taliban" after he "looked at Mr. Nunez who had long hair and a dark expression and said 'You look like an Arab, I'm going to call you Taliban.'"

It's in the indictment. It's in the government's proposed jury questionnaire. It's even in a few of the recorded conversations that are a big part of the evidence against Nunez.

"Keep the nickname out of the case, strike it from the indictment, redact the tapes," Goltzer told the judge.

. . . .

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jillian Berman told the judge she had no objections to telling the jury that the case had no connection to terrorism, but she noted that "his nickname is 'Taliban,' that's how he was known in this case."

However, the judge instructed both sides to try to eliminate all references to the full nickname, though she said it might be all right for him to be called "Tali." She told prosecutors to work with their informant to make sure he does not say "Taliban" when he testifies.

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