The trial of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán is currently scheduled to start on April 16, 2018, but the Sinaloa cartel kingpin’s lawyers are now asking the judge to postpone the proceeding for at least four months, claiming they’re having a hard time getting paid and don’t have enough time to review the massive amounts of evidence in the case.
Chapo’s lead attorney, Eduardo Balarezo, filed court documents (see PDF below) on December 24, asking Judge Brian Cogan to delay the drug lord’s trial in Brooklyn federal court until August or September 2018. Chapo has been housed in extreme solitary confinement at a Manhattan jail since his extradition from Mexico in January 2017, and Balarezo wrote that while “the present conditions of his confinement” make his client “resistant” to the idea of a delay, the legal team needs the extra time to ensure a fair trial.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, which is handling Chapo’s prosecution, declined to comment.
The intense lockdown at Chapo’s jail has been a constant point of contention between Chapo’s lawyers and federal prosecutors. Judge Cogan previously denied Balarezo’s request for “contact visits” with Chapo, citing security concerns, so they’re only allowed to meet with each other on opposite sides of a special room that is divided by a concrete wall outfitted with a mesh and plexiglass window. Chapo is allowed to view court documents on a government-issued laptop, and the attorneys can pass him files through a drawer in the wall.
Balarezo claims that low resolution on the government computer monitor, combined with Chapo’s lack of technological savvy (the lawyer says his 60-year-old client “is not facile with computers”) have made it “almost impossible” to review evidence in the case, which currently includes “tens of thousands of pages and thousands of recordings.”
“He’s not familiar with the use of computers,” Balarezo told VICE News. “It takes an inordinate amount of time to do anything.” He said Chapo types using the “hunt and peck method,” and it takes forever to load discs and find the files that need to be reviewed.
The rules at Chapo’s jail also prohibit him from speaking with anyone other than his lawyers, including his wife and other family members. Chapo was allowed one visit from his sister, but his lawyers say she has since been denied a visa and blocked from returning to the U.S. from Mexico. Balarezo says the restrictions are preventing Chapo from making sure his lawyers get paid.
“Due to Mr. Guzmán’s conditions of confinement and his inability to speak with specific family members to request that counsel’s fees be paid,” Balarezo wrote, “the defense is insufficiently funded at this time to be properly prepared for a trial less than four months away.”
While Chapo is purportedly a billionaire, he was initially represented by public defenders because it was unclear whether the government would attempt to seize any payments made to a private attorney. Prosecutors want to confiscate $14 billion in alleged drug money from Chapo through the asset forfeiture process.
Balarezo declined to elaborate on his financial arrangement with Chapo.
Chapo is currently scheduled to appear in court for a hearing on January 19. Whenever the trial begins, Chapo faces an array of drug and money laundering charges that could put him in prison for life if he’s convicted.