Prosecutors say Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán was also nicknamed “El Rapido” because he was known for quickly moving drug shipments into the United States. But the alleged Sinaloa cartel leader is finding out how slowly the wheels of justice can turn in the U.S. justice system.
Chapo’s trial in Brooklyn federal court was originally scheduled to start in April, more than a year after his extradition from Mexico last January, but on Wednesday Judge Brian Cogan postponed the proceedings until September. The 60-year-old kingpin faces a slew of drug and money laundering charges that could put him in prison for the rest of his life if he’s convicted.
Cogan’s ruling follows a request from Chapo’s attorneys to delay the trial to allow them more time to prepare his defense. They had initially asked for a postponement until August, but Cogan wrote that starting the trial in the middle of the summer would “significantly reduce the jury pool.”
Chapo, a purported billionaire, was initially represented by public defenders at the expense of American taxpayers, and it took him until August to hire private counsel, a process that was delayed out of concerns that U.S. authorities would seize any money he might use to pay his lawyers.
Court proceedings have already revealed that prosecutors have more than 10,000 pages of evidence and hours of recordings they plan to use against Chapo, and his lawyers must sort through all of it before the trial. Chapo, who escaped twice from high-security Mexican prisons, has been held in extreme solitary confinement at a federal jail in Manhattan for nearly a year, and his attorneys have complained that restrictions at the jail make it difficult for them to review evidence with him.
Prosecutors have also asked that some evidence — including the names of key witnesses — be withheld until the last minute out of concerns for their safety. Last week, they also asked Cogan to take steps to protect the jury. Chapo’s lead attorney, Eduardo Balarezo, has objected to the request.
“We view the government’s motion as a further attempt to demonize Mr. Guzman and paint an extremely prejudicial picture of him before one iota of evidence has been presented to the jury,” Balarezo told VICE News.
Balarezo said the precautions are necessary and that the extreme secrecy surrounding key pieces of evidence and witness testimony makes it impossible for Chapo to get a fair trial.
"It's like we're blindfolded with one arm tied behind our back,” Balarezo said. “It's insane."