On Monday, an attorney with the New Jersey chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) stepped in to represent Ahmad Khan Rahami, the man captured in a shootout with police after allegedly setting a series of bombs in New Jersey and New York.
“Rahami will face federal weapons of mass destruction charges for the series of explosions in Seaside Park, Manhattan and Elizabeth, as well as multiple state charges of attempted murder of a police officer stemming from the shootout,” reports NJ.com.
The ACLU lawyer, Alexander Shalom, said Rahami’s father and wife approached his organization. He said representation from the ACLU would be “limited to the time period before which Mr. Rahami is appointed a federal public defender or obtains other criminal defense counsel.”
Rahami is stuck in “legal limbo,” as NJ.com puts it, because he is currently unconscious in the hospital, having been shot during his gun battle with the police. Also, the judge in the case said appointing a federal public defender would be inappropriate because Rahami is not officially in federal custody yet and has not made his first court appearance.
Shalom criticized the court’s position, declaring it “conspicuous whenever the government says, ‘We’re not going to give you a lawyer, but don’t worry, you don’t need one.'”
“It’s unlikely the government would be opposing appointment of counsel in a different case,” Shalom added.
He said the ACLU has written to state and federal prosecutors, declaring that Rahami should not be interviewed by investigators without notifying them first.
The Associated Press quotes Udi Ofer, executive director of the New Jersey chapter of the ACLU, saying that denial of legal representation for Rahami “violates the Constitution and needlessly sacrifices civil liberties in the name of national security.”
“It is outrageous that Mr. Rahami has been in custody for a week yet has been denied the right to have an attorney visit him to confirm his condition and protect his constitutional rights,” Ofer said. He told the Associated Press that Rahami’s family spoke with his doctors for the first time on Monday, after making numerous requests.
The New York Times explains that federal public defenders in both Manhattan and Newark asked to be appointed as Rahami’s representatives, but the prosecutors in both jurisdictions objected because he was not yet under federal arrest.
Another New Jersey public defender then asked to represent Rahami on his charges of attempted murder against the police officers who arrested him, but this was blocked by the county prosecutor’s office, which argued Rahami remains “incapacitated and unable to communicate”; therefore, he is “not presently in a physical state to assert his right to counsel.”