A “speedy trial” is one of the rights the Constitution requires the government to provide to defendants in criminal cases, but it’s silent on whether the sentencing also needs to be speedy. We were put in mind of this fact by Alan Feuer’s profile in this morning’s New York Times in respect of Bernard Von Nothaus. He was convicted more than a year and a half ago of “counterfeiting,” because he issued silver coins, which he called “Liberty dollars,” and sold them at a price much lower than they would command in United States currency. He could face the rest of his life in prison, but the court seems to be in no rush to sentence him. In the year and a half since the verdict was brought in against him, he’s been living in a friend’s house at Malibu, awaiting word of his fate.
The case throws into sharp relief an astonishing irony — that a man who issued money that has sharply appreciated in value is facing the rest of his life in prison while the officials who issue the official Federal Reserve Notes, the value of which has in four years plunged in half, to less than a 1,750th of an ounce of gold, are walking around free. We do not mean to suggest that Chairman Bernanke and his colleagues have committed a crime. We do mean to suggest that it’s a context that makes the verdict against Bernard Von NotHaus seem absurd. We’d like to think that the federal judge in the case, who is a sage jurist, understands all this and is trying to come up with a solomonic solution.
One of the things we learned from Mr. Feuer’s dispatch is that Von NotHaus has been called “the Rosa Parks of the constitutional currency movement.” We’ve written about the case before in these columns in an editorial called “Von NotHaus’ Question” and our editor has written about it in the Wall Street Journal. But we hadn’t encountered the Rosa Parks quote. The Times dispatch relates how Mr. Von NotHaus evolved from a hippie in a commune to a currency idealist to a convicted felon. It’s a classic American story. Its similarity to the story of Rosa Parks, a heroine of the civil rights movement, is that at bottom there is a moral issue. It’s nice to see that fact illuminated in the Times. With our country in the midst of a global currency crisis, it is important that those who decide actual cases and controversies think through whether they really want to cast Bernard Von NotHaus into prison.