He rushed to the stage, while Salman Rushdie climbed the steps. Hadi Matar, a 24-year-old American of Lebanese origins, is now in the hands of justice. After having stabbed ten times the author of the Verses satanic who was about to hold a conference in a room in New York State on Friday August 12, the young man was overpowered by members of the public, preventing him from finishing his victim. At the hospital where he was rushed to, Rushdie is gradually recovering, despite the probable loss of an eye.
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Despite the evidence of his gesture – filmed moreover -, Hadi Matar chose to plead not guilty and faces up to 25 years in prison for attempted murder and up to seven more years for assault, the sentences being cumulative to the United States. His lawyer, Nathaniel Barone, called for respect for the “ presumption of innocence “, believing that his client was entitled to a” fair trial “. A defense strategy deciphered by lawyer Pierre Servan-Schreiber, member of the Paris and New York Bars, for Marianne.
Marianne: Arrested for attempted murder, Hadi Matar chose to plead not guilty, despite the flagrante delicto of which he is the subject. Why this choice ?
Pierre Servan-Schreiber: To plead guilty or not guilty is merely a pleading, it is not a pleading. When you plead guilty, there is no jury. The sentence is set by the judge but there is no trial or debate on the guilt of the accused. In this kind of situation, there are often negotiations with the prosecutor before the trial. Especially when the prosecutor also has an interest in avoiding the trial: it gives him less work of course, but it also saves him the risk of hazard, as in the OJ Simpson case where the prosecutor was sure to win. Yet he lost.
But in the case of the attack on Salman Rushdie, the prosecutor does not necessarily have an interest in making deal since the alleged perpetrator’s guilt is so obvious that he has little to fear from a trial. So what is the interest, in this case, of Hadi Matar to plead not guilty? In my opinion, this is probably a breakdown defense strategy. It is a way of saying: “I do not believe in the law of men, but only in that of God and the prophet and in the fatwa launched by Khomeini in 1989”.
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But no one knows his motives yet. He may prefer to play the media coverage because he is convinced to take the maximum. So you might as well advertise yourself and draw attention to your gesture or sue the Satanic Verses. On the other hand, if there are lots of people who have pleaded guilty without being guilty in order to obtain a much lower sentence or for fear of the hazard, it is much more complicated – and very rare – to plead no. guilty when caught in the act.
Even if the prosecutor wanted Hadi Matar to plead guilty – to go faster, satisfy public opinion, avoid the media trial and ensure a heavy and quick sentence – he cannot impose it at all. .
By pleading not guilty while being certain of losing, does Hadi Matar not expose himself to a heavier sentence?
He actually faces a heavier sentence. But it’s not automatic. The maximum that the alleged abuser risks is the maximum provided by law. Still, the jury must condemn him as much as possible: does Matar have the slightest hope of convincing the jury in order to benefit from extenuating circumstances? I don’t know, but when you plead not guilty, it’s also for this purpose.
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The accused’s strategy may be to try to show the world that Muslims are mistreated. But he must has a priori still convince the jurors.
Hadi Matar’s lawyer calls for respect for his client’s presumption of innocence. How does this principle apply in the United States?
In France as in the United States, the accused is presumed innocent. It is up to the prosecutor – the prosecution, it seems in France – to prove his guilt. The difference lies in the fact that in the United States the judge absolutely does not intervene in the debates. He is the arbiter between two parties, the prosecution and the defence, which must set up their respective strategies. But, apart from enforcing the rules, the procedure and setting the sentence if the accused is found guilty, the judge does not intervene.
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In my view, the lawyer’s injunction is simply a reminder of the principles of law to the press. Until Hadi Matar has been found guilty, he is not. But it is difficult to see how the debates will make it possible to question the facts because the latter are difficult to dispute. Salman Rushdie was stabbed several times. It is therefore complicated to plead the absence of premeditation or the accident as his act seems obviously deliberate and premeditated. The lawyer can always plead insanity, in which case Hadi Matar could be declared not responsible for his actions. We will see.