Friday, June 15, 2012

Ben Franklin knows what I'm talking about

My recent win of my suppression motion that resulted in a dismissal of 14 felony counts has been met with uncertainty from some of my friends and family. Most frequently, people ask me something along the lines of whether the dismissal is really a good thing and/or if I'm actually happy that the defendant "gets off" on 14 counts.
My answer to that is a pretty solid "YES." Here's why I say yes, and why anyone who thinks otherwise should reconsider.

I see my job as fulfilling two main purposes. First and foremost, to advocate zealously for my clients. This is me acting on behalf of one individual, working to achieve the best outcome for one person--my client. The second purpose is to protect the constitutional rights of all people by ensuring a proper check on police power. In essence, this second purpose of my job is to make sure that the police are playing by the rules. This purpose is accomplished through individual cases in which I bring motions before the court and point out things that, in my legal opinion, are not in line with the constitution's guarantees regarding people's rights. By bringing a motion in one person's case, I am actually protecting the rights of all people by having a judge review the police conduct and the judge making a determination of whether the rules were followed or not.
Regardless of whether I win or lose the individual motion on that one person's case, the second purpose is always served. The outcome will either confirm that the police acted properly or it will clarify that they did not. In either situation, the police power has been reviewed and that's ultimately a good thing for everyone. Unchecked police power is frightening and not something the Framers were real keen on. Hence, the multitude of amendments in the Bill of Rights dealing with the rights of the accused.  They wanted people who were accused of crimes to have certain rights that were not to be taken away by unchecked police or government power. In order to ensure that those rights are being protected, someone needs to police the police.
The US Supreme Court has decided that these rights are so crucial, so incredibly important, that if they are violated, then any evidence obtained as a result of that--regardless of how serious the alleged crime or how damning the evidence may be--is subject to being thrown out.  The Court wasn't stupid...they knew this type of sanction would result in people who were guilty of very serious offenses "getting off" and not being held accountable for their actions.  Despite that, the Court still allowed for unlawfully seized evidence to be thrown out because they decided that protecting those rights was that important.  The reason that unlawfully obtained evidence can be thrown out is solely to deter the police from acting improperly. It serves to put police on notice that if they don't follow the rules, the "bad guy" may walk.  It acts as an incentive, and a large one at that, for the police to follow the rules so evidence isn't lost.
That's not to say I think police are corrupt or that I'm pro-crime. Neither of those things are the case. I tend to be willing to give police the benefit of the doubt and assume that, when there is some issue with something, it wasn't intentional. Now that doesn't mean it isn't still subject to suppression, but it does mean I don't think most officers are trying to screw people over or anything. No one has ever pointed a gun at me in my line of work (yet, knock on wood) and I'd be very happy to see police if I were in danger. Being on the scene is vastly different than reviewing reports later on in the comfort and safety of an office. I get that and I give officers the benefit of the doubt that errors are not necessarily intentional. They still need to be reviewed and there still needs to be suppression of evidence if it's warranted, but I'm not anti-cop.
Nor am I pro-crime. I am sympathetic towards victims and I don't wish anyone to be a victim. In an ideal world, I'd be out of a job bc everyone would always be good 100% of the time, so there wouldn't be any criminal laws at all bc no one would ever commit any crimes. But, that's not the reality of life, people are charged with and do commit crimes, and the Bill of Rights exists to protect the guilty just as much as it does the innocent. I'm not pro-crime but I am pro-Constitution.
Of course, in an ideal world, the police would always do the exact right procedure every time. They would always respect people's rights and there would always be enough time to make a well-thought-out, reasoned decision about how to handle a situation. That's not real life, though. The officers have to make quick decisions sometimes. They may not have time to think about whether or not something comports with the 4th Amendment. And, while I don't think it's a majority of cops, there are some cops who are just bad. There are bad employees in every profession, police included. So, there has to be some check on the power of the police.
The police are an extension of the government. The Framers were afraid of too much power in the hands of the government. They created rights to ensure that the government, including police, were limited in what they could do. The Supreme Court had held that those rights are so fundamental to the core of our ideals and liberties that it would be better to let very bad people "walk" on very serious crimes than to allow the government, through the power of the police, encroach on those rights. The very fact that the Supreme Court has taken that stance should speak volumes about the importance of those rights.
So, when 14 felony counts are dismissed, am I happy? Yes. I'm happy for my individual client bc there isn't any better outcome than a dismissal. I'm also happy for the citizenry as a whole. I'm happy that the police power wasn't left unchecked and I'm happy that I was able to be in a position to fight back against government encroachment on those rights guaranteed in the Constitution.  That push back from defense attorneys keeps every single one of us more free and more safe and more protected from government intrusion in our lives.  Remember...the government that the Framers rebelled against allowed for soldiers to be quartered in citizens' homes during peacetime without the citizens' consent.  That's how broad the government's power had become.  Protecting the rights of people is a fundamental purpose of my job and one I'm very happy to fulfill.
Am I pro-crime or pro-letting-bad-guys-walk? No. But I am pro-Constitution and pro-protecting-our-rights-and-freedoms. And if that means that sometimes crimes go unpunished, so be it.
"Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." -Ben Franklin

1 comment:

  1. I love this because it is oh so true. Not to mention, as a PD, sometimes you are a defender of the public as a whole (not just your defendant). If you have a defendant who truly is guilty of an honestly terrible thing, it falls to the PD to make sure that the defendant gets the best legal defense possible...and thereby removing that element as a factor in an appeal. Unless you are in Texas, because apparently having a PD fall asleep at counsel table isn't grounds for appeal.

    Sigh. I am glad that world has people like you and your colleagues that understand the importance of rights preservation as a whole, not just rights preservation of those NOT accused of crime.