Mandatory Lawyers

“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say or do can and will be held against you in a court of law. You have the right to speak to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you.”

That is, as I’m sure most of you know, the standard text of the so-called Miranda warning. It’s generally read to suspects prior to interrogation by the police. It’s a good, sound warning, and a lot of people ignore it, though if you’re ever in a situation where a cop reads you that warning, you need to take it to heart.

There’s a problem with the American criminal system. Well, there’s lots of problems, but the one I’m going to address now is false convictions. We don’t know how many there are, but I’m willing to bet the number is better than 1%, though likely not as high as 5%. Any wrongful conviction is, of course, a major problem. It’s not just a problem for the person being convicted, but it’s also a problem for the system as a whole, because it means the person who actually did the crime is not being punished and is free to reoffend.

I’ve been thinking about a way to minimize these wrongful convictions and I think I have come up with a good one. It basically boils down this: in any circumstances where a suspect would normally be read their Miranda warning, they should instead be automatically assigned a lawyer who must be present during police questioning. It’s the same right you have under Miranda, only in this case it would be an automatic fact. You could choose to waive your right, but before you do the lawyer you are assigned would have to explain to you the possible consequences.

Now you might think this would lead to career criminals getting off scot-free on everything they’ve done. All they’ll have to do is lawyer up and that will be that. Well, not exactly. First off, most career criminals know in advance to ask for a lawyer as soon as they’re questioned. They do so, and that’s the end of that conversation. The police have to build a case based on evidence without the help of a confession.

Innocent people, on the other hand, when questioned by the police, “know” they don’t need a lawyer. After all, they haven’t done anything wrong, so why should they need one? The police will frequently skirt the boundaries of the laws when they find out someone is reluctant to have a lawyer and will do everything they can to encourage them not to have one. This means when they get questioned, they don’t have anyone in their corner. A lengthy questioning session could take hours and by the end the officer in charge could imply heavily that if they just sign a confession, everything will be ok and they can go home. Otherwise, they’re told solemnly, they can be held without charges for three days. The cops don’t do this because they’re bad people or because they’re looking to put innocent people away. They do it for a number of reasons, but usually it boils down to them believing they have the right person and knowing that the best way to get that person convicted, especially if they’re short on physical evidence (and often all they might have is eyewitness testimony, which is incredibly unreliable), is a confession. And those confessions, once given, are very hard to keep out of a trial.

Put yourself in the position of someone who is innocent, but being interrogated by the police. You didn’t request a lawyer, the officers seemed to think you didn’t really need one, and you’ve been having this conversation with them. The police tell you that they know you didn’t do anything wrong, but they’re trying to clear up some inconsistencies in their case, and they’re glad you’re there to help. But the questioning goes on and on, and they start hinting that they think you’re holding out on them. They’ll talk to you about what can happen to people who hold out on the police (very little, btw. Fifth Amendment and all that), and how they’d hate to see you get into any trouble. Now it’s been hours, and you’re in this small room, and you see people getting led off to cells, and it’s very late at night, and your children/spouse/parents are worried about you, and all you want to do is go home. If you had a lawyer, you’d know that you could leave at any point, but you don’t have one, and then the cops offer you an out in the form of a document. Just sign it, you’re told. It’s just a formality, and you can leave right after. They don’t expect anything to come of it, and of course they’ll look for the person who really did the crime, but you’d help them so much and then you can leave and get back to your real life and all you need to do is sign and you find yourself reaching for the pen…

And then it’s done. You’ve signed. The cops thank you. They apologize for having taken up so much of your time. Maybe they even offer to drive you back home, and give you something to eat and drink. The tension is gone, everyone is cheerful, and it sounds like everything will be ok. They thank you for your troubles and you go home, thinking all is well.

At least until the summons arrives.

Don’t think it can happen to you? Think you’re too smart? You’re not. It can. If lawyers were mandatory during police questioning, we’d cut back on instances like this, which I am sure happen far more often than we’d all like. Yes, there would be a few problems and bugs to iron out, but overall I think this is the best way of keeping the innocent out of prison and making sure the guilty still get punished.

Make lawyers mandatory. Do it to shield the innocent, and to save everyone a lot of time, money and trouble. Do it to make sure the right people get convicted. Do it for justice.


This Case Will Either Go Nowhere or Everywhere

So the writer of a “how to” guide to child molestation has been arrested in Colorado for committing a crime in Florida. That crime apparently involves him distributing “obscene” material in the state of Florida by virtue of sending an autographed copy of said book to an undercover police detective there. From what I can tell the detective asked for it, and I’m not sure how that isn’t entrapment. But whatever. This case is either going to go nowhere or everywhere. Let me explain.

It most likely goes nowhere. Most likely the judge in the case looks at this, stares at the prosecutor and says, “Are you stupid? Get this case out of my court!” There’s no legal standing what-so-ever. If this is entrapment, there certainly isn’t, but even if it’s not entrapment, it’s still very clearly Constitutionally protected free speech. Yeah, the guy is writing a how-to guide to do something illegal (apparently. I haven’t read it and have no plans to), but so what? Writing a guide on how to rob a bank isn’t illegal. So most likely the case gets tossed before it makes it anywhere in the court system, and if you think is this is a good law, you should hope that’s what happens.

Because if it doesn’t happen, what happens is that this case goes everywhere. If the guy goes to court and gets found guilty, then he and his lawyers will appeal. This is the sort of case the ACLU and the higher courts just love, because it’s the kind of precedent-setting case that can change laws all across the nation. There’s no way this law will stand up at the Federal level. The Supreme Court would rightly strike it down and strike it hard, because if it’s allowed to stand, it could cause all sorts of problems.

Regardless, there’s no way this man should be prosecuted for this, much less in Florida. Once he’s beaten the courts, I sincerely hope he’s able to take the Polk County Sheriff’s office for a tremendous amount of money (which Polk County will also have to spend if they plan to actually fight this case). He’ll certainly deserve it. This kind of prosecution is just wrong.

Always remember: the First Amendment doesn’t exist to protect speech you like. It’s there for the speech you hate. Because once the speech you hate can be stopped, the speech you like can be stopped, too.

Strange Bedfellows

Following a recent court ruling that overturned the hideous Proposition 8, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Jerry Brown are petitioning the courts to allow marriages to resume immediately. This is required since the presiding judge in the case put a hold on his own ruling.

Initially I thought this was a reasonable course of action on the judge’s part. Clearly he was thinking about the possibility of his ruling being overturned and didn’t wanna deal with a whole new set of people who get married and then have marriage made illegal. That’s what happened when Prop 8 was first enforced back a couple years ago and it created all sorts of messy situations.

But then I read this quote from the legal brief:

“The Administration believes the public interest is best served by permitting the Court’s judgment to go into effect, thereby restoring the right of same-sex couples to marry in California,” read the brief from Schwarzenegger. “Doing so is consistent with California’s long history of treating all people and their relationships with equal dignity and respect.”

You know, it’s a good point. We don’t need to wait. Why wait? Sure, there may be problems down the line, but those can be sorted then. What’s the line? “Justice delayed is justice denied?” Let’s stop denying justice in California.

The Drilling Ban

So a judge down south has blocked the six month moratorium on deep water drilling that the Obama administration wanted. Bad idea, judge. I’m fairly sure the circuit court will overturn this one.

I understand that people along the Gulf want to keep their jobs and keep drilling and such. But I think a six month period of time, during which we’ll hopefully be increasing the safety standards and going over each rig with a fine-toothed comb, isn’t a bad idea. Some people have pointed out that the oild rigs out there all passed their most recent safety inspections. Well, so do the one that’s leaking now.

Of course if we’re banning the drilling, we’d better make sure we’re providing financially for the workers affected during this time. Their pride may be wounded by going on what’s essentially welfare/unemployment, but I don’t really care about that. Their pride is less important than the long term environmental consequences of another major spill.

Oh, another quite note: yours truly is going to the Gulf in August or September. I’m going there to do research for my novel, but you can bet I’ll also be blogging a bit more about what’s going on down there. Should be fun!

Moving Farther Backwards in Pennsylvania

I wrote last month about a 12yo boy who was being charged as an adult for killing his father’s pregnant girlfriend. The kid was eleven at the time. I said at the time that he should be charged as a juvenile, because what’s the point of having a juvenile system if you can toss it aside when it makes you uncomfortable.

Well, the judge in PA who is overseeing the case doesn’t agree with that, not surprisingly. Said judge has ruled that the case can be tried in adult court where the kid faces a possible life sentence.

How quaintly barbaric.

Why not just try him as a kid, since, you know, he is. He was eleven when he supposedly pulled the trigger, and twelve now. If he were found guilty in juvenile court he’d probably stay in prison until he was 18 or 21 (depending), and then be released with an extensive amount of court ordered probation and monitoring. It’s possible he might even be able to rebuild his life and become a contributing member of society.

But tried in adult court? No, in that case he’d probably spend the next twenty or thirty years behind bars and eventually be released to be a burden on society for the next sixty years or so. This serves no purpose and is astonishingly wasteful.

The one bright spot here is that this makes a perfect situation for the kid’s lawyers to file an appeal down the line. Of course if that happens and the appeal is upheld, then it’s possible the kid might skate with no real consequences at all. Yes, in trying to punish the kid as much as possible and wreak as much revenge as we can, we might actually end up with only a year or two while the appeals sort themselves out.

Like I said before, either we have a juvenile system or we don’t. Trying a kid as an adult because we really don’t like what the kid allegedly did is not right, not proper and doesn’t serve justice or society.

Stunning News: Terrorist Convicted In Civilian Court!

In a move sure to stun and enrage conservatives everywhere, Najibullah Zazi entered a guilty plea to terrorist charges. He was convicted in a civilian court. He had a lawyer. He wasn’t tortured. He’s one of many, many people convicted in such a fashion (versus three convicted in military courts, two of which have already been released).

So to all you cynics out there, let me point out to you one simple fact: the system works.

Why Even Bother With a Juvenile System?

So in Pennsylvania a twelve-year-old boy is being charged as an adult with murdering a woman who was eight months pregnant when he was eleven. Why that’s not two charges is something I’m not clear on, as the baby was viable enough that it could’ve probably lived had a doctor been there.

Apparently the prosecutor was unable to charge him as a juvenile for some reason. If he’s found guilty, he’ll probably spend the rest of his life in prison (depending on a Supreme Court ruling expected later this year that might prevent anyone under 18 being put in prison for life).

I gotta ask at this point: why do we even bother with a juvenile justice system? It’s there because of a recognition by the courts that children don’t have fully developed brains and a fully developed sense of morals. This can apply even to teenagers. Thus we have the juvenile system.

But more and more people are finding excuses to set it aside in “extreme” cases, despite the fact that one can argue those cases are the ones where the juvenile system is most needed. Clearly if a twelve-year-old is picking up a gun (where did he get it?), and going off to shoot someone, that’s a kid with some serious mental issues and putting him into prison for the rest of his life isn’t likely to make those issues any better.

I honestly can’t think of any good reason to charge someone as an adult with a crime they committed when they were under eighteen. I know that flies against our sense of rage and revenge, but there you have it. And, yes, if this means that a kid gets off scott-free for committing a crime, well, then, so be it (though any kind of reasonably intelligent prosecutor can probably prevent that from happening).

Before you argue back tell me this: would you let a twelve-year-old drive a car? What about voting? How about living on their own? Would you favor an age of consent of twelve? Should twelve-year-olds be allowed do drink? To smoke? What about serving in the military?

Clearly no twelve-year-old should be allowed to do any of those things. Even I, as liberal as I am, would say that twelve is too young for all that. Why? Because at twelve, the brain is just not developed enough for them to have that kind of responsibility.

So why is it that after a serious crime is committed they somehow magically gain enough mental development to be charged as adults? Sorry, but it just doesn’t work.

Bottom line: this kid needs to be punished, yes. He should spend the next several years of his life undergoing intense therapy and should probably be locked away from polite society for a while. But he shouldn’t spend the rest of his life in prison for a bad choice he made when he was eleven.

On another note, any lawyers out there? If there are, answer me this: on the off chance this kid is found not-guilty, could he then petition the court to be treated as an adult in every other way? After all, they considered him an adult when it came to criminal behavior. Could he use that as a precedent?