Note: this is the second part in a three-part series on the criminal justice system. See part one: “Criminal Defense Attorneys And The People They Really Protect”; part three: “Prosecution v. Defense And The Constitution That Binds Them.”
I am sure at some point or another you have all heard stories of some murderer or pedophile going free because of a “technicality.” And, I bet most, if not all of you, were flat out disgusted or angered by it. Honestly, I feel the same way. The difference with my view and the view of other commentators or individuals that I have discussed such matters with is that my anger is not always directed at the defense attorney. Rather, my concerns lie with law enforcement and the “unreasonable” mistakes they sometimes make that result in criminals going free and recommitting offenses.
Law enforcement personnel do not have easy jobs, by any means. Police officers and other agents make difficult and time-sensitive decisions on a daily basis; decisions that most of us would never want to make. For these reasons, we often sympathize with officers when split second decisions turn out to be “wrong” decisions. More importantly, the courts also take into consideration that officers make sensitive judgment calls, which often involve many different factors. The Supreme Court of the United States has given great deference to officers and the “reasonable” mistakes they occasionally make. This is probably not commonly known by the general public so, on a side note, most of the “technicality” hypotheticals that are floating around in casual discourse would actually not result in anyone going free.
On the other hand, there are some unnecessary mistakes that officers have made that are not reasonable and do result in bad guys walking. Back in 1961, Justice Clark stated that “[t]he criminal goes free, if he must, but it is the law that sets him free.” (see Mapp v. Ohio (1961)). The “law” derives from the Constitution of the United States, which governs the very fabric of our civilized nation. Thus, it is imperative that casual observers understand that it is the Constitution that sets a criminal free, not just some “technicality.” Laws are in place to be followed, to govern people, and to check the amount of power given to different entities. If law enforcement need not follow the laws, then what would that say about the amount of freedom or the rights that we have as a people?