WHY DO INNOCENT PEOPLE NEED ATTORNEYS?
BECAUSE THE POLICE THINK THEY ARE GUILTY
– Part 1 –
This blog aims to be more informative than controversial, but in my work defending the accused, I meet clients who are implicated and often charged with serious offenses after only cursory police work and/or aggressive interrogation techniques. Police investigations are frighteningly one-sided, and this one side is the only side that will be presented to the prosecutor once the charges are brought. Many prosecutors are a black-and-white sort, not much grey area, so they often take the officer’s report as a truthful account of the events. In the absence of detailed and diligent efforts by defense counsel, this one side is the only side that the court will hear once trial commences.
A couple of weeks ago, on a Sunday afternoon, I received a phone call. A young guy, in his late teens or early 20s, told me his friend was robbed earlier and had been in police custody for hours. The victim — a young white man — reported the robbery to police, and immediately, the police suspected the young man of being involved in a botched drug deal (with the black guys that he reported as being the perpetrators). Police were questioning him as if he were the criminal.
I went to the police station and told the front desk “Hi, I’m Josh Clayton, I’ve been retained to represent that young man you have back there. Please refrain from any further questioning.”
I was told “Sir, he’s not being charged with anything.”
(I thought to myself “Yeah, not yet”) but I said “Sure, I know, but don’t ask him any more questions. Either charge him and arrest him, or let him go.”
I am walked to the back of the police station to the surly Detective’s office, where the young man is sitting. With me watching, the young man is begrudgingly given his money ($140) back that the perpetrators stole (the police had already nabbed one of the perpetrators) and he was allowed to leave. I asked him about the incident, and his explanation was exactly the same as his buddy reported it to me only an hour beforehand on the telephone.
The young man makes money cutting lawns and he ran a Facebook advertisement for lawn service work. He was contacted by a man and went to give the man an estimate on a Sunday morning. The man and an accomplice led him to the back yard, asked him to turn over whatever cash he had on him ($140), then they made him go to an ATM at the local gas station to attempt to withdraw more from his account (luckily he’s 19 years old and has no money in that account).
The young man sent texts to his buddies during this ordeal telling them that he was being robbed, call police, he’s at such-and-such gas station. By the time the police arrived, the perpetrators had fled the scene. The young man relays his story to Police Officer, who indicates these perpetrators had previously struck other victims in a similar fashion. Police Detective arrives on the scene, and immediately tells all who will listen that he is quite perturbed at being dragged away from his family on a Sunday afternoon, on his day off, just to hear this B.S. story from a punk who got robbed by his drug dealer. No. Questions. Asked.
The Detective would not allow the young man to speak. The Detective threatened to arrest the guy’s buddy for interfering with an “investigation.” The Detective ordered the victim into the police car and took him to the downtown station to get to the bottom of this drug deal gone awry.
Once downtown, the Detective would not hear the young man’s story – wouldn’t let him speak. Accused him of being involved in a drug deal. This process lasted close to two hours. Amazingly, he neither served nor protected this young man.
I’ll interject something here: you don’t have to talk to the police. You are under no obligation to answer any of their questions. It seems like NO ONE knows this.
Not surprisingly, the young man had no idea that he had a right to demand the presence of counsel. He had no idea that he had the right to refuse questioning. He seemed scared out of his wits (keep in mind only hours earlier, he was the victim of a robbery). Until the Detective’s radio on his desk blurted out “Mr. so-and-so’s lawyer is up here. Says to quit asking him questions.” the Detective was questioning and accusing the young man.
People don’t know their rights, and most don’t seem to care the rights even exist. Jay-Z’s “99 Problems” does a better job of explaining one’s Fourth Amendment protections than do most, if not all, American history classes. Most folks blindly obey authority, believe most of what they hear, and summarily assume the accused are guilty. This makes the job of a criminal defense attorney exceedingly difficult. Our public education system has failed this country’s population by teaching the Constitution and the Bill of Rights as an 11th grade American History lesson instead of what it truly is: an operational guideline for the principle of self-governance that began as a great experiment and resulted in the greatest and (at one time) free-est country on Earth.
This contractual document, which confers only certain enumerated powers upon a government by its people, and then further limits the government’s power over its people in specifically enumerated ways, is never effectively communicated to pre-collegiate students. Classroom lessons fail to teach the most important part of our country’s founding, where the framers deemed government to be a necessary evil, prone to abuse of authority, not to be trusted, which must be at all times kept in check and limited by the document which created it. The police are an arm of that government.
Are there good officers on the force? Absolutely. Do they put their lives on the line, day-in, day-out, to protect the citizenry from crime? Absolutely. Do we live in a dangerous city? You bet. Did this Detective’s work experience lead him to believe that the young man was probably buying dope from his assailants? Probably. But so what? These truths do not absolve this Detective’s actions.
If police are questioning you, they probably think you are guilty.
You don’t have to talk to the police. You don’t have to allow them to search your car without a warrant. You don’t have to obey their every command.
Ask for a lawyer. See the Constitution and Bill of Rights for more details.