I Was Only Not Giving Orders

Cop shrugging shoulders

I originally titled this post, “Making the World an Uglier Place One Stop at a Time.”

My day ended thusly: at about 5:30 or 6 p.m., sitting in my office trying to figure out what’s going to happen tomorrow – I’d had a couple discussions with one DA, but another DA was MIA – and wondering if the tearful, anxious, 65-year-old woman who had just hired me was going to be okay, my phone rang.

The man on the end of the phone claimed to be a prior client. I looked him up: I had helped him with a traffic ticket, or something, about 5 years ago, in another county.

In his exceedingly gravelly voice, the man (who by now must be in his late 60s, at best, and quite possibly in his 70s) told me that he was stopped by the side of the road. Apparently, the CHP pulled him over for expired registration, and were saying they were going to impound his car. He began telling me a somewhat lengthy story about an ongoing battle of his with the DMV. Apparently, according to him, they owed him money. He’s filed some kind of dispute with them, using a form allegedly approved for that purpose, and they’ve basically just ignored him. For three years, he’s heard nothing.

And so he decided that if they were going to ignore him, and not return his money, he would essentially take it out in trade: he didn’t pay his registration.

I explained to him that the law was not on his side in this one. It was a tough sell. He had trouble understanding how they could owe him money – apparently, according to him, they admitted owing him money – and not pay him, but if he didn’t pay them for registration, they could then have his car taken. But I finally got a promise from him that he would have someone take him to the DMV tomorrow to clear this up, and pay his registration, plus late fees.

I then spoke to the supervising officer. He sounded ever so understanding, and diplomatic. He agreed that if it was his father – and the man was probably old enough to be his father – by the side of the road, he’d want a little compassion shown. After all, they’re not required to impound the old man’s car. And he could tell from his interaction with the man, that he was (while repeatedly going back around in circles over this dispute with the DMV, and the unfairness of it all) quite polite, respectful, and cooperative, and not apparently in any way actually senile, or otherwise impaired, or unable to drive. He was just mixed up about “proper recourse” for his perceived (possibly real) slight administered to him by the DMV.

The officer and I discussed the possibility that the man would be allowed to go straight home, and would not drive the car again until it was properly registered. During the conversation wherein – again – the officer sounded oh-so-compassionate-and-diplomatic, he mentioned the number of years of experience he had, and how it was sad, some of the things he’s apparently caused to happen seen. He said that he was not the officer who made the stop: it was his subordinate.

He said that he would go talk to her – this younger, less experienced officer – but that the final decision was ultimately hers. He, after all, was merely an older, experienced, supervising officer, and he was not going to tell this youngster how to deal with a citizen old enough to be his father.

That just wouldn’t be right.

Because…who knows? Maybe he’d spread the compassion gene. Maybe the world would become a better place. Maybe an old man wouldn’t suffer tonight.

Off he went to talk to the officer, and her husband, presumably to “reason” with them about the real-world consequences that can befall an old person when their car is impounded. The costs. The potential downward spiral which could ultimately cause them to choose between that month’s necessary medications, and essentially abandoning their car, or risking their health, and bailing the car out of “jail.”

During the next ten-to-fifteen minutes, I tried to keep my client calm. I tried to convince him that as bad as the impound fees might be, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. We discussed the need to pay the state for the right to own property, even as they refuse to return money that they agree they owe you. For three years. He reiterated his promise to go pay the registration in the morning.

And we discussed not getting nasty with the officers, even if they decided that their lack of compassion required them to impound the car. Because the LAW that they ignore when it does not benefit them required it.

After about, as I said, ten, or fifteen minutes, I had the supervisor returning. I heard him tell the old man: we’re going to take the car. I heard the old man, again, launch into an explanation of his story.

And I stopped him, reminded him of what we’d discussed.

Because I did not want him to be impounded.

After all, the supervisor who told him they were taking the car wasn’t to blame.

He was only not giving orders.


See Something, Get Shot

SWAT team in action

On more than one occasion, people have accused me of being hyperbolic because of my statement that no one should ever call the police. Ever. In response to a challenge the other day – so you wouldn’t call the police if you came across a dead body? – I had to admit that I did not know, but I did not think that I would in that case, as it was not going to bring the person back to life. And almost certainly would not result in the police capturing the murderer.

They might capture someone. They might blame that person for the murder. There’s a very good chance they’d just execute that someone on the spot.

And we’d never know if he was really guilty of the murder, or not.

What happened to Brent Graham provides ample evidence of the reasons why.  [Read more…]


Supreme Court: It’s Only A Small Violation of the Constitution

Shredded Constitution

Being a criminal defense attorney is never an easy job. It doesn’t matter whether you’re dealing with the everyday instances of prosecutors who hide exculpatory evidence, and even perjure themselves over it while ignorant judges declare that it doesn’t happen in their courtrooms, or you’re a public defender being arrested for asking the police why they’re questioning your client outside the courtroom, or if you’re standing before the United States Supreme Court listening to the Chief Justice joke that the constitutional violation upon which they are asked to opine isn’t really a problem because, well…

It’s only a violation of the Fourth Amendment for two minutes, right?

And rather than gasp at the idea that a sitting Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court is making a joke – of the United States – while hearing oral argument on a case involving a violation of the United States Constitution by government agents, the audience laughs, as if they were mere crazy capos, and constitutional violations were merely part of the comedy.

[Read more…]


A Personal Choice

spaghetti-monster

Sorry I don’t have a spiffy title for today’s post. I wasn’t – probably still am not – really prepared to write it. But I want to at least try to clarify some things about yesterday’s post.

When I first read Scott Greenfield’s post this morning, I felt like I’d been punched, hard, right in the gut.

[Read more…]


Being Charlie Hebdo

Dome of the Rock

Censorship issues have not been high on my list of things to become upset about. It’s not that I don’t care about them. I care very much. After all, I have experienced first-hand what can happen when someone doesn’t like what I’ve written. But much of my energy goes to dealing with broken criminal law issues, like broken law enforcement, and our broken laws, and our broken judiciary, and our whole broken concept of “justice” in the United States these last few decades. And freedom of speech does not often factor directly into that.

Of course, as Mark W. Bennett can tell you – because he’s fought an attempt to criminalize speech, and won – this could change.

Yet, despite not being high on my list of topics about which to blog, who can ignore the persistent attacks of the last few weeks – especially the recent one in Paris – against those whose worship, or lack thereof, is not approved by the attackers? Not me.  [Read more…]


Vol-Delauter

Vol-Delauter

I was going to go with “He Who Must Not Be Named” for this post – which I suspect will be the shortest post in the history of my blogging career – but someone else already took that.

Vol-Delauter [Read more…]


Individuals & Institutions

Angry Mob

A couple days ago, I quoted from New York Police Commissioner William Bratton’s eulogy for Officer Rafael Ramos, who was recently assassinated by a mentally-ill individual because Ramos was wearing the uniform of the institution for which Ramos worked: the New York Police Department.

I started that post by talking about another post that I’d thought about writing. Blogging – for me, anyway – is funny that way. You start out with one idea, and as you write, it transmogrifies; somehow the post itself magically becomes something different than what you thought it was going to be. It reminds me of certain writers I’ve heard who talk about how they can’t wait to see what the characters in their books – the books they are writing! – will do next.

It happened again today. I started with a post titled, “You Were Told,” about all the warnings we’ve had through the years that the police force itself was transmogrifying into something horrifying, something different than we thought it was going to be, and how we’ve failed to do anything about to stop that transmogrification.

Anyway, I ended yesterday’s post with this:

As the cause of that iceberg starting to heat up, it is up to the police to start a real, honest, conversation about this with the People.

This is not a time for anyone to be turning their backs on anyone.

Perhaps partly because of the essential need I see right now for some kind of rapprochment, if we are to ever have that conversation, today’s post steered itself away from a modernized Niemöllerian reminder toward this: a reminder of the difference between calling for changing an institution, and insult inflicted through the insouciant conflation of the individual with that institution. [Read more…]


Don’t Turn Your Backs

Unproductive Conversation with a Cop

When I woke in the middle of the night, I began thinking about the post I was going to write today. “A Rogue Army,” I was going to call it.

The post was to be all about how, were I still in the Navy, and decided to protest how our leaders talked about us by turning my back while in uniform, I would have been given a gift card as an apology, and told to run off to Mike’s Brewery to join the boys for a beer on the sidewalk.

Of course, that wouldn’t ever happen: first of all, I’d be punished for such behavior by the commander; second of all, if I stood on the sidewalk with the boys for a brew – especially in New York – I would have been arrested, since it’s against the law. In fact, in some places, cops will arrest you for drinking in a bar. Of course, that would almost always – but not always – only happen if I were black.

In New York, after all, a cop might arrest you for drinking ice tea in public, or just for being in public, outside of your own house.

And, yes, I get that it appears pretty clear that cops think they’re above the law. Despite disgracing their uniforms by turning their backs in an illegitimate form of protest, they think non-police-officers – who, unlike those police officers, actually have a constitutional right to protest – should be punished for protesting. They have no problems with their union-sponsored protest-in-uniform against their “civilian” bosses, but gods help the officer who wears his uniform to protest for something the union doesn’t approve.

But this morning, I decided that’s not the post I’m going to write, after all.  [Read more…]


When the Bough Breaks

Rock-a-Bye Baby

It has now been a week since two New York police officers were senselessly murdered in their cars by a mentally-ill individual.

“Today two of New York’s finest were shot and killed with no warning, no provocation,” Mr. Bratton said at Woodhull Hospital in Williamsburg, where the officers were declared dead. “They were, quite simply, assassinated — targeted for their uniform and for the responsibility they embraced to keep the people of this city safe.”

I may disagree with Police Commissioner William J. Bratton – perhaps to the point of disagreeing with him over the motive for the murders – but I know of no sane person who would disagree that this was nothing short of cowardly, cold-blooded murder.

I have deliberately held off writing about this sooner for a number of reasons. The primary reason is that I want to figure out the best way to say what’s on my mind, and to try to do so in a way that won’t be misinterpreted by people taking up other positions than that I hold. I’ve seen a lot of rhetoric, mostly heated, over the last week. I do not want to join that, though I admit that in the tussle of some online conversations, it is difficult to stay focused amongst the Stupid being flung about by people of all, shall we say, “persuasions.” (Though no one seems to really be persuadable; our minds are all made up.)

I hope the thoughts I express in this post will make people think as much as they’ve had me thinking over the last week.

[Read more…]


Life, Liberty, Happiness, Law

Too many laws

It will come as a surprise to some, but the United States of America did not always exist. [Read more…]