Blind Squirrels & A Policeman's Gut

January 2, 2011
/ Author: Rick

Over at Military Underdog, a site I just heard about recently, Eric Mayer posts a couple of Penn & Teller videos (2015 update: blog vanished) about the Criminal Justice System. Apparently, Penn & Teller have some kind of video series called “Bullshit.” (Insert Dave Barry here: “I’m not making this up.”)

Nothing, of course, goes together like our criminal “justice” system and bullshit.

The video, which is split into two parts, is amazing in a number of ways. If I could get people to watch just one video about the criminal justice system, these would be it.

Even so, the video only tells part of the story.

Coming across the video was perfectly timed for me. I’ve been thinking about something for weeks now, trying to come up with a way to talk about something few people see. I haven’t even heard criminal defense attorneys talk about it, though we’re probably among the few positioned to really know this (other than the “perps,” as police like to call the miscreants who “perpetrate” crimes like this).

And I was just about to start writing — I’d already pegged it for a post sometime this week — because of a phone call I received over the weekend.

The woman who called did not realize it, but I was actually not the right attorney for her. I wish I was, but I just don’t have the resources it takes to help folks in her situation. Primarily because our nation provides no real remedy of which I’m aware for people in her situation.

You see, just as with the wheelchair-bound man in the Penn & Teller video, the police busted into her house. Only, unlike in the Penn & Teller video, they didn’t even go through the farce of placing the home under surveillance first.

Her son, who was 12 years old and home alone, was hauled out into the yard in the pouring rain, barefoot, she said, and made to stand there while the police searched her home. According to what she found out later, they were looking for someone who had never lived there, but who apparently told his parole agent that he did.

No doubt the armed and armored officers were there to perform an address verification.

The woman’s phone call added to thoughts that, as I said, had already been percolating for awhile. I thought about how, if the po-po had found anything in her house, they would all high-five one another, slap one another on the backs, cuff the kid, and march him, barefoot, off to jail. (Or, in this case, the Juvenile “Justice” Campus.)

No doubt, someone would have justified the mis-guided raid later by noting that their “gut” told them something wasn’t right at that house. In spite of the fact it was the wrong house.

But there was nothing found at that house. The officers let the boy go back inside. They took nothing from the home. And they left.

No apology. No “sorry for your trouble.” Definitely no “oops, we got the wrong place.”

You would be surprised how often this happens.

Because here’s where the Penn & Teller video does not go far enough to tell the whole story of life in America’s Modern Police State: this is what the police do all the time. In any given city — at least those with large enough police departments — this scenario plays itself out several times a month. The police, acting on a hunch, or a “tip” of dubious origin, stop someone on the street, stop a car on the road, or enter a home — all without warrants — detain people, and search.

Sometimes — oftentimes — these detentions and searches are technically illegal. Other times some uncaring — as in they literally don’t care — judges will have signed off on the search warrant where no reasonable person could seriously believe it was justified.

Armed with a questionable warrant or not, if the police find nothing, then from their point of view it’s “no harm, no foul” and the target of their lawlessness is permitted to move on.

Incidentally, since I started this with the Penn & Teller videos, I’ll interrupt myself to point out here that Penn talks about his own experience at an airport recently where TSA tried to explain that, despite the crime committed against him there was, in fact, no need to complain. It was time to move on. “You’re free to go, there’s no problem.”

As I said, this is where the Bullshit video(s) don’t really tell the whole story.

You see, as Penn correctly notes, someone’s gut is possibly good for exactly one thing: telling them when it might be time to eat. So an officer relying on his gut to tell him when a crime has been committed is wrong.

But the truth is that the po-po seldom rely upon their guts. Increasingly, they take the shotgun approach. For as the Bullshit video(s) also point out, there are no repercussions for getting it wrong. As I explained to the woman who called me — although I advised her to call a civil rights attorney to verify it — I wasn’t sure there was any real recourse for her. The police invaded her home. They said they had a warrant (which, incidentally, no one ever saw). They scared the shit out of her 12-year-old boy and made him stand barefoot in the rain while they performed a fruitless search for a man who had never been there.

Where’s the harm? Where’s the foul? Where are the damages? What attorney is going to take her case “just because” the police broke into her home armed to the teeth based only on the say-so of a parolee who apparently gave them a false address for his domicile? (Let me reiterate that — aside from the fact this blog does not purport to give legal advice — I am not a civil rights attorney. Maybe there is recourse for this. I’ll be damned if I’m aware of it, though.)

Because sometimes the po-po get it right. And, ooooooh! Is there commentary to go around then! The po-po will praise one another. The press will praise the po-po. The prosecutor will toot about the great police work that went into capturing the bad guys. Another crime solved (or, better yet!, averted). But no one will praise the benefits of the shotgun approach. They will not even mention the shotgun approach. Instead, the will praise the policeman’s gut.

But the truth is, even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in awhile.

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