Tag Archives: Criminal Law

The Real Problem

Several versions of the story of college students arrested buying water circulated through Facebook and the internet this week. Something about this story troubled me. Several things actually.

The primary issue stewing in the back of mind: what if they had been black men who were high school dropouts? Would they still be sitting in jail? Would the public defender have been able to obtain such a positive outcome? Would the prosecutor believe the account of seemingly innocent men purchasing water, approached by plainclothes officers in an illegal detention?

My cynical lawyer mind answers no.

The initial internal review by Virginia ABC indicates their officers did nothing wrong. Really, then why were they trying to detain citizens who purchased water? What “intelligence” or “information” led them suspect such illicit and criminal behavior? Are these officers too ignorant to know that the purchase made included water? Six officers, guns drawn for a suspected underage alcohol purchase?

In our society, we are taught to respect the police. Sometimes, their zeal to arrest even for the most minor, and arguably stupid laws, creates danger for themselves and for the public. This reliance of law enforcement creates a false sense of confidence in the word of law enforcement. In many instances this reliance is well founded. 

Some officers, however, rely on this credibility to cut corners, abuse rights because “you might beat the charge, but you can’t beat the ride.” This attitude creates criminals and criminal histories for people who behaved in a lawful manner but somehow became caught up in the net of an investigation or maybe offended law enforcement.

Should we be skeptical in the Virginia case? Clearly the prosecutor was skeptical. We should however listen carefully to everyone not just those people who look innocent from the outside. Every person is innocent until proven guilty. Not just the ones who have spotless records.

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Why not a different approach?

Just read an article on 19 year old Justin Carter. Carter is being held on a half million dollar bond for essentially making a terroristic threat over the internet. The threat, not one to be taken lightly, was purportedly made following the end of an aggressive video game playing session. This young man has been held in jail since February, 2013. He’s been the subject of beatings and abuse by other inmates.

Here’s my question: In the face of research that indicates the human brain isn’t fully formed until the age of 25 or 26, couldn’t we find some other way to deal with Mr. Carter pretrial? Perhaps some psychological evaluations and treatment. Perhaps looking at whether he fits the psychological profile of someone who would shoot up a school. Determine whether he’s a hot-headed kid who needs treatment to manage his anger or impulse control.

Could the justice system find a way to sort through the threats to society rather than locking up everyone for indeterminate periods of time?

Wouldn’t it be cheaper in the long run to help the folks who can be helped instead of paying to house them and provide medical treatment for them? The current system perpetuates a cycle for those who could be helped but cannot access treatment from incarceration.

Will a jury even find him guilty?

The system needs to change.

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