According to this ABC news report, police in Colorado are unaware of a pesky little portion of the constitution called the Fourth Amendment. You know, the one that forbids unreasonable searches and siezures; the one that requires officers to have specific facts they can articulate to a court that give particularized suspicion that someone is involved in a crime or has evidence of a crime before they can detain them? Yeah they don’t bother with all that legal mumbo jumbo in Aurora, Colorado.
At least, not when there are bank robbers about. See, the police decided they were going to find their man, regardless of how many rights they trampled, how horribly they violated basic constitutional rights and freedoms, and irrespective of what anyone else thought or felt about what they were doing.
According to ABC, Colorado police had a vague description (not even race or gender specific) that a bank robber might be in a particular intersection. So what do the folks in blue do? They make a “split-second decision.” What decision you may ask?
They literally stop ever car in the intersection, handcuff every person in those cars, and detain all of them.
For the next hour and half to two hours, every single one of those people sit in handcuffs, detained and restrained, frustrated, humiliated, branded and labeled. They sat for every passerby to gawk, photograph, post on facebook, tweet, taunt, judge, and slander.
They sat there, watching the very fabric on which our Country was founded, slip away from them. They sat and saw the very law enforcement officers who swore to uphold and support the Constitution of the United States of America, ignore the letter and the spirit of our most fundamental of laws.
This action has an impact for every criminal case involving search and seizure. Certainly it can impact cases involving possession of drugs, weapons, or other items labeled as contraband, but it also has implications for DWI cases and virtually any other case where the police may wish to stop or detain someone for further investigation. The point is whether you are an adult or juvenile suspected and/or investigated for a crime in Texas or elsewhere, the fallout from actions taken by the police in this case–whether civil lawsuit or the challenges the defense lawyer for the person arrested will raise in criminal court–will help reemphasize or dramatically change the core of criminal procedure. In so doing, it will impact in some way criminal practice in every state. That should make clear how basic is the legal principle violated in this case.
Now let me be clear. I respect the job police officers do and, when done well, I am grateful that they do it. I feel it is a blessing to live in a country with as many wonderful freedoms as we enjoy in America. And I know I only have those freedoms because of the military abroad and law enforcement at home. Because of that, I feel very upset when those tasked with protecting and enforcing the laws that define and support those freedoms, forget their purpose and their oaths.
And while I am a central Texas criminal defense lawyer, I’m not a fan of bank robbers. I don’t own any posters or large foam fingers advocating the taking the hard earned money of others by force. But most of us who have completed basic elementary school instruction grasp the concept that two wrongs don’t make a right, that adding a bad choice to bad choice only makes a bad situation worse.
And lest we forget, a significant part of the founding ideals of this country is specifically to prevent government agents from exerting their authority over ordinary citizens for no other reason than that the government thinks it is best for us. It is the same rationale used by pre-revolution British soldiers to force ordinary citizens to house them against their will simply because it was convenient for the military and in the best interests of everyone.
Please catch the bank robbers, but not at the expense of the principles that make us Americans. How can you enforce the common law when you ignore the very bedrock of law upon which our system of justice exists?
Perhaps my fundamental concern for this type of gross abuse of power and gross ignorance of the law was summed up by Benjamin Franklin when he said: “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”