In its pure, unadulterated, un-judicially-activated form, the law – criminal and constitutional – is a beautiful thing. Reflecting on the context in which the Constitution was written, and the way in which its application was envisioned is a source of inspiration.
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
These are the rights of individuals – all individuals and checks against the power of the large governmental entities. The Constitution drew a line and on the site that was protected were placed the flesh and blood individuals, the citizenry and on the side that was being warned and whose authority was being severely limited was the abstract, nameless, faceless Government.
What a beautiful concept: we are individuals first and as individuals, we have rights that will not be subordinate to those of an ever-changing abstract concept.
The concept is dying a quick and painful death. It took only 200 odd years for the pendulum to have shifted completely in the opposite direction. By attrition, or force of sensationalism, or crowdsourced fear, the line drawn by the Constitution has turned around and is now facing those very individuals it sought to protect. The idea of individual liberties is so foreign to most, that comes as a surprise to many that the founders fought and fought hard for them.
These protections and rights exist merely as a thorn in the side of the righteous who seek to punish the evil. US vs. criminals. Speeding this disaster is the learned hand of those who are in charge of interpreting and enforcing the august protections enumerated and implied by the Great Document.
Jurisprudence, over the years, has taken an increasingly narrow approach to individuals’ rights, especially those charged and convicted of criminal offenses. The scope of acceptable intrusion by the Government has increased dramatically over the years and the zone of protection surrounding each individual and his possessions has correspondingly narrowed.
Cops want to use collective knowledge to deem that someone carrying two cell phones is a drug dealer and thus about to embark on a baby-killing spree? Allowed. Cops want to use lies and trickery to trap individuals into confessing to things they may or may not have done? Allowed. Prosecutors make impermissible remarks to juries and comment on a defendant’s exercise of his rights? Frowned upon, but the guy was guilty as sin anyway, so it doesn’t matter.
I fear that if one were to embark on the task of writing a book that enumerated the remaining fundamental protections, it may be just long enough to fill Twitter’s 140 character requirement. The Twitstitution.
Really, what 4th amendment rights does one have anymore? Police have to get a warrant? Well, not always. And even in cases where they really should have, it’s mostly okay. What if the prosecutor circumvents the probable cause requirement and adds charges later that aren’t supported by the evidence? Too bad, prove it at trial.
The role of the defense lawyer has gone from Constitutional law expert to mitigation specialist. Cases are won and lost on the facts, not the law. The law is dead to us. A lifeless corpse that taunts us and obstructs us in our efforts to keep the Govermental power in check. There is no longer any confidence backing up an assertion that an act by the police is “clearly illegal”. Frankly, there is no such thing anymore. Courts will find a way to condone whatever improper action we complain about.
“But he’s only 16, judge”, “he didn’t really threaten the use of a gun”, “he’s only doing this because he has a massive drug problem”.
Go to any court and sit in on any pre-trial negotiation and you’ll hear most, if not all defense lawyers use variations of the above. Mitigation specialists.
That’s the only thing left to us: harkening back to the very individuality that the Constitution sought to protect. Each person is an individual, but instead of talking in terms of protection, we now speak of punishment. Each individual is different and must be punished differently.
Guilt upon arrest is but a foregone conclusion. All that remains to be determined is the term. We don’t practice law anymore; there is nothing noble left. We mitigate.
The law is dead and slowly, it’s killing us all too.