Missouri Prosecutors join Obama “truth squad”

Who is the most dangerous when they abuse power?  Police? Prosecutors? Judges?

Police work under many rules. If they do not follow the rules they eventually get caught. They can be dangerous to some individuals, but unless the judge and prosecutor join them, the potential for abuse is limited in both time and scope.

Judges are probably the least dangerous cog in the machine. They cannot bring charges against anyone. They can only affect cases that are brought before them. If the prosecutor doesn’t like the way they do business, he can kick them off the case. If the judge does something wrong in the case, a conviction can be reviewed and overturned by an appeals court.

prosecutorNow to the prosecutor.  When it comes to charging criminals with a crime he operates with few restraints and with absolute immunity. His power extends to every person who enters his jurisdiction.  He can charge anyone with any state crime if just one person is willing to make a statement that the accused probably did something that could be considered a crime. This is all it takes to put the accused behind bars, where they may–or may not–get out on bond.

Months may pass before the accused gets to see the evidence against him at his preliminary hearing. And if the charge is baseless, a judge will finally dismiss the charge. By now, the poor guy has probably lost his job, maybe his house, but hopefully not his family.

But it can still go on. If the prosecutor wants to play out the bad hand, he can bring the accused person’s enemy before a grand jury to get an indictment (instead of having a judge decide at a preliminary hearing).

There is a saying that if the government wanted to, it could indict a ham sandwich. That doesn’t mean grand juries are stupid, just that that they see and hear only what the prosecutor wants them to see and hear. They seldom indict (or refuse to indict) unless that is what the prosecutor wants.

So the prosecutor can get the accused indicted on baseless charges and the accused sits in jail for many more months. When the trial date arrives he can either dismiss the charge at the last minute or–what the heck–let an assistant prosecutor try and lose the case. They need the practice anyway.

This is why a prosecutor can be so dangerous. It’s the reason why good prosecutors are very careful about their power. And why people should be beware the prosecutor who is partisan, or even casual, about their duties. There is nothing casual about it.

Now we have the disturbing news story over the weeend that two of Missouri’s top prosecutors have joined the Barack Obama “truth squad.” St. Louis City and County prosecutors Jennifer Joyce and Bob McCullough (and others) have pledged to react swiftly to unfair attacks on Obama and to what they consider ethical violations by Obama opponents. I’m not trying offend to Democrats here, because I’d be no more surprised, and just as offended, if it were the McCain “truth squad”.

Watch the video and see what you think. Technically, they haven’t crossed any legal line. It’s kind of like offending the King: once you know what he wants, only a fool does otherwise.

Needless to say, such intimidation tactics–harmless in the mouths of bloggers–cannot be ignored when threatened by prosecutors. I consider such political involvement by prosecutors inexcusable conduct in a job that has no business involving itself in partisan politics. It’s bad enough that prosecutors must be elected in partisan contests.

I notice that the governor issued a press release condemning the “police-state tactics” of these officials.  Even so, if you are in the east end of the state, don’t look for the  governor to save you if a prosecutor decides you may have been unfair in a way that they consider criminal. The real purpose, of course, is not to prosecute opponents, but simply to shut them up.

OK. Slowly. Step AWAY from the taco.

A friend  sent me this great example of the 4th amendment in action. The article, titled: “Yo quiero a search warrant: Lawyer succeeds in suppressing evidence found in taco” was originally published in the Missouri Lawyers Weekly.

It seems that Branson police were investigating a fight and were told that someone involved in the fight had gone to the Taco Bell. Police decided it was time to make a run for the border. When they arrived, they found  Johnnie Hoover and a female companion were the only customers.  

The officer asked Hoover if he had any drugs or weapons. At this point–the officer testified–Hoover “looked furtively at a taco lying on the table in front of him”.

Thinking outside the bun, the officer immediately asked Hoover to move away from the table.  He then searched the taco, finding methamphetamine and a glass pipe pipe within.

Mr. Hoover’s lawyer explained that he was able to have the evidence thrown out on the grounds that the taco seemed unlikely to contain a deadly weapon. Nor did the officer have probable cause to search the taco on other grounds.  [See Search warrants in MIssouri, Parts 1-4]

It sounds like the judge was dead on with that decision, the key being that a “furtive look” by itself is not going to be enough for the police to get into your taco. On the other hand, if the officer had sufficient grounds for a search of the taco, he most likely would not have needed a search warrant because the taco–being so “good to go”–might otherwise disappear in the meanwhile.

Don’t tase me, officer! More electronic attitude adjustment.

Update on that tasered guy that fell off the bridge in Columbia, MO:

The Columbia police department has finished investigating itself and found that its officers acted properly. You can read the official police report* showing that this incident was a comedy of errors with officers making multiple attempts to tase this guy when he was not far off the ground; then farther off the ground, and still farther . . .

The fourth attempt was successful, but unfortunately, the man had nearly reached the maximum height of the overpass when one of the officers finally got his taser to work.

* The officer’s names are blacked out to preserve their privacy.

This video of the incident shows just how how far this fellow fell under the influence of a taser. It appears to be maybe 18 inches short of the full height of the overpass. Ouch!

“Yeah, Doc. The taser hurt so much, I hardly noticed the fall”

More unfortunate taser incidents have been in the news here in Missouri. There was a fellow in Columbia on a highway overpass threatening to kill himself.

Once Columbia police managed to get him to safety an officer used a taser on him. The cop missed and the guy panicked & ran back out onto the overpass.

Fifteen feet above the ground, a second officer tried and succeeded in tasing the guy right off the bridge.  The fall put him in the hospital with two broken arms, a fractured skull and possibly a broken jaw.

Columbia police were questioned with regard to their taser use policy which reads: “Officers shall not use a taser on someone that is in a position where a fall would likely cause serious injury or death.” They wanted to stop him before he got to the middle of the bridge where the drop was even longer than the 15 feet he actually fell.  Links to story:  1 , 2.

Here is the video:

I guess the question everybody is asking is whether he ought to have been tased while he was out on the overpass at all.

? ? ?

This other incident involved a 16 year old the police found lying on the shoulder of U.S. 65: Parents question why Ozark police used stun gun on injured son

He had apparently fallen from a nearby overpass. His back and foot were broken and he appeared confused. Ozark police commented:

He refused to comply with the officers and so the officers had to deploy their Tasers in order to subdue him,” Capt. Thomas Rousset said. “He is making incoherent statements; he’s also making statements such as, ‘Shoot cops, kill cops,’ things like that. So there was cause for concern to the officers.”

So they tasered this kid 19 times.

Tasering a kid for saying “kill cops” sounds like some “zero tolerance” policy by the Ozark police.  It reminds me of the grade school principal who kicks a kid out of school for drawing a PICTURE of a gun. It’s pure overkill.

But that kid is just lucky he didn’t say something like “Bang! Bang!” They might have really come down on him then.

I expect taser use to be questioned more as time goes on. It’s just so clean and easy to use. Officers who used to have to scuffle with suspects can simply push a button. No more torn shirt pockets or grass stains on the uniform. And it sure goes a long way toward correcting disrespectful attitudes. That’s because it’s a heckova lot like torture.

Earlier post:

Tasers: Safety measure or Electronic attitude adjustment?

“Click it or ticket” in Missouri? Not really. Not yet.

Jefferson City Criminal Defense lawyerMost people would agree that driving around without a seat belt shows a definite streak of self-destructiveness. This is probably why we see frequent “Click-it or Ticket” PR initiatives coming from law enforcement promising a “crackdown” on seat belt violators.

Thursday September 11, 2008 is another crackdown day for some Missouri law enforcement. So be warned. Buckle-up or they are going to get you on Thursday. Or so they say.

Seat belt citation

Scare tactics aside, Missouri law enforcement have no power to pull over a driver for a seat belt violation. They can only write a ticket for a seat belt violation if there is another valid reason for the stop. The law is clear: “No person shall be stopped, inspected, or detained solely to determine compliance with [the seat belt law]”

Police can hardly crack down because they already push the law as far as it can go, even to the point of adding a check box to  every ticket, so they can effortlessly add a seat belt violation to any other charge.

We will have to wait to see if 2009 brings another bill in the legislature to let police pull anyone over if they see a seat belt violation. The yeahs will say we can save lives. They are surely right.

The nays will say it just gives the cops another excuse to get into your business. Another bit of liberty lost.