All Citizens Are Not Criminals

Our hero, Governor Pataki, has recently suggested legislation to eliminate the coddling of criminals by eliminating the pre-trial rules that protect criminals from illegal searches and seizures, eliminating the necessity to advise criminals of their rights. The purpose of these changes is to make it easier for the police to obtain evidence, easier for prosecutors to convict criminals. The Governor’s suggestion, however, makes it obvious that he doesn’t have a clue about what he’s suggesting.  That suggestion also makes it obvious the Governor can’t distinguish a criminal from a citizen. 

A criminal, simply, is someone who has already been to trial, already convicted of a crime. The operative words are already convicted. A person who has a pre-trial right against illegal search and seizure, who has a right to be advised of his rights is, by definition, is a person who has NOT been convicted of a crime, hasn’t even been to trial. He or she is, rather, a person about to be arrested, about to be charged with a crime, about to be tried on that accusation. 

An accused is not a criminal! An accused is, simply, a  citizen charged with a crime. The only way to coddle a criminal is to put two pillows, a down comforter, a 26″ color TV, and a fax machine into every jail cell. Protecting rights that every citizen, their family,  their neighbors have, until such time that any accusation against them is proven in a court of law, is not coddling a  criminal. It is protecting the rights of the non-convicted accused so that the great power of the state is not brought down on the head of an innocent citizen. Not until legal evidence convinces the people’s chosen representatives – the jury – that the accused is, in fact,  guilty of a crime, and, therefore, a criminal, does an accused forfeit the rights of an innocent citizen. 

Pre-trial freedom from unreasonable search and seizure does not protect criminals as they sit in their jail cells!  Pre-trial freedom from unreasonable search and seizure is protecting you, at this very moment, as you sit reading these words. Unless there is a reasonable basis that can be supported in a court of law, no one, not even someone with a gun and a badge, can barge into your home and start rummaging through your belongings.  A citizen’s right to be advised by the police that he or she has certain pre-trial rights offers no protection to criminals in cells, either. Most citizens have only TV to tell them that they have certain rights – and TV programs are written by writers who are not usually lawyers. The TV  programs are dramatic presentations, not necessarily accurate messengers of legal rights. You, as you still sit,  reading these additional words, are entitled, as a citizen,  to be advised of your rights by law enforcement personnel interested in questioning you. Is that so terrible?

Let’s do it another way. Do you want to give the police the right to barge into your house, on the sole word of that angry neighbor whose laundry your dog pulled off the clothesline yesterday? Hey, I’m not a criminal, you say. Neither is any other citizen, even one accused of a crime – until he or she has been convicted. 

How about your children, walking on the street, stopped by the police because they wear their hair long, wear baggy clothes, have a beard, wear an earring, look ‘kind of dirty or suspicious’. Do you want them to be hassled by someone with a badge? Hey, my kids aren’t criminals, either! Now, I  know you can give the next response. Neither is anyone else’s kids until they have been convicted of a crime.

 Thus, the laws that Governor Pataki is sounding off about do not protect criminals. They protect all citizens,  millions who shall never be accused of a crime, some innocent citizens who may be charged with a crime, but eventually have their case dismissed or are found not guilty, and a very few citizens who shall, eventually, be convicted of a crime. When Governor Pataki espouses stripping away the rights and freedoms of those few who shall eventually be  ‘convicted’ of a crime, he is, at the very same time,  espousing stripping away your rights in the bargain. 

Innocent people don’t need the rights, you say? Well,  then, if every person the police arrest is actually guilty,  let’s not stop at eliminating pre-trial rights. Let’s eliminate trials, too. Hell, eliminate courts, we don’t need them.

 Think about this, more or less, federal and state,  there aren’t 1 million people in all the jails of the  United States. That’s less than one half (1/2) of one (1%)  percent of the citizens of this nation. What is being proposed is stripping away the rights of 99 1/2% of the  People to make it easier to get at the other 1/2%. Like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. 

The Governor ought to find a way of protecting ‘my’  rights, but take away the rights of those undeserving  ‘criminals’, you say. Here’s a flash for you. We already have it! It’s called the rule of law. It’s call trial by jury. It’s called the Constitution, which says every person is innocent until ‘proven’ guilty by legal evidence. You knew that all the time, didn’t you? Why don’t you explain it to Governor Pataki, then? 

And while you’re at it, tell him that the laws protecting citizens, even citizens facing charges, do not coddle criminals. Criminals are those who have already been convicted of crimes! You think I’ve said that too often.  You already know that. Sorry. If you see or write to  Governor Pataki, tell him. He obviously doesn’t. In Lewis Carrol’s fantasy, “Alice is Wonderland”  the  Queen calls out at Alice’s trial, “sentence first, verdict afterward”. We overthrew a monarch more than 200 years ago,  in favor of elected officials who must follow the rule of law. Someone should tell our Governor that Alice in  Wonderland is not a law book.