Friday, January 14, 2005

Rights? We Don't Need No Stinking Rights!

The 8th Circuit Court, in United States v. Frazier, ruled that post-arrest, pre-Miranda silence can be used against you in a court of law. That's right. If you get arrested by the police, asserting your right to remain silent, which you have regardless of when or whether the cops give you a Miranda reading, can be used as evidence of your guilt.

But the neat twist to the whole thing is this: Any statements made to police before they read Miranda can't be used in court unless you testify in your own defense. Then, those statements can be used to impeach you. In fact, in California, the cops are specifically trained to try to get suspects to say something that could be used to impeach them before they are Mirandized, just so to keep defendants from testifying on their own behalf. Juries, you see, tend to think people who don't testify on their own behalf are guilty.

This ruling creates a nice little catch-22 that completely destroys the idea of "innocent until proven guilty." If you say something before the cops Mirandize you, then you won't be able to testify in your own defense. If you don't say anything, they'll use your silence against you. Damned if you do, damned if you don't. Awesome.

But the Supreme Court has gone the 8th Circuit one better on nullifying our rights. The Supreme Court overturned the 9th Circuit to rule that, "Qualified immunity shields an officer from suit when she makes a decision that, even if constitutionally deficient, reasonably misapprehends the law governing the circumstances she confronted."

Essentially, the Supreme Court said that cops can violate your rights with immunity from being sued as long as the cop doesn't know the Constitution well enough to know he or she is violating your rights. For the rest of us, ignorance of the law is no excuse. But for cops, ignorance of the constitutional rights they are sworn to protect excuses them from responsibility.

This ruling actually encourages cops to remain ignorant of suspects' rights! It also allows cops to beat up, kill, shoot, torture, or do whatever they want to suspects as long as the cop afterwards claims, "I didn't know that was a violation of the suspects' rights." Awesome!

In what sense is a right "a right" when a government agent's knowledge or lack thereof of those rights determines whether they apply or not? Either you have the right not to be shot or you don't. Whether or not the cop knows your rights shouldn't be your problem! They are trained agents of the government and should be held to a higher standard of knowing the rights of the citizens they protect, not a lesser standard! I mean, knowing the rights of suspects is the most important requirement for that job, and here the Supreme Court says the exact opposite.

The Bill of Rights lists rights, such as protection from unreasonable search and seizure. It doesn't say, "Citizens have these rights unless an agent of the government is unaware of them, in which case they are null and void." But that's what the Supreme Court has just ruled.

Talk about judicial activism! I notice the conservatives are mum on this ruling as well. But what could be more an inappropriate use of judicial power than the judiciary, whose job is to apply the Constitution to laws and cases, instead overturns the Constitution itself?

That is true judicial activism. And, it seems, none of our rights are safe from it.


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