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Thread: Ignorance of the Law Is an Excuse

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    Regular Member TechnoWeenie's Avatar
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    Ignorance of the Law Is an Excuse for Law Enforcement
    by texpat · 01/15/2009 10:46 am

    Tennessee law professor Glenn Reynolds writes in the New York Post today:

    Except that the rest of us enjoy no such immunity. If you’re a citizen who, say, accidentally carries a gun into a designated “gun-free” zone, the Supreme Court will not say that you can escape punishment because your action was “the result of isolated negligence.” For citizens, there’s no “I forgot” defense.

    Likewise, police are given a pass, under the doctrine of “good faith immunity,” from having to understand the intricacies of suspects’ constitutional rights: A right must be clearly established before an officer is liable for violating it, apparently on the theory that constitutional law is just too confusing for police.

    But ordinary citizens are expected to comply with the tens of thousands of pages of federal criminal laws and regulations (and more at the state level) and are told that “ignorance of the law is no excuse” - and this is true even in cases where the prosecution’s theory of criminality is a novel one.

    Cynics might be forgiven for thinking that, instead of a government of, by and for the people, we’ve got a two-tiered system in which “public servants” instead enjoy the privileges of “public masters.”

    Orin Kerr, George Washington University law professor, describes the case Reynolds cites as it appeared before the United States Supreme Court as filed last May and his reaction yesterday:

    First, the facts. Coffee County police investigator Anderson observed a man named Herring, and developed reason to think that there was a warrant out for Herring’s arrest. Anderson quickly called the Coffee County warrant clerk to see if there were any arrest warrants sworn out for Herring. The warrant clerk checked the county database but found no warrants. Anderson then asked the warrant clerk to contact the warrant clerk in nearby Dale County to see if there were any warrants in that county for Herring’s arrest. The Dale County warrant clerk reported back to the Coffee County clerk’s office that there was in fact an active warrant in Dale County for Herring’s arrest. The Dale County warrant clerk then relayed that information to Anderson.

    The Dale County warrant clerk then looked through the county files for the actual warrant. When she couldn’t find it, she called the clerk’s office and learned that there had been a snafu: The warrant had existed but had been recalled, even though it had not yet been noted in the Dale County database. The Dale County warrant clerk called the Coffee County warrant clerk immediately to tell her that there had been a mistake; there actually was no warrant. Although only 10-15 minutes had passed since their earlier call, the call came too late. Anderson had already pulled over Herring and arrested him based on the belief that a warrant existed. A search incident to arrest revealed drugs and a gun, leading to criminal charges. In this case, Herring wants the drugs and gun suppressed as violations of the Fourth Amendment.

    Ok, on to the legal issues. At the heart of Herring is the question, “who are the police?” When the Supreme Court refers to terms like “probable cause” and the need for the exclusionary rule to “deter the police,” is the relevant actor the single individual who actually conducts the search or seizure or the entity of police as a whole? And if you look at the entity as a whole, does that mean all the police in the county, the state, or maybe all of the police who were involved in the case? In one case, the police is a person; in the other, it’s an entity.

    Why is this the heart of Herring? Under the Fourth Amendment, an arrest is justified if the police have probable cause to believe that a crime was committed and that the suspect committed it; also, reasonable reliance by the police on authority to conduct a search or seizure that later turns out to be false generally leads to admission of evidence. Under these standards, if you construe “the police” to mean the actual person who conducted the search or seizure then Herring should easily lose. On the other hand, if you view “the police” as all of the involved agents of the state, then Herring probably should win.

    The Supreme Court’s ruling of yesterday is here.

    Justices Roberts, Alito, Thomas, Scalia and Kennedy voted to affirm the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmation the Fourth Amendment exclusionary rule was not violated.

    I think they are wrong.

    Justices Ginsberg, Souter, Stevens and Breyer dissented.


    http://lonestartimes.com/2009/01/15/ignorance-of-the-law-is-an-excuse-for-law-enforcement/
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    its so much fun to be me.

    Straight from 12th grade into junior college
    Buddy, buddy, buddy I passed my exam
    They’re making me a law enforcement person
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    PaulBlart wrote:
    its so much fun to be me.

    Straight from 12th grade into junior college
    Buddy, buddy, buddy I passed my exam
    They’re making me a law enforcement person
    Got me a gun and a badge, I’m a man
    HI JOHNNY B! BACK AGAIN HUH?
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    TechnoWeenie wrote:
    Ignorance of the Law Is an Excuse for Law Enforcement
    by texpat · 01/15/2009 10:46 am

    Tennessee law professor Glenn Reynolds writes in the New York Post today:

    Except that the rest of us enjoy no such immunity. If you’re a citizen who, say, accidentally carries a gun into a designated “gun-free” zone, the Supreme Court will not say that you can escape punishment because your action was “the result of isolated negligence.” For citizens, there’s no “I forgot” defense.

    Likewise, police are given a pass, under the doctrine of “good faith immunity,” from having to understand the intricacies of suspects’ constitutional rights: A right must be clearly established before an officer is liable for violating it, apparently on the theory that constitutional law is just too confusing for police.

    But ordinary citizens are expected to comply with the tens of thousands of pages of federal criminal laws and regulations (and more at the state level) and are told that “ignorance of the law is no excuse” - and this is true even in cases where the prosecution’s theory of criminality is a novel one.

    Cynics might be forgiven for thinking that, instead of a government of, by and for the people, we’ve got a two-tiered system in which “public servants” instead enjoy the privileges of “public masters.”

    Orin Kerr, George Washington University law professor, describes the case Reynolds cites as it appeared before the United States Supreme Court as filed last May and his reaction yesterday:

    First, the facts. Coffee County police investigator Anderson observed a man named Herring, and developed reason to think that there was a warrant out for Herring’s arrest. Anderson quickly called the Coffee County warrant clerk to see if there were any arrest warrants sworn out for Herring. The warrant clerk checked the county database but found no warrants. Anderson then asked the warrant clerk to contact the warrant clerk in nearby Dale County to see if there were any warrants in that county for Herring’s arrest. The Dale County warrant clerk reported back to the Coffee County clerk’s office that there was in fact an active warrant in Dale County for Herring’s arrest. The Dale County warrant clerk then relayed that information to Anderson.

    The Dale County warrant clerk then looked through the county files for the actual warrant. When she couldn’t find it, she called the clerk’s office and learned that there had been a snafu: The warrant had existed but had been recalled, even though it had not yet been noted in the Dale County database. The Dale County warrant clerk called the Coffee County warrant clerk immediately to tell her that there had been a mistake; there actually was no warrant. Although only 10-15 minutes had passed since their earlier call, the call came too late. Anderson had already pulled over Herring and arrested him based on the belief that a warrant existed. A search incident to arrest revealed drugs and a gun, leading to criminal charges. In this case, Herring wants the drugs and gun suppressed as violations of the Fourth Amendment.

    Ok, on to the legal issues. At the heart of Herring is the question, “who are the police?” When the Supreme Court refers to terms like “probable cause” and the need for the exclusionary rule to “deter the police,” is the relevant actor the single individual who actually conducts the search or seizure or the entity of police as a whole? And if you look at the entity as a whole, does that mean all the police in the county, the state, or maybe all of the police who were involved in the case? In one case, the police is a person; in the other, it’s an entity.

    Why is this the heart of Herring? Under the Fourth Amendment, an arrest is justified if the police have probable cause to believe that a crime was committed and that the suspect committed it; also, reasonable reliance by the police on authority to conduct a search or seizure that later turns out to be false generally leads to admission of evidence. Under these standards, if you construe “the police” to mean the actual person who conducted the search or seizure then Herring should easily lose. On the other hand, if you view “the police” as all of the involved agents of the state, then Herring probably should win.

    The Supreme Court’s ruling of yesterday is here.

    Justices Roberts, Alito, Thomas, Scalia and Kennedy voted to affirm the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmation the Fourth Amendment exclusionary rule was not violated.

    I think they are wrong.

    Justices Ginsberg, Souter, Stevens and Breyer dissented.


    http://lonestartimes.com/2009/01/15/ignorance-of-the-law-is-an-excuse-for-law-enforcement/
    Look at it this way:

    How easy would it be to commit a crime as a citizen and just by saying "I did not know I could not do that." you getoff with no charges?

    If this were allowed then every citizen stopped for any crime would get off even if they KNEW the law existed but just played dumb, So to stop this abuse you are expected to know the law. Granted there are some people who honestly did not know.


    OK, now on the other side of the coin,

    If the police were required to know all the laws they would need to be better than any lawyer or judge who attend years of law school. Cops are not afforded hours of research time and are not given a law clerk to do assist in looking stuff up while they take other calls for service.

    Why is it that the police are not required to know all the laws? It simply not humanly possible. Even judges must look up code sections to review them. And the codes can change every year too.

    Finally, how many cops do you think would actually put themselves out there and actually work if they are going to get hammered for the most honest mistakes where they were acting in good faith?

    Answer? NONE!


    The police are in a tough position where they must act on what they see and quickly determine a course of action without knowing the laws verbatim nor knowing all the details before making a decision.

    So they are given a little room to maneuver. They can be charged with false arrest and sued civilly if the act was done knowingly and maliciously.

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    Campaign Veteran deepdiver's Avatar
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    Clearly, we have too many laws. It used to be pretty simple to figure out if something was against the law. Generally speaking, if you ask yourself, "Does my act deny another of their right to liberty, life or their own property?" you could figure it out 99% of the time. If the answer is no, then your act will be legal. If yes, then it is illegal. Now it is damn near impossible to even guess. As Kevin Jamison, Esq likes to say, "It doesn't have to make sense, it's just the law." The problem is obviously that the law SHOULD make sense.
    Bob Owens @ Bearing Arms (paraphrased): "These people aren't against violence; they're very much in favor of violence. They're against armed resistance."

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