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Photo: josephcrawford.com

Photo: josephcrawford.com

As Until Proven comes to fruition, you will find that this writer has issues with law enforcement, abuse of power and accountability. In fact, the showdown between police and special needs people has been addressed on this blog in the past. Don’t get me wrong: police have their place, and the majority of them are fine, decent, helpful individuals.

However, recent events, both in the news and personally experienced, have created a narrower view through a different lens. This is especially disconcerting, considering a Supreme Court ruling that puts all of the cards in the hands of law enforcement — even when you, the detained, have not done anything wrong.

According to SCOTUS, you and I are expected to know the law, hands down. However, should the police detain you for something that turns out not to be unlawful, they can claim reasonable ignorance of the law and you can’t do anything about it! Let’s repeat that: you cannot claim ignorance of the law in order to get out of committing a crime; however, law enforcement can arrest you for something that is not considered a crime, as long as they reasonably claim to have misunderstood the law.

This works out great for police, in a way that makes courts willing to look the other way. Think about it: a driver can be pulled over for tinted windows that seem excessively dark or an air freshener dangling from a window. However, in many areas these seeming-infractions are not a crime, and neither may be probable cause to pull someone over in the firs place. However, if in doing so the cop finds you have an open beer, you can be investigated and/or subsequently cited for an open container, and maybe even DUI/DWI.

Certainly, any good lawyer will try to get this kicked out of court, since the stop was illegal in the first place. However, if the cop can convince the court that he/she wasn’t aware that deep-tinted windows are not illegal, the judge can say, “Aw, that’s okay, Officer. You couldn’t possibly be expected to know every law.”

This works well, too, when cops want to profile a particular subset of society, if they screw up royally, or if they are simply looking to target a particular individual. If they find something questionable to bust a person for, of even something clearly legal, but the cop can convince a judge that there was no way he/she could know they, the police, were in the wrong, anything that happens to the detainee from that point forward is totally allowable.

What this says is that, while you and I are expected to reasonably know every law and run the risk of detention any time we break a law, the people enforcing those laws don’t need to know what they actually are or if your action is even illegal. This rule allows for the dangerous expansion of police powers and is an open invitation for the abuse of those powers.

What do you think?

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