Protect rights from law enforcement excess
BY PATRICK McLAUGHLIN
The law enforcement community of South Carolina recently released a legislative agenda to much fanfare. Both the attorney general and the Solicitors Association have heralded the new level of cooperation between the state’s law enforcement agencies their legislative agenda represents.
The attorney general states that “you know you can’t be wrong” when numerous governmental agencies and bureaucrats have agreed on this agenda.
Freedom and liberty dictate that the people not blindly accept attempts by the state to exert more power and constrain the rights of its citizens. Several bureaucracies agreeing on something does not make it a good idea. South Carolinians know such a proposition goes against the concepts of liberty and freedom at the core of our nation.
While this agenda may represent the priorities of prosecutors and law enforcement, the wants and desires of the state are not always in the best interest of the people. Thomas Jefferson warned us that the natural progress of things was “for liberty to yield and government to gain ground.”
While some of the legislation proposed in this agenda may be advantageous for the government, there are several items that should raise real concerns for the people. More importantly, there are other more dire issues that should and could be addressed than the ones tackled by the proposed agenda.
For example, we could easily implement better identification practices to protect our citizens from being wrongfully accused of crimes. Yet nothing in the proposed legislation addresses reforming the identification procedures used by South Carolina law enforcement agencies.
Time and time again we have seen the power of video in ascertaining the truth, but we have yet to take the logical step of requiring that interviews and interrogations in criminal investigations be recorded. Nothing in the proposed agenda addresses this issue or even expresses support for legislation currently pending that does require such recording.
If a person is convicted of a crime and subsequent evidence of actual innocence is discovered, there is no statutory process for obtaining a new trial in South Carolina. Where is the proposed legislation to address righting such fundamental wrongs?
These are basic issues which could be addressed and would go a long way to ensuring that the justice delivered in South Carolina is fair and liberty is protected. These are fundamental principles everyone can agree are vital to protecting the rights of all South Carolinians.
However, instead of tackling such vital issues, this agenda is more concerned with protecting the state from getting sued for dangerous conduct. Hence, the agenda offers an amendment to grant law enforcement immunity from liability for injuries inflicted by law enforcement K-9s, even where the state’s conduct was willful and wanton.
Why should the state seek to protect its reckless agents at the expense of the rights of its citizens?
Should innocent bystanders not be protected from law enforcement officers recklessly racing across an entire city at speeds up to 130 mph in order to apprehend someone for a minor traffic violation? The people of South Carolina have to question why protecting them from the dangers of such unnecessary high-speed chases is not a legislative priority of their government.
Likewise, when this agenda proposes further stacking the deck of the criminal justice system in the government’s favor by reducing jury strikes available to defendants, the people of South Carolina have to question the purpose.
Is this for their benefit? Or is this, like other items in the agenda, simply another attempt to benefit the government at the expense of the people?
The criminal defense bar of South Carolina is committed to zealously defending the rights of all citizens of this state. In taking such stands, we often argue against our own pecuniary interests. More crimes and tougher punishments equate to more clients and higher fees for the criminal defense bar.
We take such stands not for self-benefit, but to protect all South Carolinians and to preserve liberty. We look forward to continuing in this role.
Patrick McLaughlin is president of the South Carolina Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.