The Defense Never Rests

Criminal law spotlight: here’s a cautionary tale

On Behalf of | Nov 3, 2016 | Criminal Law

Let’s just preface the below tale with this query: What if this was your mom?

Indeed, what if it was you?

A story from another state — but which is easily susceptible of recurrence in Indiana or any other area of the country — has attracted the attention — and, concededly, the scorn — of civil libertarians and other commentators on criminal “justice.”

Here’s its bottom line in a nutshell: A Mississippi woman whose only criminal activity related to traffic offenses was stuffed in a jail without any opportunity to consult with an attorney, see a judge or make bail — for 96 days.

You read that right. She just sat behind bars for more than three months wondering what was going on with, again, her traffic tickets.

Unbeknownst to her, a lot was actually going on. An informant had fingered her for selling a controlled substance, and there was a video that allegedly contained incriminating evidence to that effect. Prosecutors acted upon that to secure a criminal indictment from a grand jury.

Unfortunately, no investigator or prosecutor actually watched the video, which only showed the woman asking to borrow a small sum of money. It was only 96 days later, at her arraignment, that an appointed attorney did see the video. He promptly brought it to the state’s attention, and the charges against the woman were immediately dropped.

Understandably, she sued, with even a sheriff involved in the case telling a federal judge that she “states a plausible case for multiple constitutional deficiencies.”

Plausible or not, she lost the case, with the judge noting that the 4th Amendment was not implicated in the matter because the grand jury’s indictment “established the existence of probable cause.” The judge noted that the woman’s right to counsel kicked it at her arraignment, and it was no fault of the state that her arraignment date followed her arrest by 96 days.

Such logic, notes a media report, “has flummoxed” a number of critics, including the ACLU, which has filed lawsuits regarding similar matters in multiple states.

And it centrally underscores this point, of course, for any individual in Indiana or elsewhere who is detained or charged in a criminal matter: demand to see a proven attorney without delay.

If you don’t, you might find the wheels of justice turning exceedingly slowly.