Saturday, April 20, 2013

Sniffing out police perjury

Police perjury in the Fourth Amendment context is widespread and well-documented.  (Read pages 547-48 of this article, and pages 472-73 of this article, for details.)  In a nutshell, if a cop tells a judge that he saw, heard, or smelled something that aroused his suspicion, judges will uphold any police search and look the other way on Fourth Amendment violations.  But not Judge Guolee of Milwaukee.  He’s not afraid to “call bullshit” when he sees (or smells) it.  In State v. Jackson, the defendant challenged a police search of his vehicle's trunk and the judge held a hearing.  At that hearing, the cop testified that he was legally justified in searching the trunk because he could smell the marijuana.  But instead of rubber-stamping the testimony and automatically finding that there was no Fourth Amendment violation, Judge Guolee had about enough.  Here’s what he said:

Now, we know, and I have heard it in so many cases, they come with these multiple police officers, multiple cars and they stop somebody for a small traffic violation and then they go on from that.  They admit doing that.  Maybe it’s good practice, maybe it’s bad practice, but it is a canvassing practice, a Dragnet practice, pull everybody in and hopefully find something, and I don’t know all the cases where they don’t find something.  In every case we’re getting these super sniffer police officers that can smell marijuana through trunks, through bags, any place and it’s testing their credibility as an officer.  Now, I have had cases, even trials where I have had the marijuana laying right out on this counter here, and the bags it was in and everything, and I can’t smell it, nor can anybody in the courtroom, but these officers have this super sniff ability so that’s what we have. And we have to question credibility. I’m not, under our Constitution and our city, going to let these officers just go out and canvas and do whatever they want to do in violation of the Fourth Amendment, just keep going further and further.
Beautiful!  This judge had the courage to say out loud what all but the most naive judges know: the police are out there violating our constitutional rights on a regular—in fact, routine—basis.  Even more impressive, the judge suppressed the marijuana evidence in the defendant’s trunk.  

Of course, the appellate court reversed judge Guolee, holding that the search was, in fact, legal.  And its holding was based on reasons that the prosecutor probably never even raised during the suppression hearing.  So in the end, the appellate judges bailed out the government and preserved the state’s case—an all too common practice.  But at least Judge Guolee isn’t afraid to tell the police and prosecutors that he’s wise to their nonsense.   

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