Rupert Myers, at The Guardian (“Tricks and cheats are the price of cutting legal aid,” September 5), recently did a bit of hand-wringing about the role of crowdsourced law (i.e. free legal advice websites) in providing those accused of traffic and child support offenses, among other things, with handy tips for beating the system.
“… [W]ith the capacity to share approaches to defence has come the temptation in forums to share advice which, if followed, would result in a miscarriage of justice. … Every case in which a defendant employs a sharp tactic to win a trial, or exploits a loophole discussed online, is one that costs the taxpayer.”
Why, gasps Myers, these things might “undermine the very legitimacy and effectiveness of the justice system!” Heaven forfend! Because it was, you know, so much more legitimate when it was easier for cops and prosecutors to railroad people into jail.
I don’t know how things are in the UK, but here in the US the very idea of someone whining that online sharing of “tricks and cheats” is unfair to the poor downtrodden cops and prosecutors is enough to make me puke.
The whole system is rigged so that about the only way a cop can get fired or prosecuted is when they’re actually recorded shooting an unarmed person in the back and planting a gun on them, or go around bragging and waving the feces-smeared broom handle they raped a prisoner with. Even when a cop’s caught on video using excessive force, they’ll most likely be put on paid suspension until the police commission finds “no evidence of wrongdoing” and that “all procedures were followed.”
What’s more, cops have their own form of “crowdsourced” lawyering up. Police forces, just as much as prisons, are “colleges of crime.” The lore of police work is full of helpful hints on manufacturing probable cause for invading the homes of people cops “know” are guilty despite the lack of any real evidence, perjuring themselves to obtain warrants, obtaining warrants based on coerced testimony from jailhouse snitches, training police dogs to “alert” on command, tricking or bullying people into giving confessions without a lawyer present in violation of the spirit of Miranda, and using every shred of power they possess under the letter — and punctuation marks — of the law to harrass people who fall afoul of them. Any time a cop finds another trick or cheat, another loophole for evading the spirit of a thousand years of common law due process rights and turning the Fourth Amendment into toilet paper, it will circulate among the Brotherhood faster than crib notes in a frat house.
If you publicize police misconduct, your troubles have only begun. Never mind what the law says — if you’re spotted recording a beating with your cell phone camera, you’ll probably be arrested for it. And if you post footage online of unruly cops (terrorizing people in a bar while off-duty, staggering around publicly urinating during Law Enforcement Day festivities, etc.), you can count on anonymous death threats from the Brotherhood.
As for prosecutors: In every single story I’ve ever seen where subsequent evidence exonerated a convict, the prosecutor in the case fought tooth and nail to prevent the case being reopened. Compared to the “injustice” of tarnishing the prosecutor’s conviction ratio in the face of an upcoming election, the prospect of an innocent person rotting away in hell is small potatoes.
There’s also the venerable prosecutorial practice of suppressing evidence during the original trial. Take Nancy Grace, the shrill harpy of law-n-order and “victims’ rights” whose philosophy is “They must be guilty, or they wouldn’t have been arrested.” (I wish she’d get whacked on the head with a shovel like Gracie Jane on Boston Legal.)
Nancy had one conviction declared a mistrial and another overturned on appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court, the latter on grounds of “inappropriate and illegal conduct in the course of the trial.” Among other things she made an opening statement in which she promised the jury inflammatory evidence she obviously knew would be inadmissible, withheld evidence from the defense, and personally conducted an illegal search accompanied by a CNN camera crew.
The equally despicable Wendy Murphy, who like Grace parleyed her prosecutorial background and her personal hysteria and dishonesty into a career in cheap cable punditry, made endless TV appearances during the Duke lacrosse team case in which just about every assertion of fact she made proved to be a verifiable lie. I doubt this sociopath, who has absolutely no qualms about just making (stuff) up, was any more scrupulous as a prosecutor.
The game is already rigged in favor of cops and prosecutors. Whining about ordinary people using crowdsourced law to even things up strikes me as more than a little perverse.