Cross-posted at dKos
We've all seen a number of cases where manifestly guilty defendants have ended up walking because either the police or the prosecutors wound up shredding the Constitution in order to get convictions. Well, it seems that mentality has trickled to the local level. Recently, a Charlotte cop was forced to resign after it emerged he'd tried to fix a robbery lineup.
A veteran police officer who complained that his cases were being dismissed has resigned after prosecutors accused him of misconduct in a robbery investigation.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Officer Brian Cloninger tried to influence a lineup, prosecutors say. He gave the robbery victim the name and photo of the man he thought committed the gunpoint hold-up. He also urged the woman to look at the suspect's photo every day so she could pick him out.
Since then, the local DA's office has had to throw out 70 cases he handled. At that rate, there's bound to be at least one instance where the defendant was manifestly guilty. It makes you wonder--where in the world did we forget that "no one is above the law" also means "no one is below the law"?
Cloninger had been on the force since 1995--making you wonder if he'd pulled a stunt like this before. He was only caught this time because the victim of the robbery/carjacking he handled is a lawyer herself. As an officer of the court, she felt compelled to report Cloninger's actions--even though she knew it probably meant her case would get thrown out.
Cloninger's defense? He wanted to get a bad guy off the streets. Well, because of this, there's a chance a whole bunch of bad guys could end up back on the streets. The most disturbing instance involves a woman charged with what would have been her second and third DUIs. In North Carolina, three DUI convictions means automatic jail time--do not pass Go, do not collect $200. Which means that because of Cloninger's overzealousness, somebody could get killed.
Seen in light of recent events, this raises serious questions about our society's view of the rule of law. Remember? Ted Stevens, despite overwhelming evidence he was guilty of influence-peddling, had his conviction thrown out because of evidence prosecutors knowingly allowed the star witness to perjure himself. And the five Blackwater guards might never face criminal charges in the United States because prosecutors violated the guards' Fifth Amendment rights by using evidence from statements the guards had to the State Department if they wanted to keep their jobs.
I'm starting to think that this isn't just a consequence of having too many prosecutors come in from law schools where you're taught that there are actually people below the law. When you have cops engaging in this kind of misconduct, to me it's a sign of a larger problem. For all the complaints from the winger fringe about criminals having too many rights, we seem to have forgotten that these safeguards are in place to protect the legitimacy of the system. The case of Cloninger is a perfect example. It's a pretty safe bet that the DAs felt they could win some of those 70 cases. But in the end, they felt that allowing a discredited cop to testify would be too much of a taint to overcome.