Last week I wrote about a case where police officers sat around and conjured up a way to avoid the Fourth Amendment. Today I write about when prosecutors and the court determine to do their best to deprive a citizen of the right to a fair trial.
Williams was a in training to do his job as a federal law enforcement officer when he assigned to live temporarily in Georgia. Williams was a veteran and had a Florida drivers license. He was stopped in Georgia for allegedly speeding when the discussion came up about his lack of a Georgia drivers license. The officer did not write a speeding ticket but did write a ticket for driving without a license, although Williams showed his Florida license. The officer suggested that Williams go get a Georgia license, which Williams did the same day, and Georgia even waived the fee since Williams was a veteran.
When Williams went to court, the prosecutor said “Ah hah! Since you got a Georgia license, you admit that you violated Georgia law that requires you to get a license if you live in Georgia more than 30 days!” Williams, without a lawyer, asked for a trial and the court convicted him, despite Williams never having a driving offense and despite the prosecutor changing the charge, mid-trial, from “no license” to “driving without a Georgia license after living in the state for more than 30 days.” The trial judge convicted Williams.
Fortunately the appellate court saw through the charade that the DeKalb Recorders Court (the equivalent of a traffic court) had perpetrated. The appellate court chastized quite fiercely the prosecutor and judge for this miscarriage of justice, pointing out five different times when the government or court could have done the right thing and dismissed this case.
“The state has the power to take liberty, but commensurate with that power is the duty to do justice,” Judge Michael Boggs wrote, citing Wesley v. State, 225 Ga. 22 (1969). “Justice was denied … in this case, and accordingly, the judgment of conviction is reversed.”
One of the inherent flaws in our criminal justice system is when prosecutors, and judges, become part of the “team” and think that convicting citizens is their job. The job is to do justice. Prosecuting someone because there is a statute somewhere that might appear to make their conduct criminal is just as indecent as not doing ones job at all. I call it the sewer effect.
When you work at the sewer plant, everything smells. – Kelly Burke (2010).
For those that need an explanation, when you work at the sewer plant, you might not notice when something smells bad, even at home. If you work at the courthouse all the time, and all you see is “bad people”, you think everyone is bad; you see cops doing “God’s work” and believe cops all the time; and you work with “good people” (prosecutors and judges) and tend to favor them. The best way to avoid that trap is term limits, but I only hear term limits when it comes to the legislative branch. I say term limits for everybody. But I’m obviously in the minority.