Notice that those who demand change are never in the criminal’s jumpsuit.
BY DAN KLEIN
On Sept. 23, 1983, I raised my right hand and swore to uphold the Constitution. I became an Albuquerque police officer that day, and over the next 32 years, I realized that that was the moment that defined my life.
I believe there is no compromise to our rights as free men and women. But now, out of fear and anger, many of our fellow citizens are demanding that the the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution be trashed. Their rush to willingly surrender their freedoms makes me sad and sick.
The drumbeat for changing the rule for a speedy trial is growing louder. News outlets speak of “boomerang thugs,” a radio talk show host ponders extending the 10-day rule to 20 or 30 days. A few more days isn’t a big deal, is it?
Politicians complain that violent offenders are arrested and then released back on our streets to re-offend. Our district attorney, mayor and police chief all complain that the 10-day rule is unreasonable and that they cannot comply.
They say that the rule that requires prosecutors to get discovery items to defense attorneys within 10 days of someone being jailed for a crime is putting dangerous criminals back on our streets to harm more citizens. This feeds the public’s fear and distracts us from holding those in power accountable for not doing their jobs.
Notice that those who demand change are never in the criminal’s jumpsuit. They find it easy to demand that all of us surrender our constitutional right to a speedy trial only because they believe it will never adversely affect them. Maybe the local radio host should experience 10 days at the Metropolitan Detention Center. That might change his mind about doubling or tripling the time anybody – including you or me – can be held in jail while the wheels of the system slowly begin turning.
The Albuquerque area has had a tough year with police officers and children being slain. The suspects are all repeat offenders. When asked why these criminals were out on our streets, the politicians point fingers at the “system” and specifically blame the new 10-day rule. They complain that it is impossible to comply with the discovery rule. I disagree. The rule isn’t the issue; it’s abysmal management at APD and the DA’s office.
Why the rule? Imagine you are two innocent men, accused of a heinous double homicide. You are locked away from your family for more than 550 days; all the time those who accused you had evidence of your innocence. Maybe you are a mentally disabled man accused of raping and murdering a child, a crime you confessed to. You spend almost 1,000 days locked up, scared and afraid, some of those days in solitary confinement.
Those who accuse you know that you are innocent but say nothing. You are held in a criminal justice purgatory, not convicted and not released. These are the true stories of three men in Albuquerque who were arrested for horrible killings. All later were found innocent through DNA testing – evidence that never was provided to the defense attorneys until after their clients had wasted away in jail for years. It’s happened here, in our town, in the past 10 years.
Any of us could have been these men. Had the 10-day rule been enforced, those men would have been freed quickly. Instead, they spent a lifetime of days locked away from friends and family, not a kind word spoken or the loving embrace of their family to console them.
The Sixth Amendment is there to protect us from this abuse. Our criminal justice system is based upon the concept of “innocent until proven guilty.” Too often, the media and the public assumes an arrest means guilt. It does not.
Instead of giving up our constitutional rights, we should demand that law enforcement officials fully staff their divisions that deal with defendant discovery. It’s their responsibility to manage their agencies to comply with the Constitution. Taking away our rights is not an option.
Be cautious when those who hold the power – government officials who can arrest, prosecute and jail you – demand that you give up your constitutional rights under the promise of greater safety.
Giving up your rights makes neither you nor the community safer; it only makes it easier for them to put you and you loved ones in prison when you’re innocent.
Dan Klein is a retired Albuquerque police sergeant. Reach him at Facebook/Dan Klein.