Lawyer Obstructs Injustice, Gets Arrested for Doing Her Job
by Josh Guckert
In 1963, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that states are required to provide counsel in criminal cases to represent defendants who are unable to afford attorneys of their own. However, it seems at times that such precedent has yet to take effect in many parts of the country. As prosecutors and police departments receive more funding and resources than ever, public defenders find it more difficult to represent their clients, due to a lack of comparable funding and overwhelming incentives to simply plead guilty.
However, following the release of a video from San Francisco’s public defender, it may turn out that the disadvantages of defendants that we are aware of may be only the tip of the iceberg. In the video, Deputy Public Defender Jami Tillotson refuses to permit a police inspector to photograph her client or question him without her being present. Under the law, police must cease the interrogation of a suspect once the suspect has requested counsel.
After Ms. Tillotson refused to yield, she was arrested and placed in a holding cell for an hour. In the meantime, the police inspector photographed and questioned her client and another man who did not have an attorney present.
The real question here is whether events like these are occurring more often, or rather that means of documenting such happenings are more abundant. It seems that nearly every day, we are faced with a new video of police overstepping their bounds and using their monopoly on force to take advantage of citizens across the country.
Even worse, it appears that the government is doing more to encourage and facilitate such abuses than to curb them. For example, in the Eric Garner case, it was the government who decided that selling untaxed cigarettes should be an offense worthy of arrest. By criminalizing so much, legislatures leave too much leeway for enforcement by police. Whether a certain law may be deemed frivolous or necessary, officers are left to enforce such regulations with whatever they deem to be the requisite tactics.
Just this month, the judiciary joined in granting more power to the police state as well. The Supreme Court ruled that when a police officer in good faith stops a vehicle for violating a nonexistent law, such a mistake gives rise to reasonable suspicion that justifies a traffic stop. Once stopped, an officer can ask the driver if he may search his vehicle. Additionally, if the officer thinks has reasonable suspicion to believe that some element used for the commissioning of a crime is inside of the car (like if he can smell marijuana), he may search without consent.
As mentioned, overcriminalization gives police the ability to pick and choose who they shall investigate and arrest. Too often, this leads to the disproportionate incarceration of the poorest Americans, many of them black and Hispanic. Because these citizens do not have the same means that the wealthiest do, they are left with few options when accused and charged with a crime.
The public defender system was devised for the very reason of protecting those who are already placed at a disadvantage. By manipulating and destroying this rare tool, governments are trampling upon the civil liberties and human rights that the Constitution is supposed to guarantee. We, as Americans, must stand up to such tyranny whenever it rears its head. Even if we as individuals may not yet have faced the consequences of an unchecked monolith of this kind, we must, by any means necessary, do our best to preserve and protect the liberty of every one of our fellow citizens.