Due Process includes law enforcement officers
The Fifth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States proclaims that no one shall be “deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law.” The Fourteenth Amendment, ratified in 1868, uses the same exact words, called the Due Process Clause, to describe a legal obligation of all states. The standard of due process applies not only to criminal law, but has become an essential part of civil actions and even administrative proceedings regarding employee, student or membership disputes. However, with the advent of social media, this vital constitutional right is being violated to appease the throngs of those who, on both sides of the political spectrum, thrive on forced outrage and seek a “head of a pike” for every person they “feel” has wronged them or their cause.
Consider the outrage that rightfully surfaced after documentaries were produced about the West Memphis Three and the Steven Avery case in Wisconsin. If a citizen is wrongfully denied their due process, it has intense legal ramifications and creates a strong public outcry. However, if that citizen is employed as a law enforcement officer, current public opinion seems to believe the opposite is true.
Recently, Keith Lamont Scott was killed by police officers in Charlotte, NC. Scott, who had a restraining order against him by his wife, prior convictions for assault with a deadly weapon and has served more than eight years in Texas for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and evading arrest; was shot by Charlotte Police officers when he stepped out of a vehicle with a stolen .380 Colt pistol. Regardless of the fact that Scott was armed at the time of the shooting, the firearm with his prints was recovered from the scene, he was physically wearing the ankle holster for the weapon when he was shot, and the wife who claimed he was unarmed and “assassinated” by the police filed a restraining order against him one year before where she claims he carried a gun; protests turning into riots broke out across Charlotte in Scott’s name in the days following his shooting. When the groups responsible for the protest, including Black Lives Matter and several political leaders, were asked what could be done to stop the protests and riots in the community; they all demanded that the Charlotte Police release all the evidence surrounding Scott’s death to the media.
These loud demands escalated to the presidential campaign, where even democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton tweeted:
“Charlotte should release police video of the Keith Lamont Scott shooting without delay. We must ensure justice & work to bridge divides. –H”.
What Sec. Clinton should know, given the fact that she is a Yale Law School graduate, is that releasing evidence before the investigation is closed and the case has (if necessary) gone in front of a Grand Jury would taint the jury pool and rob the officers involved of their right to due process. Members of the law enforcement community are, just like those they arrest, citizens of this nation. As citizens, they are entitled to the same rights as any other American.
When news surfaced that Marilyn Mosby, the Maryland State’s Attorney for Baltimore City, indicted six Baltimore Police Officers for the death of Freddie Gray before the investigation was completed and with edited/incomplete investigative notes presented to the Grand Jury, it was an example as to how even members of the legal community have no problem of depriving law enforcement officers of their right to due process. Like Charlotte, Riots broke out in Baltimore following the death of Gray, which prompted public officials to circumvent the firth and fourteenth amendment rights of the officers involved. In Baltimore, it was the hasty and arguably unlawful indictment of six police officers, many of whom are suing the city and state’s attorney. In Charlotte, it’s the releasing of sensitive police body camera footage, which ensures that the tactical, or plain clothes, officers involved can never work in an undercover capacity again, and did little to quell the angry mobs that were calling for them to be arrested and fired all week.
If the tables were turned and the police or prosecutor released key evidence in a case against a civilian, then what liability would exist if a suspect was exonerated after their name and face plastered all over the media? It would likely result in a major lawsuit. What is needed is for our public leaders to have the political courage and intestinal fortitude to educate the public as to the need for due process to apply to everyone, as well as a more urgent need to put the ongoing conspiracy theories to bed and trust the meticulous process in which these incidents are investigated.
Mannes is a national subject matter expert in public safety and regular contributor to The Hill. He serves as a member of the Pierce College Criminal Justice Studies Advisory Board in Philadelphia and is a Governor on the Executive Board of InfraGard, the FBI-coordinated public-private partnership for critical infrastructure protection. Follow him on Twitter@PublicSafetySME
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