By Stephen Owsinski
The rituals kept by law enforcement officers vary. It is the nature of “The Job.” Some factors are recommended. For example, keeping your agency-issued firearm in top-notch condition is wise. However, other features of being a law enforcement practitioner are mandated, such as court appearances. The subpoenas arrive at duty stations…and LEOs answer the call, often begrudgingly, but with good reason. Our court system may have imperfections…and cops know them well.
Let’s look at five things cops hate about appearing in court, including the players…
Subpoenas when off duty: With traffic enforcement cases, police may select the court date (if mandated by the infraction). Otherwise, court clerks choose court appearance dates. Like a cruel conspiracy, however, it often seems as if clerks pick court days when cops are “off duty.” The subpoenas arrive and, sure enough, your well-deserved “down time” just became court time. An-noy-ing.
If a court date coincides with your already-booked vacay with the family, the task of re-arranging either the court appearance or your personal time (ahem) can be a pain in the hiney.
Traffic cases: The cat-and-mouse shenanigans that are typically played out in traffic court can be a mix of frustration and silliness. The scenario: you walk in to the court room, citation recipients turn their heads in unison, and the majority seem happy it is you…and not the LEO who issued their ticket. The old if-the-cop-doesn’t-show-then-I-beat-this-ticket routine, played out time and again. Defendants roll the dice.
The alternate ploy? When you do show up, defendant has a sudden change of heart and wishes to render a plea. Cops suit up and take the drive to court, their time wasted by the games of others. The system has its pitfalls…
Judges: Our robed counterparts can sometimes seem to defy logic. When it comes to cases which have slam-dunk convictions written all over them, the person on the bench can throw a mean curveball or spitball at times. Whether it be a traffic or criminal case, and your testimony has definitely sewed up any loose ends, seeing defendants walk with nothing more than a slap on the wrist can be frustrating. “Umm, did my testimony somehow fall on deaf ears?”
Well, a hungry belly or a sleepy judge may be the deciding factor.
In 2011, the Pacific Standard published results of a research study conducted by professors at the Columbia Business School. Researchers found that judges are more prone to grant lighter sentences or honor parole requests after they take a break and/or consume a meal. Another study (2013) published in RTE News found that judges are “more lenient when drugs and alcohol are involved” in manslaughter cases, ruling for reduced sentences.
The repetition and findings can be disheartening for cops. The hard work and investments of time on behalf of LEOs can be easily unraveled by the person who dons a black robe, especially after eating and powernapping. (Likely, the cops wait it out in the courtroom. Extra burden on the midnight-shift LEOs. Like a caboose, back there somewhere, following the lead.)
Revolving door: It seems too often that the scales of justice lean towards granting probation and other intervention-based programs. So many defendants get to walk free…while police officers return to duty and come back to fight another day. And another. Then another. After a while, many cops can candidly say, “I watched that guy [defendant] grow up. Here we are again, and he walks!”
In 2011, the United States Office of National Drug Control Policy said statistics indicate that, of state prisoners, “53 percent had at least three prior sentences to probation or incarceration” and that “drug dependent or abusing state prisoners (48 percent) were also more likely than other inmates (37 percent) to have been on probation or parole supervision at the time of their arrest.”
Yeah, the process and its regulars…they come and go.
Defense attorneys: Yes, they have a role to play and a responsibility to their clients. It is a part of the judicial system. A cog in the big machine. A component of Constitutional due process! But, must criminal defense lawyers play the part of a blood-thirsty hammerhead shark, exploiting the process by badgering the cops?
Well, according to the U.S. Supreme Court in United States v Wade (1967), they have the right. The Supreme Court justices explained, “Defense counsel has no obligation to present the truth. If he can confuse a witness, even a truthful one, or make him appear unsure or indecisive, that will be his normal course.” Does it suck? Yes. Can defense attorneys be dealt with? Yep, because police officials are smart enough to stick to the facts, maintain integrity, and exhibit police professionalism. It’s a power play…so just play well.
Although the court system can seem perverse and be irritating at times, at least you have your character and integrity to stand tall and do your part as a LEO.