Steve's Soapbox

Friday, October 21, 2005

Brownwood & Brown County Law Enforcement, Bulletin Reporter Steve Nash and Civil Rights

Thursday October 20, 2005
Brownwood Bulletin
Op Ed: Columnists

An individual’s rights are more important than any one case — Steve Nash

When Brownwood defense attorney Rudy Taylor got evidence thrown out in a drug case in another county, even his family questioned his action.
Taylor had filed court papers arguing that police had conducted an illegal search and seizure when they found drugs. A judge agreed, and the prosecution dismissed the case against the defendant — Taylor’s client — who went free.
Taylor said the questioning from his family made it a “soul-searching kind of issue” for him, but then he rephrased it as forcing him to validate the philosophy he developed in law school.
“My response is, that this is bigger than any one case,” he said. “It’s about protecting all of our rights in the long run. We’re the checks and balances to law enforcement.”
If defendants’ constitutional protections are violated, he said, “what would be the consequences to my law-abiding family?”
“If you don’t find your voice, your philosophical voice, where your heart really is ... how do you explain yourself?” Taylor asked. “How do you feel good about your job?”
Over the course a couple of weeks, I had several conversations with Taylor on this topic, and they began when he told me about his case in the other county, which is outside the 35th Judicial District.
Taylor said that one of the officers involved in that case has been a problem child who, he said, has a history of violating suspect’s constitutional rights. I asked him if he thinks law enforcement officials in Brown County violate defendants’ rights. If it happens, he said, it’s not on purpose, and it’s not systemic.
“Actually I think (law enforcement) does a good job here,” he said. “They’re not lazy. Police officers are well-trained, and they know what’s legal and what’s not. I don’t see a chronic problem of blatant civil rights violations or constitutional rights (violations). In the heat of battle, honest mistakes can be made.
“ ... They play by the rules. You can find mistakes in every case, just about. There’s usually something we can find to question that warrants further research, because (constitutional case law) is such a technical area of the law. I think (law enforcement is) ... has a real determination to provide the DA’s office with a solid case.”
Sheriff Bobby Grubbs and Brownwood Police Lt. Bill Stirman agreed that mistakes can be made during an investigation, but said their departments won’t tolerate intentional mistakes.
“Any time you’ve got the human factor involved, you’ve got the opportunity and potential for mistakes to be made,” Stirman said.
“The level of competency here (in law enforcement) is extremely high,” Assistant District Attorney Perry Sims said, noting that lawmen do their jobs “with integrity and the desire to do the right thing.”
I didn’t follow all of Taylor’s legal explanations from the case in which evidence was tossed out; after all, I am not a lawyer (nor do I play one on TV).
He talked about the “plain view doctrine,” the “fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine” and the “exclusionary rule.” He referred to the Fourth Amendment and the Texas Bill of Rights, Section 9. “These two are the ones that say people shall be safe in their homes ...”
Taylor said he’s not gloating over his success in having the evidence tossed, which, in effect, freed the defendant.
He spoke carefully and deliberately when he mentioned his client. “I’ve got to be very careful here because I represent this guy ... if (police) had made a proper search warrant and proper search, he would’ve gone to prison,” Taylor said.
“My job as a criminal defense attorney is to make sure that the checks and balances set forth in the U.S. Constitution and the Texas Constitution are applied to every case. Without that, we would revert back to the days of Nazi Germany and storm troopers who could go and kick in doors of innocent people.
“Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Without checks and balances, police could decide they don’t like you or me and manufacture evidence.”
Perhaps a month has elapsed since Taylor’s court victory in the suppression of evidence hearing. He said he has no regrets.
“I’m really not soft on crime. Generally speaking, we have fair laws in this country. I am a strict law advocate. On the other hand, I am a strict constitutional rights advocate. They counterbalance each other.”
Brown County has a “very tough” DA, Taylor said, but noted that Sims and District Attorney Micheal Murray “absolutely” have integrity and follow the rules.
“It is the duty of every attorney to ethically represent each client within the bounds of the law,” Sims said, referring to prosecutors and defense attorneys.
“The prosecutor’s duty is to see justice is done — not just retribution for the victim, but that laws are abided by.
“The thing that should be the determining factor should be the law and the constitution. If my client (the State of Texas) has done something I perceive to be inappropriate, I don’t proceed with the case.”
Steve Nash writes his column in the Brownwood Bulletin on Thursdays. He may be reached by e-mail at .
"The Criminal Justice system in Texas is so cracked it makes an armadillo look smooth" Dallas Morning News Editorial

Note from Steve: For some people, it's "somewhere else" where civil rights violations take place !