On October 22nd, I published a blog post expressing my thoughts on what a person should do when approached by the police. After much thought and deliberation, I feel the need to clarify the intent of that post.
I grew up wanting to be a police officer. For as long as I can remember, that’s what I wanted to be. As a child and adolescent, I watched The Rookies and Adam 12 religiously. After high school, I joined the Marine Corps and was honored and thrilled to become a military police (MP) officer. After being honorably discharged from the Marine Corps, I went to college, graduating from Eastern Kentucky University with a Bachelor of Science in Police Administration. I had every intention of pursuing a career in law enforcement and viewed police work as a calling – a profession that requires integrity, courage and an undying sense of morality. I still do.
Even so, I recognize that as in any profession, there is something I refer to as the “10 percent rule.”
In brief, it goes like this: “an estimated 10 percent of people in any profession bring down its effectiveness, its purpose and its reputation.” This applies to teachers, doctors, mechanics, lawyers and yes, to law enforcement officers. There are no exceptions. As stringent as the hiring process for law enforcement is, the 10 percent always slip through. And that is one of the reasons criminal defense lawyers are so important. Not only do we represent you – as provided for in the Constitution – we also help guard against the damage the “10 percenters” can do.
After graduating from college, I entered law school with the objective of becoming a prosecutor. I intentionally clerked in a prosecutor’s office while in school. I did everything I knew to do to become a prosecutor. However, despite assurances that I would be hired and for reasons beyond my control of which I am still not certain (although I have always suspected that politics played a role), I was not hired. As a result, I ended up clerking for a criminal defense lawyer while I studied for the bar exam. After passing the bar, I opened my own legal practice in Louisville, focusing on criminal defense. That led me to where I am today, with 23 years of experience as a defense attorney. As one might imagine, I’ve seen pretty much anything and everything. Nothing surprises me.
In that context, I think I’m like most Americans: I have the utmost respect for law enforcement officers and the necessary role they play in our society. At the same time, I firmly believe that the most important right any person has is their liberty. Nothing is more important. I also firmly believe that law enforcement and the judicial system are constitutionally charged as the gatekeepers of that right. As such, they have an awesome and undeniable responsibility to “get it right.” And getting it right is the key to preserving individual liberty. So you can ask any police officer, judge or prosecutor I have dealt with and they will tell you that I do not subscribe to the belief that police are the enemy.
It is a fact that most people who are arrested and prosecuted are guilty. As a former (military) law enforcement officer and one-time aspiring prosecutor, I believe our society must deal with those people and justice must be served. However, innocent people are sometimes arrested, prosecuted, found guilty and locked up. We all know it happens.
So while I believe the vast majority of police officers do their jobs properly and with the highest degree of integrity, I am also realistic and experienced enough to know that there is a small group, the 10 percent, of law enforcement officers who don’t act properly and don’t play by the rules. My job is to protect the interests and constitutional rights of the accused, whether they are guilty or not, and to ensure that the law treats them fairly. After all, the criminal justice system is designed as a system of checks and balances to ensure that all the “actors” perform their jobs as they are supposed to. It’s really as simple as that.
After my last blog post appeared on Facebook, a member of the law enforcement community commented several times in defense of the police. He took my comments out of context and mischaracterized them. My sense is that he either didn’t read the entire post or he saw what he wanted to see and ran with it. Clearly, he took exception to what I said, and I respect his right to do so. But I know what I said, I know what I believe, and I therefore did not respond, except to clarify what I actually said and meant. So I will not take back or apologize for my belief – based on my own experiences and those of many others – that some – I repeat SOME – law enforcement officers violate the 4th Amendment, the 5th Amendment, the 6th Amendment and lie to suspects in order to “do their jobs.” To deny that is to deny the truth and reality. To say so does not mean I think badly of all, or even most, police officers.
As stated above, the actions of the 10 percent of law enforcement are the actions that get the most attention. The same can be said of 10 percent of criminal lawyers. I am convinced that the system works properly the vast majority of the time: That law enforcement, prosecutors, defense attorneys and the courts all want – and work tirelessly – to get it right. However, ours is an adversarial system where everyone represents their own competing interests. And that is paramount to reaching the desired result: Determining the truth and ensuring that everyone – defendant and victim alike – is protected under the constitution, criminal statutes and the judicial system.
The system fails any time an innocent person’s liberty is taken because of corruption (by anyone), inept representation, inept prosecution or inept judges. One such case is one too many. This would not happen in a perfect world, a world in which we don’t have the 10 percent. But the world is not perfect.
The American judicial system stands supreme in the world. In spite of its flaws, it is much better than any other system. What makes it great is the freedom we have to challenge authority, to protect the rights of the accused, and to seek truth and justice in EVERY case. Everyone in law enforcement and the legal system has an obligation to do their part to keep it that way, to protect life and liberty for everyone.
If you’ve been arrested or contacted by the police, call me at 859-255-0050. I’ll make sure everything is done right. If it isn’t or hasn’t been, I will find out and work vigorously to defend you and protect your liberty and constitutional rights.
Like you, I have been in this system for going on 30 years. Because we are long time friends you know that I have served as a Prosecutor, Judge, and defense attorney. Every week, I shake my head because of conduct of the 10% you speak of. I was chosen as Prosecutor of the Year in Jefferson County because I worked closely with police officers as a prosecutor. I respect the job they are called upon to perform and the unique and ofter ugly side of like they see. Many of the officers have become my dearest friends. But there is a number, close to the 10% you speak, who abuse their unique powers, violate rights of the guilty and innocent alike, and sometimes threaten the lives of their fellow officers by their actions. Most officers are attracted to police work because they, like you, believe police work is one of the highest callings of public service. I wish we could focus on this group and the many acts of courage and kindness they offer. Sadly, as in our own profession, the 10% threaten the lives and work of the 90%. Your comments were correct and insightful.
So proud to know YOU CHRIS !! & believe AS you DO.