From Radley Balko and Scott Greenfield comes the heartwarming tale of Florida Circuit Judge Joseph Will, who, while bound by Supreme Court precedent that the Constitution allows the police to lie to a citizen to gain entry to the citizen's home, is unwilling to take the word of an admitted liar.
The facts are simple enough. The Daytona Beach police department received an anonymous tip of drug activity at the home of the defendant. Two officers knocked at the door and were greeted by the defendant's elderly mother. An officer told her that they were there because of a "911 disconnect" and asked permission to enter the home to ensure the safety of the inhabitants.
You can guess the rest. The officer testified that of course the mother allowed him to ransack the defendant's dresser drawers, where he found drugs. The mother disagreed.
The parties agree that the search of the drawer was illegal if it was conducted without the consent of the mother. They also agree that the law actually permitted the officer to lie to the defendant's mother to gain access to the home. The defendant argues, though, that the police officer has significantly damaged his credibility by telling this lie. He urges the court to believe his mother – not the police officer – regarding the purported consent to search. If the court believes his mother to be the more credible of the two, the evidence must be suppressed.
What's astonishing is that the court took the mother's word over the officer's. The judge actually believed the word of an unimpeached citizen of good character, rather than that of an admitted liar wearing a blue uniform. This never happens.
In other words, the judge acknowledged that the officer is free to tell as many lies as he can when not under oath, but that doesn't mean the judge has to believe him when he is under oath. Hosanna! The system works! Your faith in government is justified.
Or is it? My joy on reading of one judge's rebellion against one of the most cynical rules our courts follow was deflated on reading this morning's decision by a higher court, the same United States Supreme Court that held it's perfectly acceptable for officers to lie and cheat to gain entry to your home, in which the Court held forth on what I'll call the Blutarsky doctrine.
"Hey man, you fucked up. You trusted us." – Senator John Blutarsky.
The taxpaying citizens of Indianapolis trusted their government to treat them fairly. Not only that, they trusted the Highest Court In The Land to treat them fairly.
They fucked up big time.
Back in 2001, the city of Indianapolis decided that it was going to install sewer lines in the Brisbane / Manning neighborhood, with or without the owners' consent.
In 2004 each of the Brisbane / Manning homeowners got a bill (a "tax" for the Court's purposes), for the cost of the new lines. Each was given the option to pay the "tax" up front as a lump sum, or to pay by installments up to thirty years with interest. Some paid up front, others took the installment plan.
In 2005 the city decided to change its bookkeeping procedures. The lucky homeowners who'd chosen the installment plan were told, because it would be a hassle to keep billing them under the old plan, that their "taxes" were forgiven. They would only have to pay one thirtieth of what their neighbors paid.
The unlucky homeowners, who'd paid up front, asked for a pro rata refund. The city's response?
Hey man, you fucked up. You trusted us.
Stung by the unfairness of a tax system where John Doe could be required to pay thirty times the amount paid by Jane Roe, the citizen-suckers sued. They took it all the way to the Supreme Court. And this morning, Justice Breyer, writing for himself and Justices Kennedy, Thomas, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan, delivered the Court's opinion:
Hey man, you fucked up. You trusted us.
The Court explained that even horrendously unfair tax schemes, in which one man can be required to pay thirty times what his neighbor pays for the same service, do not violate the Fourteenth Amendment so long as there is a rational basis for the government to discriminate.
The city offered several rational bases for keeping the money: first, that it had already been spent; second, that they just adopted this new billing system and it would be a major pain to cut refund checks for the suckers affected citizens; and third, that if Indianapolis had to give refunds to the folks in Barrett, other homeowners in other neighborhoods might want their money back. It was therefore rational, the city argued, for Indianapolis to deny refunds to citizens who'd taken the city at its word that the full tax would be collected because:
Hey man, they fucked up. They trusted us.
So celebrate all you want, prole, at your little triumph. A drug dealer got off scot-free because some bleeding heart liberal activist judicial tyrant refused to take the word of a sworn officer of the law. But remember that in Washington, where the policy gets made, it's considered perfectly rational for the government to lie to you, and to cheat you, at every opportunity.
Because hey man, you keep fucking up. You trust them.
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