Once again, it's time for an edition of Ask Popehat! Ordinarily Derrick answers your questions, along with a guest writer, but this week Derrick is engaged in a high profile secret mission for the government, so he's asked Patrick to fill in. We're proud to welcome a recognized expert in law enforcement, Maricopa County, Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, as this week's guest columnist.
Welcome to ASK POPEHAT!
I am an editor for the Columbia Journalism Review, and have recently taken a prestigious position as lead writer of the Crime blog for the well-known web publication Slate, the Internet's leading journal of politics, business, and the arts. Recently I’ve received a lot of emails from readers asking what, exactly, you should do if you find yourself in a supposedly consensual conversation with an officer of the law. Apparently a lot of innocent, non-suspicious-looking people have been or expect to be pressured into gratuitous interactions with the police. Although I am not an attorney, I am a journalist, and my work has been endorsed by Professors of Constitutional Law. So I answered, quite sensibly, that you’re under no obligation to talk with a police officer in non-investigatory situations, and you shouldn’t be intimidated into feeling otherwise. (And to be clear, I’m not talking about those times when a cop stops you for speeding, or jaywalking, or stealing an old woman’s purse. In scenarios like these, when there’s reasonable suspicion that you’ve done something wrong, you’re obliged to cooperate, and refusal to comply may lead to your arrest.)
Recently some have complained that my considered journalistic advice, that those suspected of committing crimes should always cooperate the police, is wrong. I'll be the first to admit I'm not a lawyer, but I am a journalist, and so I feel that my opinion carries a great deal of weight in these matters. Was I wrong to advise readers under suspicion of crime that they should always cooperate with the police?
New York, NY
I'm afraid you were wrong, and rather badly so at that. You've advised your readers that when confronted by police, they should waive their constitutional rights against unreasonable search and seizure, to remain silent when questioned by the police, and to the assistance of counsel. These rights, among others, are enshrined in the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments to the Constitution. You've probably heard of some of these rights on television, in the so-called "Miranda" warning that television policemen give to actors playing suspects on popular shows like "Adam Twelve" and "Cops!" Unfortunately, the police don't always give these warnings when they should, and even more unfortunately, many Americans are unaware that they have these rights. In your small way, you've contributed to this confusion and ignorance.
Fortunately, it's not too late to undo the damage, assuming that none of Slate's readers have followed your advice. If I were you, I'd ask my editors to take down the entire column, so that it's never found through a Google search, and replace it with an appreciation, hopefully written by a practicing criminal defense attorney rather than an academic, of great cases such as Mapp v. Ohio, Gideon v. Wainwright, and Escobedo v. Illinois.
Please do it soon, before the column you wrote sends someone to prison or worse.
I appreciate the burden you're under, writing week in and week out on the sordid subject of crime. I myself know a thing or two about crime, being the nemesis of all evil in Maricopa County. I could tell you some stories if ever you come to visit us.
But I am happy to inform you that your advice was entirely correct. I don't pretend to know much about the Constitution. I leave that to law professors and judges. But I do know that every citizen, guilty or innocent, has an absolute moral duty to cooperate at all times with the police as we seek to root out the evil of crime. If only more citizens shared your public-spirited values of honesty and openness when dealing with the authorities, our labors would be lessened, and our streets would be safer.
In fact, I'd go further. It is my personal belief that when a criminal suspect bares his soul to a law enforcement officer, the burden on his soul is lightened as much as it would be by confession before a holy priest. After all, isn't the Sheriff's Department, from the interrogation room to the detention area, a Temple of Justice? We've all heard of the guilty man tortured by his silence, whose conscience is cleansed when he tells the truth.
In closing, I appreciate the good work you've done, Justin. I'd like you to go on spreading the good news that the policeman is here to help. And please let your readers know that in most cases, an officer of the law is a suspect's best friend. I can't tell you how many times the judges in our county have deviated a sentence downward on my word that the guilty defendant had a friendly and cooperative attitude during interrogation.
Your in Truth,
Sheriff Joe Arpaio,
Maricopa County, Arizona.
Next week, Clark and and special guest writer Paul Krugman will debate the pros and cons of eliminating the outdated constitutional requirement that revenue bills originate in the House of Representatives, at the request of reader B.