People often ask how a defense attorney could do his or her job. All too often, people see defense lawyers as the people who are trying to help the "bad guys get away with it." But in reality, our justice system could not function without lawyers who are willing to fight against unpopular opinion to ensure that true justice is upheld. Our job is not to help anyone "get away with" a crime, but it is to ensure that the police and prosecutors are doing their job. We uphold the constitutional rights of defendants, and we strive to make sure that no innocent man or woman is convicted because of a failure of justice.
One North Carolina defense lawyer is making the news after a Twitter "rant" in which he explains just how easily the justice system can fail, particularly when the defendant is up against an unethical law officer or prosecutor.
In the case described by attorney T. Greg Doucette, a 17-year-old black teenager was arrested and charged with "reckless driving to endanger" after a neighbor called to report that the teen was doing "doughnuts" in the street and nearly struck the caller's wife.
In his report, the arresting officer stated that "skid marks show clear 360 degree circles" in the street, but that the teen said he was merely swerving to avoid a cat.
Despite the young man's protestations of innocence, those "clear 360 degree circles" were sufficient evidence of the teen's reckless driving. He was arrested and charged.
Fortunately for the teen, his mother believed him and was distrustful of the officer. She went to take photographs of the scene, and among the photos was a clear image of the skid marks (shown above).
Those skid marks do not show "clear 360 degree circles" that the arresting officer claims to have seen. Instead, they show parallel skid marks that veer to the right as if a driver were swerving to avoid hitting an animal--not doing doughnuts in the street.
When the attorney presented the photograph the district attorney quickly dismissed the case. Unfortunately, this happened after a teen was frightened and had his trust in law enforcement destroyed and a family had to bear the expense of hiring a lawyer to defend against an arrest that never should have happened. The case was dismissed, but what would have happened had the teen's mother not thought to take pictures of the scene?
Unfortunately, a number of high profile cases have led to increased distrust of law enforcement, and this is really a shame. Most police officers are good men and women trying to do their jobs and uphold their duty to serve and protect the public. But some feel that they themselves are above the law, and make arrests based on assumption and personal bias rather than facts. Even worse, some, like Daniel Holtzclaw, abuse their badge and authority by victimizing the very people they are sworn to protect. When justice fails in this way, it makes the job harder for the good officers who are treated with suspicion in light of the actions of bad cops.
Read the entire text of Doucette's 43-tweet rant about racial bias in law enforcement here.
Image credit: T. Greg Doucette (@greg_doucette)