Posted by: Cortillaen | 06/16/2009

The Law Is Broken

A central point in the plot of an episode of The Equalizer (which you should check out if you haven’t seen it before) got me thinking about a problem in our legal system.  In the episode, a man is trying to take revenge on two men who raped and beat (with a lead pipe) his pregnant wife, leaving her in a coma.  The point catching my attention was that these men had all charges dismissed against them due to the search that turned up the murder weapon in their vehicle being based on a recently-vacated warrant.  Unfortunately, this sort of event, criminals being released after technicalities void evidence against them, is entirely too common in this country.   My question is this:  Why does our legal system ignore reality?  Evidence should not be dismissed as though it does not exist simply because it was acquired in an illegal act or breach of rights.  It still exists, it still serves to prove something, and tossing it aside on a technicality no more serves justice than vigilantes taking the law into their own hands.

Is there any reason for this sort of foolishness?  One answer might be that the unlawful action against the criminal(s) requires redress, and I fully agree with the sentiment.  However, disregarding very real evidence is not the way to deal with another breach of law or rights.   The old saw “Two wrongs do not a right make,” comes to mind, though in a somewhat unconventional manner.  How is letting a criminal run amok a deserving response to another wrong act?  Have we decided that the best punishment for law enforcement officers breaking the rules is to inflict injustice on the rest of society by rendering the criminal actions of others untouchable?  I can’t accept that reasoning any more than I could accept that of flogging an entire group to punish a single member’s actions.  There are other options.

How do we deal with the infringement of other rights?   If someone breaches another person’s right to free speech, we don’t respond by silencing counterpoint to the wronged person (though some might certainly like to change that).  The transgressors themselves are punished, not the uninvolved people around them.  Perhaps there is already something like this, but why not make a criminal offense in the vein of “Abuse of Power” to encompass unauthorized searches and seizures and punish whoever was involved in them?  Let the evidence stand and be used to further a justice based in reality, and punish the actual wrongdoers instead of inflicting further wrongs on society.  Would not justice be better served like this?

In addition to preventing the release of criminals on technicalities, the change would have two not inconsiderable benefits.  The first is that the technicalities themselves would disappear, streamlining the court process and diminishing the influence of loophole-trained lawyers.  Second, and perhaps more importantly, a law enforcement officer, seeing no way to lawfully obtain evidence against a heinous criminal, could sacrifice his career and possibly part of his future to unlawfully obtain the evidence needed to prosecute said criminal.  One would expect this to be exceedingly rare, but it is not inconceivable that an officer of the law might make that sacrifice if, for example, it was the only way to prevent a serial killer from being set free to take more lives.

What is the purpose of the law?  It exists to enforce justice.  That in mind, the law is failing in its duty if it lets these criminals run free because of the wrongful actions of others.  To any readers, do you have a better way to deal with this problem?  Maybe you don’t think there is a problem or that the current system is better than any alternatives.  Perhaps I’ve missed something or overlooked another angle that might change the entire issue, and you can correct me.  Whatever it is, I’d like to hear what you have to say on the subject.  The comments are, as always, very much open.



  1. “Second, and perhaps more importantly, a law enforcement officer, seeing no way to lawfully obtain evidence against a heinous criminal, could sacrifice his career and possibly part of his future to unlawfully obtain the evidence needed to prosecute said criminal.”

    Every officer I’ve ever known who worked undercover carried an item which would serve as evidence in the event that things went bad *rapidly*, and more than one had occasion to introduce that item to what then became a crime scene. The action was tacitly accepted by his fellow officers so long as it was unobserved and occurred in a manner in which *justice* would be served — and, unfortunately, in many situations, justice and the law are at polar opposites…

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