Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Screwing the Pooch: The Later Years

Wellllll, Dear Gentle Reader(s), the Soul-selling by the Republican Party in 2000 is still lurking and ready to bite just about everyone on the posterior.

The New York Times reports today that the Supreme Court of the U.S. has just given official record keepers a green light to do sloppy work. 

Some schnook was arrested, tried, and convicted on the basis of an outstanding arrest warrant which had been withdrawn but not purged from the relevant computer system.

Granted, a guy who was doing the wrong thing was caught and punished, but the manner of the “catch” is what should concern us.

This should concern us:

“When police mistakes leading to an unlawful search are the result of isolated negligence attenuated from the search, rather than systemic error or reckless disregard of constitutional requirements, the exclusionary rule does not apply,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote in an opinion joined by Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr.


The vote was 5-4.  Here’s a point in dissent reported by the Times:

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter and Stephen G. Breyer dissented. “In my view, the court’s opinion underestimates the need for a forceful exclusionary rule and the gravity of recordkeeping errors in the law enforcement…Negligent recordkeeping errors by law enforcement threaten individual liberty, are susceptible to deterrence by the exclusionary rule, and cannot be remedied effectively through other means,” Justice Ginsburg wrote.

The majority has ruled, in effect, that there is no compelling reason to avoid “recordkeeping errors,” hasn’t it?  It isn’t hard to imagine the mischief which this ruling could cause.

To start, “purged” arrest warrants could be deliberately left in the system for years under the guise of insufficient personnel to clear the backlog.  And that comes without much thought.  An ingenious mind could come up with many reasons to delay purging computer systems.  Further, since so many computers have so much information about our lives at hand, what “recordkeeping errors” by other governmental entities might be brought to bear on 4th Amendment issues?

Thanks, Republican Party and the 2000 Supreme Court.  The damage done to the body politic will long endure. 

For certain, it will last long past next Tuesday.

Trust, but verify—even the Supreme Court. (Alas)


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