By John Maki
March 14, 2006
Mr. David Hanger's viewpoint speaks of the law in Ketchikan. Later in his letter he gets a little more specific and I think he is referring to an incident that happened in the borough a few years ago and the Waterman Case from Prince of Wales Island. These were not City of Ketchikan cases.
The United States Supreme Court along with individual states recognizes a thing called Choice of Evils. Committing a small evil is justified to prevent a greater one or in the interest of a greater Good. Choosing one "evil" over another is sometimes a part of our everyday life: "Dear, do I look fat in this dress?" (Lie, die or be married to a saint)
The law takes the choice of evils concept and turns it into a defense. It's OK to punch someone in the nose if it is done in self-defense.
Ninety-nine percent of the time officers must be totally honest in their dealings with the public but there are a couple of exceptions. An undercover cop, to do an effective job, has to be really good in his/her deception, looking and talking the part, using subterfuge and lying in the interest of the greater public good. It's hard to get large amounts of drugs off the street any other way.
Due Process means following the rules. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that lying to try to gain the truth is permissible in serious cases. Making someone believe that law enforcement has more information than it actually does is a tactic that is sometimes used as an investigative tool to arrive at the truth, and in the interest of justice. What matters is whether a confession is voluntary and reveals the truth.
The Judge in the Waterman Case used her knowledge of statutes and of case law (previously decided cases) to reach her conclusions. Another judge might have reached a different conclusion. The Justice System we have sets up checks and balances called the appeal process. Her ruling can be overruled by a higher court (Appellate) that; in turn, could be set aside by the Alaska Supreme Court. Then it could go on to the Federal system, where ultimately, the U. S. Supreme Court could decide the matter. In a tie, four to four vote, one Supreme Court justice has the authority to change a case, law and history, and even then, mistakes can be made. (Goggle Dred Scott)
Among the hats that officers must wear is that of legal scholar. Without the benefit of law school, legal and ethical decisions made in an instant by officers may be scrutinized by a prosecutor (before even accepting a case to prosecute), a judge and by a jury. They can take all the time they want.
I don't jump to a conclusion that the officers conducting the interview of Rachelle Waterman erred, or in any way tried to deprive her of her Constitutional Rights. I would rather think they tried as best they could to seek truth and justice. If they and many others did not strongly believe in guilt beyond a reasonable doubt of the suspect, there would not have been a trial.
Lying to a suspect or possibly
getting away with murder or other hideous crime: Which is the
lesser of two evils?
About: John Maki is the Deputy
Chief of Police in Ketchikan and previously directed and taught
law courses in a Police Academy in Colorado.
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Sitnews.