The City of Jackson has made local headlines over the past year for hiring more law enforcement officers to help in patrolling the streets of the capital city. Most residents’ first reaction is positive. The higher the police presence, the lower the crime rate, right?
Not even close.
Without proper planning and supervision, law enforcement officers who are employed for the sole purpose of saturating a certain geographical location are at an extremely high risk of potentially abusing police authority. With officers being constantly pressured to make arrests, some may take shortcuts which compromise due process.
While in Jackson Municipal Court last week, I saw more and more cases of potential abuses of authority. My client was at home one night when he heard a knock on his door. An officer asked if he knew whose vehicle was parked in the street. My client went outside to see what vehicle the officer was asking about. While talking about the car, the officer asked my client if he had anything to drink that night. My client answered yes because he was not travelling anywhere that night. Before he knew what was going on, the officer arrested him for being “drunk in public” under Mississippi Code Annotated §97-29-47. He was then handcuffed, taken to the Jackson Detention Center, and was forced to bond himself out of jail that night.
The problems with this arrest are obvious. My client was only outside his home because he was attempting to assist law enforcement.
Also, the statute my client allegedly violated states, “If any person shall…be drunk in any public place, in the presence of two (2) or more persons, he shall be fined…or be imprisoned in the county jail not more than thirty (30) days or both.” The defendant MUST be in the presence of two or more people. Nothing in the police report proved that my client was in the presence of anyone – except the officer.
On the trial date, the officer failed to show up. The city prosecutor requested a continuance, and I argued the charge should be dismissed. After taking a look at the file, the Judge announced the case was dismissed and we were free to go.
Under normal circumstances, Judges almost always grant continuances for the prosecution when the officer does not show up for a trial date. In this instance, the Judge simply was not going to allow this case to drag on when it was obvious my client had done nothing wrong.
Over-saturating an area with police officers obviously raises the police presence in a community. Running recruits through the fast lane when it comes to training not only has the potential for violating citizens’ rights, but this process also places law enforcement officers at risk. Proper training is vital for everyone involved in the process.
When I left the courthouse that day, I wondered: Did the officer simply forget the court date he was given, or did he know that he made an unlawful arrest and was too ashamed to face my client and the judge?
On another note, my client has this arrest on his record now, and I will go through the process of expungement since the case was dismissed. Do not forget that any time someone is arrested, that arrest stays on their record unless they have it properly expunged.
Eric Brown Criminal Defense Attorney Jackson Resident
Disclaimer: This blog is intended as general information purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Anyone with a legal problem should consult a lawyer immediately.