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From the Editor

by Richard Resch

Welcome to Criminal Legal News (“CLN”). This issue of CLN has been circulated to a wide and diverse audience beyond the usual suspects, so many individuals who have received a copy may not be familiar with CLN, Prison Legal News, or the Human Rights Defense Center. Accordingly, I’d like to provide a brief overview of our publications and organization.

CLN is a monthly print and online publication focusing on individuals’ legal rights as they pertain to interactions with the criminal justice system. Specifically, CLN’s coverage includes, but is not limited to, state and federal criminal law and procedure, constitutional rights, police and prosecutorial misconduct, official abuse of power, habeas corpus relief, ineffective assistance of counsel, sentencing errors and reform, militarization of police, surveillance state, junk science, wrongful convictions, false confessions, witness misidentification, Brady violations, paid/incentivized informants, plea agreements, asset forfeiture, capital punishment, search and seizure, Miranda warnings, sex offender registries, post-release supervision and control, and due process rights.

Each issue of CLN features a cover story, expert legal commentary and analysis by a columnist, legal news articles, summaries of useful appellate court decisions, and News in Brief (short topical stories from around the country—from the sublime to the ridiculous). Each issue of CLN contains relevant, high-interest news stories about the criminal justice system and summaries of state and federal appellate court decisions, with the vast majority of content constituting the latter variety.

Our mission at CLN is to provide readers with practical legal information that can be used to challenge convictions, sentences, and conditions of release where warranted. The primary means of educating and informing readers is through coverage of state and federal appellate court decisions dealing with criminal law, procedure, and associated constitutional rights. We’re confident that the case law information we provide is of great value to anyone with an interest in the most recent developments in state and federal substantive criminal law and criminal procedure.

We believe that the breadth of our coverage is unique, in that we review every opinion issued by the highest appellate court in all 50 states, as well as from the 13 U.S. Courts of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court. CLN reports on every decision that implicates any of the issues we cover and meets our criteria for reporting, as follows: CLN reports on a decision if it (1) constitutes a win, in whole or in part, for the defendant; (2) announces a new rule of law; (3) expands, limits, modifies, or otherwise clarifies an existing rule of law; (4) involves a relevant issue of first impression; (5) provides usable information or guidance for our readers; or (6) is issued by the U.S. Supreme Court regardless of disposition. Finally, we also report on notable decisions from intermediate level state courts of appeal.    

For each decision, we provide the (1) essential facts; (2) applicable rules of law; (3) application and reasoning; and (4) court’s holding. We do our best to distill decisions down to these four essential elements for practical use by our readers. However, given the sheer number of cases upon which we report, please understand that we cover them within fairly rigid word count parameters, ranging from about 350 to 800 words, and we are summarizing appellate court decisions that often run several dozen pages in length. Consequently, while we have the utmost confidence in our coverage and treatment of each decision upon which we report, our summaries are, nevertheless, no substitute for reading the actual decisions themselves if they apply to your situation. 

In addition to reporting on the latest developments in criminal and constitutional case law, CLN provides unflinching and unapologetic coverage of criminal justice issues and news. There are no sacred cows at CLN; we critically examine and question everything and everyone associated with the criminal justice system.

For example, in this issue, we challenge the axiomatic belief that’s become deeply ingrained in police and popular culture but poses a clear and present danger to public safety, viz., that a police officer’s first priority is to go home to his or her family at the end of each shift. But is it? That belief inevitably leads many officers to develop a “shoot first and ask (or answer) questions later” mentality, which in turn frequently results in an unreasonable risk of injury to or even death of members of the general public.

If that genuinely is an officer’s ultimate priority, then everything else involved with being a police officer is subordinate, including taking reasonable and foreseeable risks that may place the officer in personal physical danger. But the assumption of a certain degree of risk to personal safety is an inherent, reasonable, and unavoidable aspect of being a police officer, much like it is with being a test pilot or stunt person. If you’re unwilling to assume that risk, then you have absolutely no business whatsoever being a test pilot, stunt person, or, far more importantly, a police officer. All three jobs are voluntary; no one is forced to do any of them. But if you choose to join any of those occupations, then you are also voluntarily choosing to accept the inherent risks that accompany it.

We report on a real world example of this intolerable risk-averse mentality by a Tennessee police officer in this issue’s News in Brief section. The officer tasered an 81-year-old woman who allegedly brandished a rake in a “threatening manner” and ambled towards him from a distance of about 50 feet, leaving him with a scant 14 seconds to react. The sheriff stands behind the decision, praising the officer because the only other options available, according to the sheriff, were to use lethal force or risk the officer’s own life. Really?

If this scenario constitutes a legitimate life and death situation in the mind of this officer and the sheriff, then the community would be better served and much safer without them on the force. If any situation involving even the slightest risk to an officer’s personal safety is viewed distortedly as presenting a binary choice between kill or be killed, which option do you suppose the officer will choose?

When police officers believe that their first priority is to make it home safely at the end of their shift, the acceptable degree of risk hovers around zero, and the public pays the price with elderly women clutching gardening tools getting tased or worse. 

Now, I’d like to talk briefly about our core philosophy. Call us wild-eyed optimists, but we at CLN don’t think it’s too much to ask of our police and prosecutors not to rape individuals in custody (or really anyone for that matter), brutalize or kill compliant suspects or members of the general public, plant or manufacture incriminating evidence, intentionally withhold exculpatory evidence from defendants, knowingly convict factually innocent people, and otherwise blatantly violate people’s constitutional rights, personal well-being, and human dignity.

So basically, we at CLN don’t believe it’s too much to demand that our police and prosecutors obey the law and follow the rules that they’ve sworn to uphold. Unfortunately, if the foregoing horrendous behaviors weren’t occurring with terrifying regularity all across the country, there would be no need for CLN. But they are, so here we are.

CLN is the latest project of the Human Rights Defense Center, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that zealously advocates, educates, and litigates on issues related to criminal defendants’ constitutional rights, especially on issues affecting individuals at all stages of the criminal justice system, from initial police-citizen encounter all the way through post-incarceration release.

The Human Rights Defense Center’s companion publication is Prison Legal News, which is widely recognized as the preeminent source of information and advocacy for prisoner rights, conditions of confinement, and associated legal issues. Between Criminal Legal News and Prison Legal News, every possible interaction with the criminal justice system is reported, analyzed, and exposed.

To those of you who haven’t already done so, “Stop resisting!” and subscribe to CLN today. 

As a digital subscriber to Criminal Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

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