Due process protections should cut both ways

It has been amusing to see how police unions have reacted to the recent actions by prosecutors to charge police officers with crimes. They whine that the prosecutors are rushing to judgment because of public protests, that police are not being given the benefit of the doubt or the presumption of innocence, and that accused officers are not getting their due process rights.

Take this comment by the president of Houston’s Police Union, Ray Hunt who says that police are worried by recent developments

“There is a mood among some in this country that the police are going to be wrong unless proven right,” Hunt says.

And police see a connection between that public mood and the decision by an elected prosecutor in Baltimore to charge six officers.

Traditionally, prosecutors and grand juries have given American police the benefit of the doubt — and Hunt says that’s as it should be.

“You have to give the person the benefit of the doubt whenever they don’t have the videos and the several days to look at facts to make a decision,” he says. “And sometimes they have to make split-second decisions.”

He says he hopes elected prosecutors will continue to see it that way. But he says the case in Baltimore looks like a bad precedent.

“For someone to get indicted for a very high charge — a criminal charge — for something that may simply be negligent is very alarming to us,” Hunt says.

Their pleas would be more credible were it not for the fact that police are the ones who have shown little or no regard for the presumption of innocence or the due process rights of the people they harass and assault and even kill, as long as those people are poor and of color. In fact, more than 90 people were killed by police in the month of April alone. But as soon as they themselves become the targets, they become champions of the constitution and civil liberties.

Of course police officers deserve all the protections that the constitution affords. But so does everyone else. What they don’t seem to appreciate is that as representatives of the law, they are under a greater obligation than ordinary people to know those rights and to see that those rights are protected for everyone. If they want sympathy for the view that the protections of the constitution must apply to themselves, they need to show that they are willing to extend them to those whom they deal with too.


  1. machintelligence says

    If you want a longer screed with plenty of references visit the Popehat blog. Not that there is anything wrong with the above.

  2. says

    police are not being given the benefit of the doubt or the presumption of innocence

    Waitamminit! What was Freddie Gray arrested for?


    No, really. This is the part about that whole story that I don’t get. Gray had a knife, which turned out to be legal, and tried to run* when the cops saw him. And he’s dead, for that?!.

    (* appears to be a good instinct)

  3. Sean (I am not an imposter) says

    “There is a mood among some in this country that the police are going to be wrong unless proven right…”

    Unlike the public, who are guilty until proven guilty.

    There have been hundreds of reports of cops admitting that they routinely plant evidence on innocent people to make their arrest quotas. They do this to white, middle class people as well, not just the poor or people of color. The idea of “due process” in this system is a farce.


    “White males, college boys, wearing khaki pants, easy to intimidate,” were the group’s preferred targets, ex-officer Jeffrey Walker told the jury. “We’d catch them doing whatever they were doing, we’d scream at them, sometimes get physical. I’d slap them around. These guys crack under the pressure.”

  4. says

    Cops also whine that crimes against them should get longer sentences than crimes against civilians.

    Unlike career criminals, cops know the law and are entrusted to uphold it.. When cops commit crimes, they should get even longer sentences thant he criminals they want excessively punished.

    If cops were forced to sign waivers agreeing to be automatically plead guilty if evidence proves they did it, there would a lot less crime -- not just cops against civilian crime, but all crime in general. The quality of people who apply to become cops would improve.

  5. GregB says

    @Leftoverunder They’re be a lot few cops too, since they know how easy it is to railroad someone they
    don’t like.

    After all, they are the experts…

  6. lanir says

    @Marcus Ranum #2:

    appears to be a good instinct

    It does sound sensible… But it’s common knowledge that one should not run from predators. It causes them to view one as prey and has a high likelihood of triggering an attack.

    Even with all the information we have now about police who work directly against society and persecute other people I think it’s probably still likely the majority are not predators. The problem is that so very MANY of them actually are predators that even honest cops will tell you not to trust police anymore. The US seems to be stuck on a four step plan now when dealing with the police. Stop. Hands up. Don’t shoot. Pray you live long enough in custody to call a lawyer.

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