Justice Takes a Beating
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Justice Takes a Beating
The Los Angeles 0aTimes | Editorial
Wednesday 28 May 2003
While Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas labored to justify 0athe bullying interrogation of a farm worker whom an Oxnard police officer had 0ajust gravely wounded, Justice John Paul Stevens, dissenting, called the 0ainquisition what it was: "the functional equivalent" of torture. Thomas' 6-3 0amajority opinion Tuesday rolls back decades of constitutional protections 0aagainst self-incrimination and all but invites the backroom rough-'em-up police 0atactics of old.
The farm worker, Oliverio Martinez, is blind and partly paralyzed 0afrom the five bullets that police pumped into his body after they stopped him in 0aconnection with an investigation of possible drug sales in his Oxnard 0aneighborhood. Although Martinez initially complied with orders to dismount from 0ahis bicycle, a scuffle resulted when the officers discovered he was carrying a 0aknife and Martinez was shot.
Paramedics arrived and carted away Martinez, bleeding and 0ascreaming, to a hospital. For nearly an hour, as Martinez waited for medical 0atreatment and then as doctors tended him, the officers pressured him to confess 0ato starting the fight.
"I am dying!" Martinez cried.
"OK, yes, you are dying," the officer said. "But tell me why you 0aare fighting with the police."
Not once did the police officers inform Martinez of his right to 0aremain silent and to have a lawyer present. Instead, to try to badger him into a 0aconfession, they took advantage of his physical agony and mental anguish and the 0afact that he couldn't move from the hospital bed.
In the end, the officers got nothing useful from Martinez and 0anever charged him with a crime. Martinez sued, both for the shooting and for 0acivil damages on the ground that police violated his 5th Amendment right against 0aself-incrimination and his due process rights against egregious police conduct. 0aThe shooting lawsuit still stands.
Writing for a splintered majority, Thomas insisted that where 0athere was no harm of any legal consequence, there was no foul. "Martinez was 0anever made to be a 'witness' against himself in violation of the 5th Amendment's 0aself-incrimination clause because his statements were never admitted as 0atestimony against him in a criminal case [T]he mere use of compulsive 0aquestioning, without more, [does not] violate the Constitution." Such a narrow 0athread of reasoning cuts a wide path to cruelty.
Because Martinez had not been advised of his rights, the court 0asaid, had police charged him based on his nearly incoherent statements, his 0adisclosures would not have been admissible as evidence anyway.
Three cases before the court next term could push at the 0aboundaries of permissible evidence in criminal cases. The Martinez case turns 0aback the clock, and the coming cases could multiply the harm to a civilized 0ajustice system.
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