Thursday, March 22, 2012

It's a dangerous world out there

Jails, according to the Beaumont Enterprise, are dangerous places filled with dangerous people. These people are so dangerous, in fact, that we must monitor everything they do and everything they say. You never know when they might be up to no good.

Now that it has come to light that the good folks down at the Galveston County Jail were recording phone calls between inmates and their attorneys, the practices of the other 253 counties in our fair state are slowly, but surely, being made public, too. We know that both Harris County and Jefferson County choose to disregard the accused's right to keep his communications with his attorney confidential.

It's probably not a bad bet (nor a bet with long odds) that this practice is common throughout the state. Of course we are assured that no one ever listened in on those privileged communications. Then again we are also assured that  prosecutors around the state happily hand over Brady material at every opportunity.

As Grits points out, the journalistic jewel out of Jefferson County, was speaking out of both sides of its mouth the other day. The Enterprise ran an editorial in which the paper denounced the violation of the rights of the accused by the Jefferson County Jail. But, the paper ran a second editorial best described as "on the other hand."
Prosecutors do not eavesdrop on these recorded conversations to learn tidbits they can use in court. The attorney-client conversations are simply included in the overall taping that goes on each day - again, for safety. 
If this tradition is changed, what could prevent inmates from arguing that they should be able to talk to family members without being recorded? That could lead to all kinds of problems, such as inmates planning additional crimes. 
This practice has not been a problem in our criminal justice system. It doesn't need fixing. 
And on what authority do our media mavens in the Golden Triangle base the supposition that prosecutors don't listen to attorney-client conversations? It's not like prosecutors around this state haven't been caught with their hands deep in the cookie jar before. Hell, John Bradley has made a career out of violating the rights of the accused.

If "tradition" is the best argument the paper can put forward for why the practice should be allowed to continue, the debate is over because you just can't argue with stupid. Slavery and racism were long-standing traditions in the South -- I hope the editorial writers aren't advocating a return to the olden days because of tradition. If you want tradition, just look for three Aggies standing on a street corner.

The practice of recording attorney-client conversations is a problem - as is any trampling of the rights of the accused. Maybe prosecutors and judges and the police don't view it as a problem because it makes it easier to label folks as criminals; but it is a problem. Any actions taken on behalf of the state that serve to limit the accused's rights under the Bill of Rights is an attack on the rights of the entire citizenry. Today it might be a drug dealer or a murderer - but tomorrow it could be you, a family member or a friend.

Once you allow the state to take away someone's rights because they are one of them, you make it easier for the state to take away your own rights.

H/T Grits for Breakfast

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