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O.J.’s and Craig’s tongue-wagging: Silence is golden

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Bill of Rights. (From the public domain.)

When someone once was gushing over his favorite celebrities, a killjoy retorted: "Why make such a big deal over celebrities? They defecate and emit flatus, just like everyone else." Of course, he used the grosser words that I favor for such bodily functions.

Precisely. Nobody lives or has a fully polished life, let alone living forever in the first place. As attached as people get to their bodies that they inhabit for such a short time and their lives on earth that are equally as short, as the Dalai Lama has pointed out in talking about such attachment, remove the skin of one’s body, and revealed are many disgusting and frail things.

When a criminal suspect waives the right to remain silent, to refuse searches, and to have an attorney, the suspect is doing something more damaging, disgusting, rancid, and fully preventable than defecating and emitting flatus. So many of my criminal defense clients would never have been prosecuted in the first place — and many others would have had a much lower risk of conviction — had they kept their mouths closed, refused searches, and insisted on having an attorney.  

On our website, I try doing my own share to impress on people how critical is their rights to remain silent, refuse searches, and have an attorney, seeing that such information in films and television either goes in one ear and out the other, or numbs people to the information. Every page of our website has a link to our criminal defense rights page; every page of our Underdog blog has a visual link to the essential Busted video from Flex Your Rights. For t-shirt attire, I frequently don my "Got a Warrant?/Fourth Amendment" t-shirt, which I wore yesterday when talking briefly to a cop I’ve known for many years, at the Takoma Park folk festival. I know a criminal defense lawyer who drives with a bumper sticker saying "Refuse searches".

Around 1984, I saw O.J. Simpson walking down a busy commercial street in Los Angeles. Numerous fans were calling out to him, and he responded very affably. He seemed to be on top of the world. Little did I know at the time how humanly frail this then-big-name celebrity would become, or already was. His once-charmed life came crashing down with his 1994 murder arrest and prosecution, whether or not he did it (and I still have reasonable doubt whether he did).

After O.J. spent a royal ransom for his murder trial defense team, I would have expected that, at the very least, he would have learned by now not to waive his rights as a criminal suspect to remain silent and to demand a lawyer. After representing himself in full "cooperation" with the Las Vegas police investigation of robbery allegations against him, O.J. now sits in a Las Vegas jail cell without bond at present and with plenty of time to rethink whether ever again to wag his tongue with police.

Senator Larry Craig, once a darling of conservatives, tried to talk himself out of his airport men’s room pickle, first with the police, and next in court, without a lawyer. Any senator would be expected to have no illusions about the importance of obtaining legal counsel as a criminal suspect. By not doing so, Craig now has paid the much heftier price of self-banishment from the Senate, a shredded reputation, and infinitely higher attorneys’ fees than if he had just hired a lawyer before his trial date. (A review of the applicable criminal statutory provisions shows Craig probably had a good shot at an acquittal had he asserted his Constitutional rights to remain silent, to a lawyer, and to a trial).

Hopefully O.J. Simpson’s and Larry Craig’s tongue-wagging, rights-waiving blunders were not committed in vain. If the proactive and very public admonitions of me and so many other criminal defense lawyers have fallen on so many deaf ears, perhaps the very concrete examples of Simpson and Craig will unclog those ears. Jon Katz