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Public Defender Jami Tillotson’s arrest strikes at the very heart of the Constitutional right to an effective lawyer

Jan 30, 2015 Public Defender Jami Tillotson’s arrest strikes at the very heart of the Constitutional right to an effective lawyer

America is too much of a police state as a result of spending billions of dollars on law enforcement, hiring and maintaining countless police and national security personnel, and passing laws galore aimed against illegal drugs, against drunk driving, and for protecting homeland security. This sorry state of affairs will continue until we massively shrink the criminal justice system, including legalizing marijuana, prostitution and gambling; heavily decriminalizing all other drugs; eliminating mandatory minimum prison sentencing; eliminating per se drunk driving blood alcohol laws; and eliminating the death penalty. Let our nation truly be the land of the free and home of the brave, and not the current land of the cops and home of the caged.

Police mess less with suspects’ and arrestees’ rights when the suspects and arrestees have effective lawyers present. The United States Constitution’s Sixth Amendment guarantees the criminally accused the assistance of a lawyer.

Sadly, too many police see the Bill of Rights as a nuisance that they wish would go away. Of course, now over 220 years old, the Bill of Rights is here to stay.

Praised be San Francisco deputy public defender Jami Tillotson for breathing life into the Sixth Amendment (as I take it she repeatedly does) by standing between her client and a police officer trying to photograph her client in a courthouse hallway.

Having started my criminal defense career as a Maryland public defender lawyer in 1991 until 1996, I learned early on about the contempt that so many police, prosecutors, and even too many judges (and even one such judge is too many) feel for criminal defendants, their Constitutional rights, their right to counsel, and lawyers who stand up for their clients’ Constitutional rights at all costs.

You will see the police officer in this incident video threatening public defender lawyer Tillotson with arrest for resisting arrest. Seeing that he had not yet ordered nor placed her under arrest yet, there was no arrest to resist. If he meant that she would be arrested for obstruction of justice if she did not stop interfering with police photographing her client, the cop should have stopped to think how he was obstructing Ms. Tillotson’s client’s right to her assistance and advice. The police arrested Ms. Tillotson.

The police blundered by not clearly stating whether Ms. Tillotson’s client was being detained to be photographed. The police had no apparent justification to do so. Clearly, a suspect lawfully arrested for probable cause to believe the suspect had committed a crime can be required to submit to a mugshot. However, here it appears that police wanted to photograph Ms. Tillotson’s client to have a photo to show witnesses(es) as part of a photo lineup about a reported crime. The police could have sought a court order for Ms. Tillotson’s client to submit to being photographed, and then her client, with assistance of counsel, could have moved to quash such an order.

Criminal defendants should not need to fear such police harassment when in a courthouse hallway in relation to their court date.

Praised be Ms. Tillotson’s office’s chief public defender Jeff Adachi for literally standing behind her. Do not expect every public defender office to do that in the midst of juggling all the politics of running a public defender office, including obtaining and keeping sufficient staffing and funding to satisfy the Sixth Amendment, and, in the case of Ms. Tillotson’s office’s chief, seeking election and re-election in places where public defenders are elected by the public. (I oppose elections of public defenders, because too many in the electorate might simply prefer a chief public defender who provides inadequate service on the cheap, but that is for another blog entry.)

Shame on the police spokesperson who asserted that Ms. Tillotson’s arrest was appropriate.

Particularly disappointing is that this sorry state of affairs has taken place in San Francisco, whose political and activist history over the decades would hopefully make for less police abuse in San Francisco than in less enlightened and less well-funded policing areas of the nations. Consequently, if this police blunder could happen in San Francisco, it could happen anywhere.

San Francisco Police Department and San Francisco prosecutors Dismiss the criminal charges against Ms. Tillotson forthwith. Acknowledge and apologize for the error. Properly discipline the responsible police personnel, and train your police officers not to repeat such blunders.

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