On Letting Criminals Go Free 
Saturday, January 31, 2009, 12:29 AM
I'm as opposed to letting the guilty walk as the next guy (actually, as a conservative I'm probably more opposed to this than your average citizen), but I'm not sure I like the Supreme Court's most recent ruling. As the Times details, the Supreme Court appears to be on track to eliminate the exclusionary rule. Briefly, the exclusionary rule holds that evidence conducted through police misconduct, illegal activity, or resulting from a failure to comply with applicable laws and procedures can't be used in court. Hence, the drug dealer found with pounds of cocaine going free because the police busted down his door without getting a warrant.

Now this all sounds quite horrible when you hear cases of a murder going free because the cops made some minor mistake, but I believe it's a necessary check because it's all we have left in our toolbag against police misconduct. Without the exclusionary rule, there's simply no incentive for police to follow the rules: when the break the rules and convict the guilty they are celebrated, and when they break the rules and harm the innocent the police union steps in to protect them.

And it all comes back to unions. If we didn't have the union, we'd probably have better policies in place to keep cops under control. At the end of the day this rather uneducated segment of the population exercises a remarkable degree of authority over the rest of us. It's natural that they should be subject to harsher rules and regulations than the average citizenry, much like the military. Unfortunately, unlike the military, cops are allowed to unionize. As has been explained previously, unions have an incentive -- indeed a duty -- to protect all their members, not simply the ones worthy of protection. Hence, the police union's efforts to protect corrupt and worthless cops. The penalties cops are subjected to are remarkably light -- in most cases of misconduct it's simply a reprimand or unpaid vacation time. And so, because we have a union engaged in it's standard campaign against accountability and workplace efficiency, we have to set up a judicial rule that occasionally allows the guilty to go free.
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