The L.A.P.D. on trial

October 12, 1994

Two trials are going on in Judge Lance Ito's courtroom in Los Angeles. One is "the people vs. O. J. Simpson," who is charged with a double murder. The other is "Simpson's lawyers vs. the Los Angeles Police Department," which is charged with bungling the investigation, not following proper procedures, violating Mr. Simpson's constitutional rights, leaking prejudicial information to the press and planting evidence against Mr. Simpson, motivated by racial bigotry.

That last is a terrible, dangerous accusation to make in any locale, but especially in Los Angeles, where racial tensions and even hatred have smouldered since the rioting that greeted the Rodney King verdict, and where the L.A.P.D. is widely distrusted by black residents. It is an accusation that demands the most thorough of investigations. If it is found to be truthful, it is grounds for criminal charges against the guilty officers. But if the charge is found not to be true or based on any plausible evidence or suspicions, if it is just gunslinger lawyer tactics, it should be grounds for professional sanctions by the courts and bar associations.

As for the charges of bungling and violating rules, regulations, professional procedures, laws and constitutional safeguards of defendants -- if any of those occurred, they, too, would be grounds for the appropriate civil and, possibly, criminal charges being brought against police officers.

But these are two different tracks for the criminal justice system. They are parallel, not interesecting. It would be a gross miscarriage of justice if evidence that proved Mr. Simpson was guilty as charged beyond a reasonable doubt was excluded from the trial on the grounds that it was improperly obtained, and he was set free.

In the discussion of the Fourth Amendment in the classic textbook, "Edwin S. Corwin's The Constitution and What It Means Today" (Revised by Harold W. Case and Craig R. Ducat), the point is made that "A gun found in an illegal search may very well link a defendant to a murder beyond a reasonable doubt. Why not use it? And, if if it was procured illegally, punish those who acted illegally, don't discard the evidence." We believe the overwhelming majority of Americans agree with that.

We agree with it. We believe in putting the L.A.P.D. on trial for what it is accused of, in court or in any other appropriate forum, but we don't believe in throwing out evidence of a horrible crime. Nor do we think that is necessary to achieve the stated purpose of the so-called "exclusionary rule." Some legal scholars say exclusion is the best way to prevent police misbehavior. We doubt if it is half as good a disciplinary tool as fear of prosecution.

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