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Impartiality in the Criminal Justice System

One of the guiding principles of our legal system is impartiality. It is also a value derived from all the world’s great religions. No matter how great a personality, or how humble; no matter how rich and famous and no matter how unknown and poor, our legal system is steeped in the principal that all have equal access and treatment before the law. This is fundamental to a nation ruled by law. Though this is one of the most basic founding principles of our nation, it is not always followed.

Earlier this month, a local Deputy County Attorney was arrested on Domestic Violence charges. This, of course, would have been local news →all by-itself, but a local defense attorney and a local Judge made sure this story would become national news →.

The Deputy County Attorney was arrested and booked into the local County Jail late on a Friday evening and was then given a special emergency initial appearance in front of the local Judge and released on his own recognisance sometime after 12:00 am on Saturday morning. Anyone with passing familiarity with the criminal justice system should automatically recognize the problem with this scenario.

First, Judges do not have court hours over the weekend (there are exceptions to this rule but never are the weekend hours for initial appearances and definitely not shortly after 12:00am in the morning) especially graveyard shift hours.

Second, all criminal defendants – poor, rich, famous, privately employed or government employed – that are arrested after hours on Friday throughout the weekend must wait until Monday – when court is open again – before they go before the judge to determine bond and conditions of release. This was plain and simple special treatment extended by a local Judge for a Deputy County Attorney.

This type of behavior is inexcusable.

At a time when our nation has very little faith in all of its elected officials such actions completely undermine the idea of fairness and impartiality we all demand. It is what keeps the worst among us honest and the best among us from being tempted by dishonesty. This is such an elemental part of the criminal justice system it is hard to believe this occurred.

But occur it did.

The local Sheriff verified he had never seen such special treatment in his 27 years in law enforcement and the local County Attorney confirmed this was unprecedented. The Deputy County Attorney’s Defense attorney claimed the late night hearing was needed because his client’s safety was at risk. However, as a criminal defense attorney myself, I know segregation is available in such situations that would have completely protected the Deputy County Attorney. And, of course, the local sheriff made it clear that on the very evening/morning this occurred the Deputy County Attorney was segregated →and therefore faced no pressing dangers. In other words his safety was not an issue.

Domestic Violence is a very tricky aspect of the criminal justice system. After many years of law enforcement not taking these matter seriously, considering them private family matters, a sea of change occurred sometime in the 1980s. Law enforcement began to realize that in Domestic Violence situations, where evidence suggested an assault had occurred, it was better in that moment to arrest the alleged aggressor and allow the criminal justice system to work itself out. The time spent in jail also served as a cooling of period where those involved had time to calm down. The theory is that more serious violent assaults would be reduced and public safety protected.

I have defended many people charged with Domestic Violence and I have come to understand how important this “cooling off period” is to public safety. On the night the Deputy County Attorney was released – within hours of having been arrested for assaulting his wife – he was released to his own recognisance. What if he had gone back home and assaulted his wife, or worse, this potential is the very reason for overnight jail stays so common in Domestic Violence arrests. Fortunately for all involved this did not happen. But the Judge (who is a former Defense attorney) knows how this system works as well as anyone. He should have understood the potential dangers involved for the alleged victim.

A major part of this judge’s duty is to protect the public. He failed that duty on that evening.

Perhaps there are good explanations as to why all this happened, but I am not aware of any and if there is then the public deserves to know: why was a Deputy County Attorney – who has made a name for himself for being tough on criminals not held to the same standards as the men and women he has placed behind the County Jail Bars?

Disclaimer: This website is intended to be used only for educational purposes, to give you a general understanding of the law and is not intended to provide specific legal advice to any situation. Laws vary from state to state and the information contained in this website addresses only Montana law, unless otherwise noted. Legal issues are varied and complex and this website should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from an attorney in your state. If you have a specific questions regarding your situation, please call an attorney. None of the information contained on this website creates an attorney-client privilege.

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