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A Nation of Suspects

More than once recently, I’ve written about Submitizens. Several criminal defense attorneys in Fresno, California, where my office is located, simply shrug. Among other things, they can’t understand why this bothers me so much.

But it does bother me. Immensely. And, frankly, it seems to me that it should bother any right-thinking true-blooded American citizen. At the very least, it should bother criminal defense attorneys; we should understand the implication of this latest governmental insult.

The problem discussed in the Submitizens articles is, on its face, simple: the Fresno County Superior Court recently began a campaign of searching most attorneys who enter the courthouse.

Mind you, officially they are searching all attorneys entering the courthouse. However, every day some attorneys get through without being treated like common criminals. I’ve personally only noticed that Deputy District Attorneys get to be treated like ordinary citizens with constitutional rights. However, at lunch yesterday with another defense attorney, I learned that at least one — the one with whom I was having lunch — routinely waltzes right in, unsearched. Based on our discussion, I suspect she’s not the only one who gets ordinary citizen, as opposed to submitizen, treatment.

The Defense Attorney Who Gets Treated Like A Citizen said, “I think it’s people who complain who get searched the most.” Based on my experience, she’s right.

The last few days, I’ve not made my usual grumbling about constitutional rights. Yesterday, I breezed in and out of the courthouse with less intrusion than I normally experience. Every time I’ve complained, I’ve had to completely empty my pockets. The deputies then carefully poke through and turn over all my things and usually I’m “wanded” after going through the metal detectors. Yesterday, though, the tray of my personal items was simply passed by one deputy to another, bypassing the metal detector, then handed to me with nary a glance. When the metal detector triggered, I opened my jacket, said, “Suspenders” and was waived through without wanding.

This didn’t just happen once. And it didn’t just happen in one courthouse. I tried the experiment several times in both Kings and Fresno counties. (In Kings County, by the way, the practice of allowing some to go through without any search at all was even more obvious. Waiting for the courtroom to open, I finally could not help myself and commented. The deputy looked at me as if to decide whether a Terry stop was in order, then tried to tell me it was because the others had identification tags. Bullshit. I’d deliberately looked for that, since I’ve heard that excuse before. The only “identification tags” were their faces.)

That this abuse of power on the part of our government does not bother criminal defense attorneys makes me sadder than the fact that it is happening. Truth is, the deputies don’t give a rat’s ass about me. Their intrusion into my personal privacy — although primarily left to the abuse of their own discretion, as my experiment shows — is not really driven by any feelings they have for me as an individual human being. Even when they “dig in” and pay more attention, their goal is either to teach me a lesson about complaining, or (ironically) driven by their own irritation at the aspersions I cast upon them as governmental thugs without any regard for the rights of ordinary citizens. How dare I question them! (Thus the irony.)

I did not totally understand, myself, why this bothered me so much until I read this article by Scott Greenfield, a New York criminal defense attorney.In “The Presumption of a Fraudulent Democracy,” Scott writes about the United States Supreme court changing direction in upholding an Indiana voter identification law. The article is interesting reading in itself, but what really hit me was this:

Us normal guys don’t seem to mind being presumed criminals because we can readily prove otherwise. And if anyone needs to be so “radical” that they can’t manage to assimilate, screw ’em. They are probably all felons, illegals or frauds anyway.

Now, in many respects, I’m a normal guy. Or, at least, I’m not a felon, illegal, or fraud. So it bothers me immensely that the government thinks it’s okay — and feels the need — to search me whenever I get near it. I’m not a criminal! I’m a citizen, dammit!

Unfortunately, I’m just one citizen. Just one. In a nation of suspects.