by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
George Leef’s latest Forbes column focuses on a recent U.S. Court of Appeals ruling that flies in the face of constitutional protections.
Many court cases cause you to wonder if the Constitution isn’t a dead letter, but the Fourth Circuit’s decision in Kane v. Lewis in March is especially depressing. It further erodes the protection that the Fourth Amendment was supposed to give Americans against unreasonable searches and seizures, while at the same time sending the message to officers who lie, use needless force, and take lives: we have your back.
Try to get your head around this.
A young man who was suspected of using marijuana (based on an anonymous tip) is killed by police officers in an unannounced, no-knock raid at 4:30 AM. The police are caught in a lie about the raid (they falsely claimed that they had knocked and announced themselves) in the suit the father of the man brings over his death. The jury awards him $250,000. The police and local officials appeal. Result: the Fourth Circuit quashes that small award (which wouldn’t even have been paid by the officers themselves) and remands, instructing the lower court to order only nominal damages.
Behold our justice system at work.
Even if you think the war on drugs is a good idea, this case should trouble you. The tactics that were used in Kane are common throughout the nation. They often end in bloody confrontations with people either entirely innocent or guilty of nothing more than drug use lying dead or wounded. The rules that are supposed to restrain the police and deter misconduct are largely ignored by the courts, apparently out of a misplaced sense that they should defer to the enforcement agencies.