Print This Post Print This Post

Rights vs. Reality…

I admit I get a chuckle when I hear some blockhead explain how certain constitutional rights handcuff the police from doing their job.

Let’s take one easy example, the Miranda v. Arizona (1966) decision.  The Supreme Court saw the need for police to inform suspects (that’s potentially all of us) of certain basic rights, such as, the right to remain silent and the right to counsel.  Sounds easy enough, eh?

In 1963 I was returning to my wife and children in Nashville, TN, from New York.  I was driving my 1960 Plymouth Fury with all my personal possessions, including my family photo albums.

Almost out of gas (and money) and having no spare I stopped at a store along a country road (the major US interstates were not yet built).  I made my first stupid mistake.  I gassed up at an ancient pump and selected a used tire.  The bill came to $11.

The store was right out of the Old South.  Just inside the screen doors were three old guys in rocking chairs, lower lips with snuff and a spittoon on the floor.  One guy behind the counter.  My NY plates and accent was definitely the height of their day.

When I took out my check book–my second mistake–he said, “We don’t take checks, Yankee-boy.”  When I mumbled that I was short of cash, he replied, “If you don’t pay cash money, I’m calling the po-lice.”

That’s when I got real stupid.  Figuring, what the hell, the check was good, I said, “Fine.  Go ahead and call the po-lice!”

The cop came and was passing the time of day as they do down South before getting around to doing anything; of course, the old guy was his “daddy-in-law.”  I made the mistake of trying to interject my problem and found myself on the floor spitting out a couple of teeth.  My day to be stupid.

Many years later...

I was taken to the multi-City Hall, courthouse, police station, and Confederate statue.  Thrown in a cell, there was no interview, no booking, no fingerprinting, and no howdy ‘do.

Eight days later I was taken up to a courtroom.  The scene was straight out of Inherit the Wind (a 1960 Scopes/monkey trial from 1925).  They could have easily shot the movie there.

It was all down-home.  Overhead, a couple of fans turned languidly, but not enough to disturb the flies.  A few of the audience had paper fans. A boy was running in and out buying cold bottles of Dr. Pepper with straws for those inclined.

Right in front of us prisoners in the jury box, was a circuit state’s attorney (prosecutor).  He came around every couple of weeks-or-so.  There were no lawyers there, he did both jobs.

The judge made a damn good impression of Barney Fife (Don Knotts).  Trousers way up to here with wide suspenders, leaned way back in his chair with his boots up on the desk, and one of the longest cigars I’ve ever seen.  Central casting…

When the prosecutor called my name, he suggested that I plead guilty and he’ll try to keep my sentence under a year.  I answered, “To what?”

Looking at his papers, he read, “It says here you passed a bad check, have false ID, and stole a car.”

While I was trying to digest these allegations, the judge tried me, found me guilty, and sentenced me to 11-29 (11 months and 29 days; a year or longer would have required me to go before a state court).  It was all over in less than 15 minutes.  I soon found myself downstairs in a holding cell.

The prosecutor came down later to see me, still trying to make a deal.  Incredulous, I explained that I was already convicted and sentenced!  He simply ignored that.  When I continued to insist the check was good and that I was me, he exclaimed, “Hey, this isn’t even filled out!”

He took me back to court and was explaining the lack of evidence when the judge really went off.  The judge started ranting about “those smart-assed college boys out of Nashville who think they know everything.”

In less time than it took the first go-around, the judge sentenced me to court costs and threw us out.  The prosecutor took me down to the clerk’s office to pay for the 8 days of lock-up, $16.  I asked if they would take a check?  The prosecutor paid for it out of his own pocket and that’s the last I saw of him.

I went around to the police side to ask for my ID and car back.  The cop at the desk told me, “If the sun sets on your goddamn New York Yankee ass in this county, boy, you’re gonna do all that time the judge gave you.”

Of course, Miranda ain’t no guarantee against stupidity.  And Spring Hill, Tennessee?  Scratch the surface a little bit…I’ll bet it’s all still there.

               Dr. Publico

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
One Response
  1. […] my extensive Civil Rights experiences (1959-65, complete with chain-gang), I have no doubt whatsoever that there’s not a KKK, militiaman or Aryan Brother in sight who […]

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>