Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Guest Blogger: Tommy Fitzgerald

Editor's note: When Tommy sent me this submission, I had to think about how this relates to ACLU issues. Eventually, the conclusion was reached that it's good for the public to see the day-to-day function of the criminal justice system. It's important for people to know what their government does in their names in order to reach a judgment on whether or not this is how we want government agencies spending their time. In a functioning democracy, it's probably best to err on the side of too much information rather than too little. --Andy in Harrisburg

Twas the Wednesday before Christmas!

Not all was quiet in my apartment! I was vigorously attacking the pile of unwrapped Christmas presents armed with rolls of wrapping paper and defiant scotch tape dispensers. The 48 day stint in County Jail, coupled with the 90 day house arrest, had propelled me into a frenzy of internet purchases. There I sat on the living room floor (cursing the defiant dispenser) when there was a loud insistent knock at my door. Much to my surprise, there stood (in all their finest) six members of the local Law Enforcement community. I was graced (?) with the presence of 2 Probation Officers, 1 County Detective, 1 Springettsbury Police Officer, and last but not least, 2 County Sheriffs.

The first emphatic comment (from the Police guy) was, that they couldn't read my apartment number because of the red Christmas Bow on the door. I pointed out that since apartments C2 and C3 were on the same floor, it would be obvious that C1 would be the door with the bow. Well, that started every thing off on a positive note! With badges dangling from around their necks on chains (looked like NYPD Blue on TV), they filed into the doorway like you would imagine Santa's helpers did on their way to work. The lady Probation Officer then questioned if there was any alcohol in the house and that she wanted to look into the refrigerator. I acquiesced politely, and turned my attention to the other men standing in the doorway like Easter Island statues. Unable to contain my derision, I simply stated, "could you close the door, and if you're not going to search the apartment, start wrapping gifts" (that helped a lot). The Probation lady then announced that she must administer a breath test, which I passed, considering I haven't drank alcohol for almost a year. Then, with a flurry of inane comments, they turned and marched out of the building on their merry way. They were off to protect society from the masses on house arrest for DUI.

To put this in perspective - I understand that Probation/Parole "sweeps" have become a common phenomenon in this country. But let's look at this particular incident - it was 8:00 pm on Wednesday night, and someone felt it was my turn to be checked. I have no problem with the check thing, but I do have a problem with the utilizing of 6 individuals (most likely on overtime) to check on an individual on a DUI related house arrest. Did they think that a show of overwhelming force would be necessary? Had they "pumped" themselves up prior to "storming" the apartment building nestled in a quiet York County suburb? Or, was this just another example of perpetrating the mystic of spending tax funds in order to protect the public?

House arrest individuals sign away all their Constitutional Rights pertaining to Probable Cause, Illegal Search and Seizure and any other right the Probation Department wishes to ignore. In a headlong rush to escape incarceration, we agree to pay a fee of $8.00 a day for this "privilege", and then further, find ourselves contributing to the statistics that become the basis for increasing the budgets of the various "criminal related" industries. This, my friends, is a perfect example of your tax dollars at work!

Thomas J. Fitzgerald, Jr. is a private citizen residing in York, Pa. His claim to infamy is that in 1991 he went to State Prison for five to ten years and became a Paralegal. As a byproduct of that incarceration, he metamorphosed into an active Jailhouse Lawyer.

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2 Comments:

Anonymous Keanus said...

Fitzgerald's vignette reminds me of my assertion of long standing that many of our criminal laws, but especially our drug laws, should be more properly named "Law Enforcement Full Employment" Laws. Many serve no social purpose other than to ensure that many, many people are fully employed at busy work "protecting" society against non-events.

5:17 PM  
Anonymous Alan said...

Very interesting report. As noted, it is good to understand the justice system from a "first person" perspective.

Some thoughts:

First: Bureaucracies don’t tailor their policies to the individual. DUI is not a violent crime and Tommy seems like a decent, level headed guy, but even so he seemed quite annoyed by the visit. And understandably so. However, I’ll bet that not everyone on the “visitation list” is quite the decent chap, and some might be surprised while engaging in illegal activities. The fire-power they had might be overdoing it, but I wouldn’t want to send the prohibition officer in alone.

Second: I wonder whether or not the $8 per day covers the cost. Probably not, but at least it offsets some of the expense and it seems fair, at least in theory, that the one doing the time helps out.

6:26 PM  

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