Should Police Officers Have 5th Amendment Rights?

Handcuffed and in the back of a police transport vehicle, a teenager is being transported to jail.  Upon arrival at the lockup, two police officers approach the rear of the vehicle and open the doors to move the suspect to booking.  One officer shouts to the suspect, “Come here!”  As the teenage suspect makes his way out the back the same officer gives him the order, “Stand out here with us, you lying piece of shit.”

The teenager, now standing just outside the rear entrance of the vehicle, is subject to another search.  The officers begin to roll down his jacket behind his back, then without warning or provocation, officer Rory Bruce lunges towards the teenager and violently assaults him with a forearm blow to the face.

The whole incident was video recorded with a camera mounted in the back of this police vehicle.  The video positively shows officer Bruce assault the teen suspect, and later trying to cover up his actions by saying, “I told you I wanted to search you and you came out of the thing and started lunging at me.”

The video clearly shows that the handcuffed suspect never lunged at anyone, nor made any threatening moves prior to Bruce throwing a flying elbow to the teen’s face.

The two officers involved, Rory Bruce and Jacob Fowler, were fired for this incident and Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce moved forward and pressed 3rd degree assault charges against officer Bruce.

Now this is where things take an interesting turn.

The video itself is more than enough evidence to convict officer Bruce of assault, but in order to allow the video to be submitted as evidence, the video would have to be authenticated by someone who had personal knowledge of the events.  That means that either the teen suspect or one of the police officers would have to acknowledge its authenticity.

The prosecutor unsuccessfully tried to place the teenager on the stand, but he invoked his 5th amendment rights.  When officer Bruce was questioned about the video he also invoked his 5th amendment right against self-incrimination.  This left just officer Fowler, who was forced to take the stand by a judge’s order.  Fowler, apparently clinging to the , claimed that his recollection of the events differed from what was on the video.

After hearing Fowler’s statement regarding the video, Judge Theresa Counts Burke either.  Therefore, Burke refused to allow the video of the assault to be entered as evidence, and acquitted officer Bruce of the assault charges.

This case causes me to question whether police officers should have 5th amendment rights against self incrimination.

By definition, a police officer is an agent of the government entrusted and empowered to enforce the law.  It is a position of power and responsibility.  A police officer’s duties can include saving lives as well as taking lives.

Because this position carries such a high level of power and responsibility, police officers should also be held to a higher standard.  An officer who commits a crime while performing their duties should be held accountable for their actions, and any punishment for said actions should be more severe than that of a private citizen.

Holding police officers to a higher standard would include revoking their 5th amendment right to self incrimination for any acts performed while on duty, or in any official act as an agent of the law.  Anyone who’s primary role is to enforce the law and bring other law breakers to justice should not be afforded the opportunity to impede the justice system when they are accused of a crime or official misconduct.

Maybe I sound harsh when I say that police officers should have less Constitutional rights than ordinary citizens, but police officers aren’t ordinary citizens.  Ordinary citizens have a 5th amendment right against self incrimination, but police officers shouldn’t be afforded this right while acting in their official capacity.

And in a final note from a non-lawyer person (me), I’m surprised that the video in the above case wasn’t admissible as evidence.  Bruce was on trial for the events that happened in the video, and invoking his 5th amendment right when questioned about the video’s authenticity should have logically been ruled as him admitting the video was accurate.

One Comment

  1. Paul Jul 8, 2013 at 10:19 am

    Taking the 5th should never be an assumption of guilt or authentication. The idea to revoke the 5th for on-duty officers would do nothing. As clearly shown with Fowler keeping silent, we would just see more of that. What should be tightened up is the ability for compelled witnesses to clearly lie about what they remember. Unfortunately, we can’t disprove a recollection. If we could, jails would be filled with officers convicted of perjury.

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