“Court Case Friday”
The best new judges have extensive experience in the field of law in which they are presiding. They also have major experience in courtroom hearings and trials. New judges who lacked such expertise can be a disaster.
As an experienced prosecutor, I was assigned to respond to the defense motion to suppress evidence in a serious gang case.
The judge was new to the bench and had a civil law background. He was not familiar with criminal law and procedure.
“My” experienced officer was on routine patrol in a marked black-and-white police car late at night. He noticed a car driving with its lights out in a high crime area. He turned on his overhead red lights and spotlight to make a Vehicle Code stop. He saw that the car had four young adult males. The windows were down, and the men had their arms on the sills, exposing gang tattoos. When he “lighted them up,” they made all sorts of “furtive” movements inside the car.
The officer walked up to the car alone, after requesting backup. As a precaution, he gripped the handle of his pistol as he approached, but kept it in the holster. The men in the car would not have been able to see his hand on the gun.
When the officer asked for the driver’s license and registration, the dispatcher radioed that the car was stolen and was involved in a recent armed robbery. The officer removed the gun from the holster, and ordered the defendants, at gun point, to show their hands and not move until backup officers arrived. The men were arrested and prosecuted for carjacking and armed robbery, with gang enhancements.
The judge ruled that the officer had lawful probable cause to detain the car and arrest the suspects. I was relieved.
However, he added that an officer approaching “citizens” with his hand on his gun, and then pointing the gun at them, “shocks the conscience.” Not only was the evidence suppressed, but the officer’s conduct was deemed to be so “outrageous” that the judge dismissed the entire case.
I was dumbfounded. The judge was completely clueless about criminal law and procedure, and the common sense realities of police safety.
Instead of arguing with the judge, I “put my writ where my mouth was,” and I got his decision reversed by the appellate court.
Sadly, this inexperienced judge was too proud and stubborn to take advice, even from other judges. He thought he knew it all, and that the appellate justices who reversed his decision were wrong. He was unteachable. He never fully adapted to the bench. After a few years, he was removed from office for misconduct. “Pride goeth before the fall.”