May 4, 2007
Update on Prosecutorial Discretion and the Ticketed Canoeists: Dropping Charges Makes the Canoes
Posted by Alan Childress
The Arbitrary and Capricious blog posted this update: the county prosecutor won't file charges against the two canoeists ticketed for not wearing lifejackets as they tried to rescue a suicidal bridge-jumper. (Our prior story here, and the blog author's comment to it here, helpfully linking to this magicvalley news story.) This is a victory for prosecutorial and magistrate discretion (the latter also dismissed charges), to be sure. But I do wonder why most of the actors seem to fall all over themselves exonerating the officious deputy (whom I will call Barney Fife and misportray here as having told the canoeists, "Nip it in the bud.") for just doing his job. His job involves discretion and judgment, too. His job is not ticket-issuer; it is police officer. It was not just poor timing on the part of the deputy, as most people seem to say. Policing requires making wise and proper either/oar choices.
I suspect that, behind the scenes, Fife is being told to make some choices with thought and compassion, not just blind enforcement. But I wish the public statements were a bit more self-aware of the important role that discretion plays in law enforcement. They act as if everybody just did his or her job and the system worked. I think one part of the system had a minor breakdown.
I prefer the distance-creating position of the City of Twin Falls in a press release the blog quotes:
Please do not take the actions of the deputy in question as a reflection of the way the rest of the community may think or act. ... The deputy that issued the citation to the canoeists does not work for the City but rather the County of Twin Falls.
It's those damn County Mounties! Apparently the city was being flooded with public outrage and felt it needed to respond:
One of the finest attributes of Southern Idaho is the caring nature of the people who live here. Generally speaking, they are friendly, outgoing and ready to assist a neighbor in need.
I love the qualifier generally speaking. And their included links to the county sheriff's and even county commissioners' email addresses. Now for some modern-day direct democracy.
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