A little too late, if you ask me. Thanks to reader Thane Eichenauer (you can see his blog here), who posted a comment to my Tookie post, I became aware of the case of Cory Maye. I'm somewhat ashamed that it has taken me a few weeks to finally post on the subject, as this is really one of the more egregious miscarriages of justice that I've read about (outside of having a case where the wrong person is charged and people generally realize it but don't try to stop it). Google has a nice compendium of Cory Maye news that synopsises the case very well. I won't try to get into excruciating details right now, as it has been done many times, and it would be boring if I merely repeated what other wrote.
Briefly, Cory Maye lived in a duplex that was side by side with another person who was suspected of having large amounts of marijuana. Based on an informant's statement, the police got a warrant to search that person's place, and Maye's place as well. Allegedly Maye's house was suspected as well. They served the warrant on the neighbor's house without incident and found a large stash of pot. They busted down Maye's door at 11:00 PM, and when Maye heard them (he was alone with his 18 month old daughter), he grabbed his gun to defend his house. The first person through the door was the officer who wrote the warrant (and apparently the only person aware of the identity of the confidential informant who supplied the info for the warrant), Officer Jones. Maye contends that they didn't knock or identify themselves as police officers (the police say otherwise). Maye shot Officer Jones, and then police identified themselves. He immediately dropped his gun thereafter. Evidently Jones was not at all trained in doing these kinds of raids, and he appeared to have gone deep into the house when he encountered Maye. Maye claimed
There is some dispute as to what was found in his place. The police contend that hours after searching, they found a tiny baggie of pot in it. Evidently, some dispute even that assertion, but assuming it was true, it hardly justified the warrant, nor is it any evidence of being a drug dealer. Maye was convicted and sentenced to die by a jury in 5 hours of deliberation. He had no criminal record.
This case has, over the last month, become a cause celebre among the blogosphere. Randy Balko of the Agitator took up interest in the case, and was immediately followed by others (including, interestingly enough, Glenn Spencer of the right wing Instapundit blog). I was informed about the case (and duly outraged), but it took me until now to write about it.
My take on this is little different than my take has been on so many other cases in the criminal law is - the bias towards the police is so palpable that it subverts the system in so many insidious ways. Do you think there is a chance in the world that had drug dealers busted down some police officer's door and the police shot him that the shooter would be facing the death penalty. The fact that he is in custody at all, let alone on death row, is disgusting.
I have to digress for a moment to make it clear that I, like just about any other member of society, want to live in an ordered society where people are safe from criminals, and I respect police officers for trying to make our society work like that. However, when police officers are allowed to not obey the law (see my previous post), these acts are frequently covered up and innocents are arrested instead to protect those in blue. It happens too much, and it is sick. A corollary to that is when an officer dies, the police will do anything they can to get their revenge, regardless of what the rules are. Mr. Maye seems to have run afoul of both of these tendencies.
What is the basis of Officer Jones getting a warrant based on the unsubstantiated word of an "informant?" How does he get a late night warrant for a house based on nothing more than the word of someone? By all accounts, the informant was wrong about Maye's house, and there was absolutely no corroboration for his assertions about Maye's dealing of drugs. Furthermore, having Officer Jones, who has no training in SWAT techniques, lead the raid into the house is crazy. That is begging something bad to happen.
Part of the proliferation of SWAT units, and the desire to do these high profile raids, comes from the love of the military and the militirasation of the police force. Police chiefs (started by former LAPD Chief Darryl Gates) just love their military hardward to ride around in. Society just loves military allusions as well. All towns, from the largest to the smallest, are getting SWAT teams these days so they can do their high profile raids on the citizenry. This is a part of the long swing in favor of "safety" over "liberty" that our society has been following for the last 30 years.
When Officer Jones was shot, the police identified themselves and Maye dropped his gun. First of all a quesiton. If Maye knew that Jones was police, why did he drop his gun after shooting Jones? Why not shoot the rest. It looks as if he didn't know he was police. Obviously, the police need to do something after this happens, though. To not prosecute Maye would be to concede errors on their part, and possibly open themselves up to liability to Jones's family or to Maye for the raid and search. The only choice, you have to go after Maye for murder to cover up for the gross errors of the police. Once you go after him for murder, you gotta get rid of him, so you seek the death penalty (evidently they seek it more willy-nilly out there in Mississippi, I can't imagine this one being a death penalty case in Los Angeles, but you never know, killing cops usually results in a different form of justice).
I see the main thrust of the cyberspace response to the Maye sentence being against an injustice, in that he should not be executed for this, and possibly shouldn't even be in jail. What is far more interesting to me, though, is the relationship between the citizenry and the police in this case. A man had his house searched for little or no cause, late at night, in an extremely provocative and scary raid, and shot in self-defense. Now he faces execution for that? All because the person he shot at was a police officer who was probably acting improperly? The fact is that there is little special about this case, except that it got lots of press. What is more remarkable is that high profile conservatives (at least, Glenn Reynolds) have taken up his cause. He questions in his post on the subject why the usual anti-death penalty folk haven't taken up Maye's cause. I couldn't agree with him more. I hope this is a sign of the beginning of the depolitisation of the death penatly, which I think would be highly beneficial to society as a whole.