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Law is a Ass by Bob Ingersoll
Join us each Tuesday as Bob Ingersoll analyzes how the law
is portrayed in comics then explains how it would really work.

Current Installment >> Installment Archives | About Bob | General Forum

THE LAW IS A ASS for 12/04/2001
DOCKET ENTRY

"The Law is a Ass" Installment # 124
Originally written as installment # 113 and published in Comics Buyer's Guide issue # 609, June 19, 1987 issue


This column has come back into my life three times. (Four, if you count my revising it for reprinting here at World Famous Comics.)

The first was explained last week, when itthe second of a two-part columnappeared before the first part and I had to scramble to find out what happened. (The full story of what happened was laid out more fully last week. And, rather than tell it again, I hereby incorporate it by reference.)

******

The second time this column came back into my life occurred about two years ago. I belong to a few E-mail mailing lists and one day in one of those lists, we somehow ended up in a discussion about Harlan Ellison. The editor and publisher of the comic which is the subject of today's columnone Ron Frantzexpressed his dislike of Mr. Ellison. When asked for his reasons, among said reasons was the fact that, according to Frantz, Ellison had once sicced a writer friend on one of the comics he published. I know Harlan fairly well, and definitely know him well enough to realize that Harlan is more than suited to fight his own battles. He hardly needs to sic his friends on other people to fight his fights for him.

I pointed this out to Frantz, but he persisted in his claim that Harlan had sicced some writer friend on him and his book. So I asked him when this happened and who the writer in question was. He responded that he didn't remember the writer's name, but that said writerwait for it!wrote that "Law is a Ass" column for Comics Buyer's Guide.

Remember that scene in Annie Hall when Alvy Singer and Annie (Woody Allen and Diane Keaton) are waiting in line for a movie, and the man in front of them is pontificating about Fellini, Samuel Becket and the media and quotes Marshall McLuhan, and Alvy points out that the man misquoted McLuhan, and the man answers that he teaches a course on the media at Columbia so his perceptions on McLuhan are more valid than Alvy's, and Alvy says, "I happen to have Mr. McLuhan right here," and pulls McLuhan out from behind a poster, and McLuhan tells the man that, "I heard what you were saying. You know nothing of my work," and Alvy turns to the audience and says, "Boy if life were only like this?" Remember that scene?,

That's how I felt.

I even posted back to Frantz, "I read what you said, and you know nothing of my work."

From what I've been able to reconstruct, what happened is that Frantz and Harlan were discussing Harlan's writing a story for What is... The Face? because it was a modern version of an old 40s comic that Harlan liked back in the 40s. But when Harlan read the scripts prepared for the comic and remarked how bad they were, things didn't start off well and didn't get better. Upshot, Harlan didn't write the comic.

But, just as I explain at the beginning of the column, Harlan did recognize the legal problems in issue two and told me about them. Harlan pointed out a possible column topic in case I wanted to write about it. But he hardly sicced me on Frantz or his poorly-executed comic.

As I said, Harlan is a much better writer than me. If he wanted to destroy What Is... The Face in print, he would be far better equipped to do so than I would.

******



The third time this column has come back into my life is now. When you finish reading it, think especially about the last line. When I wrote that line, back in 1987, I knew it was timely back then. What I didn't realize, back then, was how prophetic it would prove to be today.

******

"The Law is a Ass"
Installment # 124
by
Bob Ingersoll

This is the second of a two part column on the Fourth Amendment and unreasonable searches and seizures. I didn't tell you last time that this was a two-part column. I didn't know last time that this was a two-part column. Last time, I hadn't read What Is... the Face? # 2 yet.

And then I got a call from Harlan Ellison. He told me that the Face, the hero in What Is... the Face# 2 (and presumably # 1, which I didn't read, either) was a re-do on an old forties character. I took his word for that. When the forties were in bloom, I wasn't. He also told me I had to read issue # 2, because it contained "column fodder." (Those weren't Harlan's words, by the way, he's far more eloquent than that. "Column fodder" is my own term of art to describe comics about which I can write a column.) Anyway, based on Harlan's suggestion, I did read What Is... the Face? # 2.

Gosh, Harlan, I thought we were friends. What's next, watch all the movies made from Stephen King stories?

(Seriously, folks, I do appreciate Harlan pointing out What Is... the Face? # 2 to me. I appreciate any of my readers pointing out possible column material to me. I don't read everything, and some of what I do read, I don't read as carefully as I should; I value my sanity. Therefore, I miss potential column fodder. This is an open invitation. If you see something out there among the current comics you think I should cover, or you remember this great old story that would be perfect, let me know about it in care of this paper. I'm even very good about sharing the credit for those columns suggested by other persons.

Sharing the money I get for writing the column, I don't do, but sharing the credit... No problem!)

But enough of this digression. I can't put it off any longer. I have to discuss What Is... the Face?? # 2.

Besides being a pretentious and ungrammatical title, it is the most ludicrous portrayal of Fourth Amendment violations I've ever seen. The Fourth Amendment, you will remember, forbids the government including the policehell especiallythe policefrom conducting unreasonable searches or of a person's person or property or making unreasonable seizures of a person's person or property. When a search or seizure is unreasonable, then the evidence seized is not admissible in court. This means, if the police screw up and conduct an illegal search, the evidence they find, even if it's conclusive of guilt, can't be admitted in trial. So it behooves the police to know what they can or can't do, so that they don't make illegal searches and collect evidence they can't admit. With that in mind, What Is... the Face? # 2 should be handed out at all police academies as a primer of what not to do; demonstrating several mistakes they can avoid to keep their evidence admissible.

Said primer begins now.

Lieutenant Grogan receives a phone call telling him that some of Duke Arno's men are running a cocaine factory at 12th and West Avenue. Although I'm not quite sure what a coke factory is (it's not like they forge coke there or anything) we do know that whatever a coke factory is, this must be one, because the yo-yos who run it have the following conversation, "Here is the baking soda. Don't forget to cut the junk! The punks that buy it on the street won't know the difference anyway!" "Why not...it only doubles our profits!" Earlier that night, these guys probably said, "Here is the alarm clock. Set it, so that we will know what time to wake up tomorrow." "Why not... it will give us something to do other than telling each other what we already know just to supply background information which would fit better in a caption.") But based on that conversation, we know the information Grogan received, this warehouse is a coke factory.

What would a responsible policeman, who wanted to make a reasonable search, do with information about the location of a cocaine factory? He would go to a judge, prove his information was both reliable and sufficient to establish probable cause that the drugs were in the location he wanted to search and get a search warrant. Next he would execute the warrant properly.

While executing a warrant isn't an onerous procedure, it does have some rules. It permits only daytime searches, unless the warrant specifically allowed a night search. It requires the police knocking and announcing their presence before searching, unless the warrant specifically allows a "No-Knock" entrance (something very few warrants allow). And it requires that the minimum amount of force possible be used while executing the warrant.

What did Grogan do, when he got his hot tip? Try E: none of the above. That is to say, he didn't get a warrant before searching and, even if he had, the way he went about collecting his evidence would have violated all the rules for executing a warrant anyway.

Grogan went directly to the coke factory; he did not pass go, he did not collect a warrant. Grogan hasn't even searched yet and already he's got problems. He doesn't do anything to lessen them. Grogan conducts his warrantless search at night. He enters by kicking in the door without knocking first. When one of the factory workers tells Grogan he needs a warrant, Grogan responds by saying, "I've got a warrant, punk! Here it is!" while he simultaneously punches the man in the face. Not only was it police brutality, it was stupid police brutality. Everyone knows brutal policemen always punch their punks in the gut, that way no marks show.

In short, Grogan does everything he can do to guarantee that the judge, any judgeevery judgewill find the search to be unreasonable and throw out the evidence.

The next day, the judge throws out the evidence.

"But, Your Honor..." shrieks prosecutor, Janet Baxter, her shrill voice no doubt several octaves above high C, "I object! You can't release these men!"

"You are out of order, Miss Baxter! Open your mouth again, and I'll cite you for contempt!" bellows the judge, obviously a callous autocrat with a total disregard for the poor lady's feelings. Ignore the fact that he made the correct ruling and that most judges would respond to such a protest with the threat of a contempt citation. No, this judge is mean and curt. After all, how else can he represent justice gone bad?

In the meantime, the three punks snigger in the foreground. After all, how else can they show their contempt for the silly legal system which handcuffs the police and lets off scum on technicalities?

And the defense attorneypicture Bozo the Clown in a suit and bow tie looking even smarmier and more unctuous than is humanly possiblesmirks. After all, how else could the crooked shyster demonstrate his contempt for the law and the citizenry of his fair city?

Ah, the subtlety of this writing, the ball-peen-hammer-to-the-head delicacy of the craftsmanship which went into this scene was more to be pitied than censured. Unfortunately, I come here to censure not pity. So let the censuring continue.

Later, Lt. Grogan complains that a "genuine miscarrage [sic] of justice" occurred. " 'His Honor' ruled that those hoods 'had their civil rights violated!' " Both the misspelling and the quote marks were in the original. While both show some sloppiness, only the latter was intended. After all, how else could the writer get across the subtle irony of the situation? Hobnail boots, come to mind, though.

Grogan can't understand what happened to his picture perfect bust. After all, he did "everything by the book." Right! Just what book calls for eschewing obvious warrants, kicking in doors, and beating up suspects? I'm not sure who wrote Grogan's text book, the Marquis de Sade or Dorf. Then Grogan realizes what must have happened. "I'll bet my badge [the judge] was bribed by someone!" Grogan complains.

The Face investigates and discovers that, sure enough, the judge was bribed by Duke Arno. No wonder there was such a miscarriage of justice, Grogan did bribe the Judge. (Although why I'm not sure. Bribing a judge to throw out this case would be kind of like bribing him to make sure the sun rises.) Still, that's why the judge threw out the case, he was bribed. Grogan's absolute disregard of the Fourth Amendment and proper search technique had nothing to do with it.

I honestly don't know what to make of this story. Is it a satire of the Dirty Harry philosophy and painted broadly for comic effect? Or is it a portrayal of what someone honestly believes is proper police procedure coupled with a diatribe against our crook-coddling justice system which lets one scum after another off on technicalities?

It doesn't matter. Either way it failed. As a satire, it was too poorly executed to be effective. As a diatribe, it was too ham-handed and inaccurate to make its point. I'd like to tell you to ignore it. Unfortunately, I can't afford to ignore it. Neither can you.

I don't think the story was intended as satire. I think it was supposed to be a serious commentary on how the courts coddle criminals, handcuff the police, and make the system work only for the guilty. This means that there are people out there who believe that what Grogan did in this story was perfectly proper and who believe that the Bill of Rights should be suspended, so that the police can go about their jobs efficiently. After all, these people argue, if you're innocent you've got nothing to hide.

True. I'm innocent and I've got nothing to hide, so why should I worry, whether the police search my house? Because when the police search, they aren't gentle. They tear the house apart. Especially, when they're searching for something small like drugs which could be hidden anyway. I don't want the police to be free to come in and tear my house apart anytime some crank with a grudge against me calls in an unverifiable anonymous tip that I'm dealing drugs. Or when they're bored because Dynasty happens to be a re-run.

I want the police to have to prove probable cause to a judge before they can search my house, because I don't want the intrusion of them searching it in the first place. Most people I know want the same.

The Bill of Rights sets proper limits on the police, so that they cannot abuse their vast powers. The Bill of Rights are even better than a necessary impurity which makes the police powerless against anything yellow. It's necessary, but it's far from an impurity.

Simply put, the second most frightening thing I can imagine is that there are people--supposedly thinking and rational people--out there who want to repeal the Bill of Rights.

The first most frightening thing is that our Attorney General seems to be one of them!

Bob Ingersoll
<< 11/27/2001 | 12/04/2001 | 12/11/2001 >>

Discuss this installment with me in World Famous Comics' General Forum.


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