Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Cops and Basic Definitions

Yesterday, I watched a police officer testify in the punishment phase of a murder case. This officer wasn't involved in the murder investigation, but rather was the arresting officer on one of the defendant's prior criminal cases. Twelve years before, this officer had pulled the defendant over for a traffic violation, discovered he had ticket warrants, and arrested him. While doing an "inventory search" of the car the defendant was driving, he found a handgun in the glove compartment. The officer charged the defendant with unlawfully carrying a weapon. This all seems very straightforward and unremarkable. Then, defense attorney starts cross-examining the officer. It turns out that both the car and the gun belonged to the defendant's uncle, and the defendant was just borrowing the car for an errand. The officer knew none of this because, he testified, he never bothered to ask the defendant if the gun was his or even if he knew it was there. He went on to say that he never asks those questions because for unlawfully carrying a weapon, you just have to show "care, custody, control, or management" of the weapon. Except that is not the law at all. That is the definition of "possession,"--applied, for example, in drug cases--and does not apply to UCW cases which use the much more narrow definiton that an individual carry the weapon "on or about his person." When confronted with this fact, the officer continued to insist that "care, custody, control, or management" might not be the "technical, legal definition," but it was a "basic definition" of "carrying." Gee, I would have thought that a police officer arrested people for conduct that actually violated the "technical, legal" penal code, as opposed to just the "basic definition" of what the cop thinks is wrong. Silly me. And this is a man who has been a police officer in the State of Texas for fourteen years! He testified that he had arrested "hundreds" of people for UCW, a crime for which he clearly did not even know the definition.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, some prosecutor told him this awile ago, is my guess. Anyway, was the cop discredited ?

5/10/2005 9:25 AM  
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2/24/2010 11:14 AM  

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