By Collin County Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal
I’ve got a world view which many have a hard time understanding when it comes to rights and it is this: I don’t need most of them. At least, I don’t think I do. Most people I know really don’t need them either.
Though I fight hard for my clients against the powers that be — I’m a conformist at heart. I don’t live on the fringe and by that I mean I don’t say things which get authority figures so angry they’d want to jail me. My neighbors don’t hate me because of what I drive, how I dress or what goes on at my house (at least I don’t think). No one hates me because of who my family is or isn’t.
You could give me more rights than everyone else and I still wouldn’t need them. The right not to stand in line at the hottest night club (I’m not cool enough), the right to the best tickets to NASCAR events (I’m not a fan), or the right to own the first house on the moon (I’m too scared to go and I couldn’t afford it). These rights are useless to me because I don’t need them.
On the flip side — you could probably take away many of my rights and though I wouldn’t be happy about it, my life would probably continue uninterrupted. I’d probably find a way to get along without my right to be free from illegal searches or my right to remain silent. I’ve never needed to exercise these rights and I do my best to lead my life in a way where I hopefully never will.
The question isn’t whether you, me, or anyone we know values these rights because unfortunately experience teaches me we don’t. When you tell people their rights will be taken next they normally don’t care.
When someone unpopular or someone who says, does, or is accused of doing something heinous needs their rights — do we deal with them in an honest way as the framers of the constitution intended? Do we make up the rules as we go along and give them lip service about their civil liberties?
All too often I deal with an establishment that in some small ways rationalizes minimizing someone’s rights. Simple rights like the presumption of innocence, the right to be free from an inappropriate search, or someone’s right to an affordable bond can be infringed because “look at what you did!” I wonder if this is what third-world countries might do to someone they don’t like.
Our rights guaranteed by the Constitution aren’t for the popular people, the conformists or the good every-day citizen. They don’t need them. They are for the people on the fringes, the unpopular people, and the misunderstood. People who need meaningful rights most of all are the people we’ve determined in our heart of committed some terrible wrong. This is what separates America from a third-world-country.
So when I argue about protecting rights to a jury — I don’t tell them to protect someone’s rights because those rights could be taken from them or their family one day… Unfortunately, I’ve come to learn people don’t care about their own rights for the same reason I question whether I need them myself. Instead, I ask them what a third world country would do with a person like my client… and would we tolerate Americans acting the same way as them?
Can we be like a third-world country? I suppose if the shoe fits.
*Jeremy Rosenthal is Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and licensed by the Supreme Court of Texas. Nothing in this article is intended to be legal advice. For legal advice about any situation you should contact an attorney directly.