July 26, 2005

Stop The "Peace Officer Justice Act"

Reading that headline, you may think I am nuts. After all, who could be against justice for slain police officers (or any murder victim)? Certainly not me, which is why I oppose the bill. It does nothing to get justice for murdered cops -- and has the effect of lowering the maximum sentence for cop-killers who manage to skip across the border into Mexico. Speaking as the brother of a cop, I don't find that acceptable at all.

Bob Baker, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, does a good job of explaing the problem with this well-intentioned bill sponsored by Congressman David Dreir.

Mexico has become a fugitive paradise, willingly harboring and giving sanctuary to hundreds of murderers who have fled the United States after their crimes. A 2001 Mexican Supreme Court decision in essence halted all extraditions of Mexican citizens, or those Americans of Mexican descent. That decision forbade Mexico from extraditing any person, whether or not a Mexican citizen, if that person faced a sentence that carried the possibility of life imprisonment, saying it would violate the Mexican constitution and was "cruel and unusual punishment." In addition, Mexico has consistently refused to extradite murderers if they faced the death penalty.

Dreier's legislation only worsens the situation.

The legislation, ostensibly designed to get cop killers returned to the United States, gives exclusive jurisdiction over such cases to the federal government. Washington then gets to decide, in negotiation with the foreign government harboring the cop killer, the sentence the killer will face. Only after the sentence is agreed upon would there be an extradition. The terms of the extradition treaty would preclude any state prosecution.

Yeah, that's right -- if someone managed to slip out of the US, they would be subject to a lesser penalty than if they were caught within the borders of the United States. Prosecution would be handled by the Federal Courts, with state charges forbidden (a violation of federalism). That's not acceptable to me, and shouldn't be to any American.

Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley succinctly pointed out these shortcomings in a blistering letter to Dreier. Cooley noted that while nicely titled, Dreier's legislation is nothing more than a sleight of hand that would, in the end, cheapen the sentence for the murder of police officers, acquiesce to the demands of Mexico, and provide an incentive for the murderers of law enforcement officers to flee to Mexico.

Let me be clear. If -- God forbid! -- something ever happens to my brother, I want to see the creep involved get the maximum possible penalty. (If it isn't the death penalty, I want 5 minutes with the cameras off so that I can administer 9mm of justice on behalf of my sister-in-law and my niece and my nephew.) What I do not want is for some Joe Wilson-type mint-tea-and-cookies diplomat to sit down with his corrupt Mexican government amigo and work out a sentence in advance of the trial and without regard to the penalties set forth by law.

The district attorney also pointed out that the Peace Officer Justice Act ignores the plight of all the other violent crimes committed by those who flee the country. It also discounts the considerable experience and expertise of local prosecutors who routinely prosecute murder cases.

I also object to the fact that this does nothing for the victims of crimes against ordinary citizens. This December will be the tenth anniversary of the "thrill-kill" murder of a former colleague's daughter by a couple of Mexican gangbangers who jumped back across the border. One was eventually arrested in Mexico, but the same ruling that prevents the extradition of cop killers also prevents the extradition of Kristie's murderer. Where is the justice in ignoring the deaths of ordinary Americans?

In the end, all I can say is that the status quo is better than the Dreier bill.

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