Thursday, January 26, 2012

An unjust situation? Maybe not.

I was looking at the post on the legal blog Above the Law today. For whatever reason, this post caught my eye. Perhaps it was the post's title "Even a Bargained For Search of Breasts Can Be Pretty Damn Illegal If You’re a Cop"

The post is about, as the author puts it, the "nexus of abusive police power and drunk co-eds." It seems that a campus police officer at Central Michigan University recently bet two female students that their blood alcohol levels were higher than 0.05%. If the police officer won the bet, the girls were supposed to expose their breasts to the officer. The girls lost the bet.

The post goes on to say the officer has:
pleaded guilty to misconduct, and could be looking at five years in prison. At first blush, that sounds like a heavy price to pay for essentially saying, “show me your tits.”
But that’s probably just the testosterone talking. The AP story doesn’t give us all the facts. We don’t know if this was a stupid little game between some kids and a guy trying to play along, or a coercive encounter between a person of authority and relatively defenseless college students. The police get away with enough in this country that I’m comfortable if the ambiguity is read in favor of the college kids.
But incarceration feels like a bit much. Fire him, take away his pension or something. Let’s make sure that the next time he wants a free show, he’s got to throw away some beads instead of flashing a badge. But I’m not sure that running around making bets with co-eds over a flash really constitutes a menace to society that needs to be punished with prison.
So the author thinks that the possible penalty for the guilty plea is too high because, as the title says, the incident was just a "bargain." It might have been a bargain but it wasn't an arm's length transaction between parties of equal bargaining power.

Before I go further, in the author's defense the AP story he linked to does not give all the facts. However, the AP story does say it is relying on reporting from the local paper in Mount Pleasant, Michigan—The Morning Sun. The Morning Sun story goes into a bit more detail.

According to the Morning Sun, Jeffrey Allen Card, pleaded guilty on the day his trial was to begin. Mr. Card was on his patrol when two female students asked him for a ride home. Instead of giving them a ride home, he drove them out of town and made the "bet" about the students' blood alcohol content. The students showed the Mr. Card their breasts. Mr. Card didn't take the students back to their dorm until his dispatcher called asking Mr. Card to return to campus. Also, according to a CBS news report done at the time the incident was reported, Card took pictures of the students on the back of his squad car.

Three observations: first, the situation seems a lot more ominous than what the Above the Law author thought. The officer did just ask to see the women's breasts, he arguably abducted them. I don't know what penalty the judge on Mr. Card, but jail doesn't seem like an unjust situation to me. Second, Mr. Card wasn't found guilty, he pleaded guilty. If we adopt the formulation used by Above the Law, Mr. Card made a bargain. So, presumably Mr. Card didn't think the possible sentence was too harsh compared to the trial. Third, Google tells me that the search I ran to get the full story on Mr. Card took .21 seconds. Just saying. Finally, none of the stories seem to answer the question that made me search Mr. Card in the first place: what did the students get if Mr. Card lost?

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