Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Has The Chief Justice Been Watching The Wire?
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. channeled his inner crime writer in an opinion issued this morning that hinted at a keen understanding of the drug corner.
The case, Pennsylvania v. Dunlap, was out of Philadelphia but it could just as easily have been from Baltimore, where HBO show The Wire was based.
Roberts, joined by Justice Anthony Kennedy, dissented from the denial of certiorari in a case involving a convicted drug dealer.
Nathan Dunlap got off the hook because the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decided that the arresting cop didn't have probable cause.
Put simply, Officer Sean Devlin - or should that be Officer Jimmy McNulty? (pictured) - saw an exchange on the corner and arrested the purchaser, who was found to have three bags of crack.
But the court said the transaction witnessed by Devlin was not enough to establish probable cause.
Roberts sought to show that perhaps there was by fictionalising the episode in the opening paragraphs of his opinion:
North Philly, May 4, 2001. Officer Sean Devlin, Narcotic Strike Force, was working the morning shift. Undercover surveillance. The neighborhood? Tough as a three dollar steak. Devlin knew. Five years on the beat, nine months with the strike force. He's made fifteen, twenty drug busts in the neighborhood.
Devlin spotted him: a lone man on the corner. Another approached. Quick exchange of words. Cash handed over; small objects handed back. Each man then quickly on his own way. Devlin knew the guy wasn't buying bus tokens. He radioed a description and Officer Stein picked up the buyer. Sure enough: three bags of crack in the guy's pocket. Head downtown and book him. Just another day at the office.
David Simon would be impressed.