People in Chattanooga and across the country have a remedy to the swarming officers eating out their substance and demanding papers along the highway.
That remedy is called waiving the court.
By David Tulis
That’s something that Hansen Melvin did Tuesday in City Court in Chattanooga. He appeared before attorney Chris Dixson, sitting in for judge Clarence Shattuck.
Mr. Melvin signed forms that did two things. One was to waive his right to an attorney. The other was to waive the court and his “right” to a preliminary hearing.
Mr. Melvin, married and the father of three children, was been charged in a bogus case against him launched by a belligerent police officer, David Campbell.
The false statements in Mr. Campbell’s police report are the subject of an internal affairs investigation sparked by Mr. Melvin in a visit to the police department June 10. He met with Capt. Pedro Bacon and another officer and recounted the events surrounding his arrest. He was effectively arrested walking while nigger.
Read our first story about Chattanooga police abuse: Cop arrests pedestrian who refuses to show driver license; he files complaint
In his steps before the judge Tuesday, Mr. Melvin asserted a constitutional right. That right is to a trial by jury and, preceding that, a right to an indictment. An indictment is issued by the grand jury. Acting upon accusations by the state through its district attorney, a grand jury represents the people. It is intended to filter accusations that the state through its police departments files against members of the citizenry.
Since the case against Mr. Melvin, a quiet-spoken Christian, is bogus to begin with, there was no point in having Judge Dixson try the case and no doubt impose some kind of penalty on Mr. Melvin (six months probation, etc.).
By insisting that state charges be tried in state court by a higher standard of justice, and by insisting on his right to an indictment, Mr. Melvin is going to make his case go away. That probably would be true even if the case were not marred by abusive police tactics and perjurous statements.
Waiving the court
If only other people hauled before the state on frivolous grounds could realize they have the same remedy.
It envisions that an accused in a city or sessions court waives the court and effectively demands to be indicted. An indictment is a right recognized in Tennessee’s constitution in the bill of rights (section 9).‡ It is as important as the right to a trial by jury.
If every person who signs a citation to a traffic or city court enters the court, and says, “I waive this court,” he is effectively saying “I want a jury trial.” He is saying that he wants two juries. He wants the first jury, the grand jury, to review the accusations. That requires the prosecutor to look at all the cases he has to take the grand jury and bring only the most important ones before that body. Then he wants the people, empaneled as a petit jury, to hear all the facts and the applicable law.
That process of weeding out the lesser cases means that many minor victimless crime cases will not get past the district attorney. He doesn’t want to waste time and valuable taxpayer-funded resources. He won’t send petty charges such as traffic cases and disturbing the peace cases to the grand jury demanding a true bill. He will send only the most serious cases as his backlog of petty offenses grows.
If the accusations make it to the grand jury then the accused has the right to a jury trial.
Now a jury trial seems like a daunting prospect. A jury trial. One feels one has to have a lawyer. One has to prepare. One has to issue subpoenas and so on. That indeed is a lot of work but that is the cost of a man’s exercising his constitutionally guaranteed rights. If you are accused, it must be for something important, and so rightly you have a great deal of work to defend yourself if the accusation gets past the DA, is heard by the grand jury that has issued a “true bill.”
Making the system filter out worthless cases
What I have in mind is people becoming aware of the right to waive the court and a right to an indictment. If enough people waive the court, the police will get the message and start sending only serious cases to be prosecuted. Most cases are initiated by the state. If we are an oppressed people it is because of the actions of the state and the police. Waiving the court is a remedy when the state is the moving party and is making a paper crime accusations often without basis.
The sloppiness of the case against Mr. Melvin suggests the problem of pointless and irrational cases and abusive cops whose claims meet no resistance is widespread
If defendants by the dozens, by the hundreds, by thousands got smart and said, “I waive the court,” the number of traffic stops and prosecution for minor infractions would diminish. I am guessing 95 percent of cases brought by the police and the state for nothing crimes would simply vanish. Resistance would push back down to the police department.
Poof! There goes the police state in my county and in yours. The crimes at issue are fabricated charges riding on rough-shod treatment of the people. They are not inherent evils (mala in se) but paper crimes (mala prohibitas), crimes against custom, ordinance or statute for which there is no real injury or harm except to the theoretical corporate deity of the state and its purported peace and dignity.
The question is for us: How do we get people to understand the right to “waive the court”? It would take activists milling about courtroom hallways and balconies and toil for months among commoners to have a noticeable effect. Such an effort would convince people to say, “I waive this court” and to sign the papers that Mr. Melvin signed Tuesday.
Bottom up reform — or should we wait for top-down fix?
Of such a groundswell we can perhaps only fantasize. Social media and the Internet are really of no help in bringing about such recognition of rights. They depersonalize the populace and make almost everything worthless.
Waiving the court will work for Hanson Melvin, the individual. Waiving the court as a form of mass resistance is theoretical as there is no way to accomplish it except through personal interactions of people willing to give time “on the ground,” as it were.
It needs courthouse activists with an argument for local economy and locally driven reform.
Waiving the court is a reform that needs to come from the people themselves, a reform from below that squeezes restraint into the system and lets the city court system — that great grinding machine of state convenience against the people — wither away from declining use.
‡ Tennessee constitution, article 1, section 9. That in all criminal prosecutions, the accused hath the right to be heard by himself and his counsel; to demand the nature and cause of the accusation against him, and to have a copy thereof, to meet the witnesses face to face, to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and in prosecutions by indictment or presentment, a speedy public trial, by an impartial jury of the county in which the crime shall have been committed, and shall not be compelled to give evidence against himself.