What do you do when a judge won’t sign a warrant? If you are a person accused, you breath a sigh of relief and thank the heavens for an independent judiciary. But what if you are a police officer, and the judge refuses to bless your handiwork? What happens then? In Connecticut, you threaten to arrest the judge for hindering prosecution.
Bantam Superior Court Judge Corinne Klatt is accused of coercion and "a violation of the criminal law" by a member of the Connecticut State Police because she refused to sign an arrest warrant prepared by the trooper. Police state anyone? Now even the judiciary is to be arrested if it doesn’t do the bidding of a cop on a toot
Details are a little hazy, but it appears that Connecticut State Trooper Mark Laurento filled out a warrant for the arrest of a man for assault. The would-be victim was apparently communicating with the potential arrestee’s former girlfriend. When the judge read the warrant, something did not set right. From where she sat, it looked as though the girlfriend, too, should be arrested. So the judge told the trooper she would not sign the warrant for the man unless the officer also submitted a warrant for the arrest of the girlfriend.
An arrest warrant is simply a device that recites the reasons a police officer has for believing that a crime was committed. The legal standard is a step or two from the Quija Board – an office needs mere probable cause, some reasonable basis to believe, that the law was broken. This is a standard only slightly more demanding that the standard necessary for an investigatory stop, the infamous articulable suspicion standard that permits an officer to briefly detain a person if he can put into words his reasons for suspicion. (This is suppose to be better than mere gut-feelings or hunches, but, as every criminal defense lawyer knows, only turnips are incapable of putting their hunches into words.)
I am pleasantly surprised by Judge Klatt’s boldness in refusing to sign the warrant in this case. Judges often act as though they were semi-blind when it comes to quality control. Bring them a warrant making out the broadest outlines of the most significant crime, and they seem to sign almost as quickly as you can utter "all rise." Judge Klatt is a former prosecutor from the City of Waterbury, where we went toe to toe from time to time. I recall a memorable trial a decade or so in which she prosecuted two clients of mine for assaulting police officers in a bar fight. It was a not guilty verdict I still cherish. I still think of her as a prosecutor, despite the black robe she now wears.
Defendants seeking to raise selective prosecution claims almost always fail. I don’t recall how many times I have had to tell someone the equivalent of the following: Yes, you were driving 80 miles per hour in a 55 mile per hour zone. Others were going faster than you. It is no defense to say that because others were breaking the law and only you were arrested life is unfair. You were still breaking the law.
It appears that something like this is just what Judge Klatt saw in the warrant presented to her by the eager beaver Trooper. Rather than doing what most judges and prosecutors do, which is signing off on a warrant and then letting it all get sorted out in the criminal courts, she asked some basic questions about fairness before signing the warrant. When she did not like the answer she got, she did not sign the warrant. That’s what I call commendable judicial independence.
At the low end of the penal code, where penalties are measured in months rather than decades, the first person in a dispute to darken the police station’s door is often called the victim. Yet more often not, these sorts of mundane conflicts are the result of a conflict involving two parties, both of whom arguably have broken the law. Judge Klatt apparently saw a mad-dash to the police station by two folks equally culpable. Rather than letting one of them claim the victor’s prize and the victim’s crown, she stopped the silliness in its tracks. Good for her.
Shame on the trooper who thinks it is a crime to say no to him. It is a good thing for him that intemperance is not a crime. I’d sign a warrant for his arrest on such charges.