It is no secret that the cops think they are above the law. However, when the Chief of Police is blatantly wrong about the law and completely rude and disrespectful to the community he is supposed to serve, something must be done. Last week, I had the chance stand up and do something and I did. Here is what happened….
First, a little background on the situation. A defendant in a criminal case has the right to call witnesses in their own defense.
The Bill of Rights is actually quite clear on that. Further, the defendant can use the subpoena power of the court to compel witnesses to attend court. Of course, if a defendant had to pay witnesses to come to court, then it wouldn’t really be a clear right to call witnesses. That would not be an issue in civil cases where the Bill of Rights is not at stake, but the right is clear in criminal cases.
Some time ago, the South Lake Tahoe Police Department (SLTPD) decided they wanted to test this right. It would be quite easy to incarcerate more people if the police couldn’t be forced to testify when called by a defendant. Some time last year, I served a subpoena on the police department. I was told the subpoena wouldn’t be accepted without payment for testimony. Kindly, I said “no thank you” to the request for payment and informed the SLTPD that they had been served. The case ended up resolving with a plea bargain so the issue was never tested.
Fast forward to January 2016 when I served subpoenas for two officers at SLTPD on behalf of a client. Once again, I was asked to pay the fee for testimony. I informed the front desk staff that I was serving subpoenas in a criminal case and no fee was required. I was once again asked to pay and once again I kindly replied “no thank you.” I was told that the subpoenas would not be accepted and I refused to take them back.
As I was packing my belongings and walking out, the front desk staff began yelling at me and telling me that “you had better not report to the Court that I have been served.” While being yelled at, I calmly informed the staff that they are represented by the city attorney and could raise a motion to quash the subpoenas.
After leaving the police department, I contacted the city attorney as a courtesy to warn them about the problem brewing on their hands.
informed the city attorney that they may want to file a motion to quash my validly served subpoenas and that I would be happy to get this issue before the court so the Judge could give us a ruling on this matter. I was told the city attorney would look into the matter and get back to me.
After a few days go by without hearing anything, I received a letter from the Chief of Police Brian Uhler. This is by far my favorite part of the story.
Not only does the letter incorrectly cite the law to support the Chief’s incorrect legal position, he goes on to insult me. The Chief accuses me of wildly flinging papers at his front desk staff and yelling at them. He called my behavior “rude and unprofessional.” I am sure those who are familiar with my reputation and the reputation of SLTPD and specifically Chief Uhler are rolling on the floor laughing right now.
Once you are done laughing at the Chief’s outrageous claims, there is more to the story. Chief Uhler writes in his letter that he is holding the subpoenas and will not deliver them to the subpoenaed officers without the payment his department is demanding. I took this as a gift. He actually gave me proof, in writing with his signature, that he is actively interfering with a lawful subpoena (court order). We have a legal term for the Chief’s actions and that is ‘contempt’.
I replied to Chief’s Uhler’s accusatory and factually incorrect letter to let him know that he is misinformed about the law and his staff is lying to him about the facts of our interchange. I even cited the law for the Chief to read himself and I let him know that he has an attorney who can file a motion to quash the subpoena on his behalf. I also informed him that if the Officers are not present in court, I will ask the Judge to enforce the validly served subpoenas and I will ask for contempt sanctions against him personally. I felt the fair sanction would be for Chief Uhler to pay my hourly rate for all the time I spent on this issue. And, once again, as a courtesy I sent copies of the Chief’s letter and my reply to the city attorney.
Within hours, I received word form the city attorney that I was 100% correct on the legal issue and the city would not be challenging the subpoenas. I was further told that the subpoenaed officers would be present in court and the city attorney will hold a training for SLTPD staff to teach them how to read and deal with subpoenas. I am so happy that the police may actually learn something. I am very glad to be responsible for the SLTPD staff to have to attend a training. Although you would think being able to read “civil” vs. “criminal” would be a prerequisite to obtaining a job at SLTPD, that doesn’t seem to be the case and hopefully the training will cover these simple points.
As a champion for due process rights in South Lake Tahoe, any victory no matter how large or small is great for the citizens here and great for the Constitution in general. Even though this issue was only in one case for one client, the outcome of this issue affects everyone in South Lake Tahoe. I am happy that I could go to the mat for the people of South Lake Tahoe and the Constitution. I would do it again in a minute for any of my clients. My commitment to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights requires no less.
If you have questions regarding your Constitutional rights or you are facing criminal charges in California or Nevada, contact The Law Office of Adam T. Spicer today for a FREE CONSULTATION (530) 539-4130.