By John W. Whitehead
“A person should feel secure in their own home. No matter black, white, Hispanic, Asian, I don’t care who they are, they should feel secure in their own home. The police have no right to come in your house and push you around and beat you up and do the things they did on March, 15, 2009.”—Ryan Deaton, defense attorney for Marco Sauceda
Too often, we elevate the events of the American Revolution to near-mythic status and forget that the real revolutionaries were neither agitators nor hotheads, neither looking for trouble nor trying to start a fight. Rather, they were people just like you and me, simply trying to make it from one day to another, a task that was increasingly difficult as Britain’s rule became more and more oppressive.
America was born during a time of martial law, when government troops stationed themselves in homes and trespassed on property without regard for the rights of owners. Prior to the American Revolution, there was virtually no right to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures. As a consequence, British soldiers entered homes and places of business, virtually at will. The effects on the American people were devastating and long-lasting. As one colonist wrote, “our houses, and even our bedchambers, are exposed to be ransacked, our boxes, trunks, and chests broke open, ravaged and plundered by wretches whom no prudent man would venture to employ even as menial servants.”
Fast forward more than 200 years and we seem to have come full circle, once again being victimized by government agents that show little regard for our property or our persons. Indeed, if you want to get a sense of what “justice” in America has been reduced to, just consider the case of 30-year-old Marco Sauceda, who was recently sentenced to serve 30 days in jail and pay a $500 fine for resisting arrest after police mistook him for a burglar in his own home.
Police entered Sauceda’s Texas home on March 15, 2009, allegedly after a neighbor reported seeing a black man kicking in the front door. Obviously frightened, Sauceda, a Honduran immigrant who speaks no English and has the mind of a child, barricaded himself in his bathroom in response to the police invasion. When police did finally get Sauceda out of the bathroom, they pepper-sprayed him, shot him with a pepper ball gun and wrestled him to the ground.
Anyone with an ounce of sense would recognize that there’s something wrong when an innocent man with the mental acuity of a child is not only subjected to a warrantless invasion of his home by police officers but is physically brutalized by those same government agents and then forced to serve time for resisting arrest. And in fact, the jurors in Sauceda’s case did recognize that he had been wronged, but other than asking the judge for leniency in sentencing, they did nothing to right that wrong—they rendered him guilty. The judge was no better, going so far as to suggest that the unarmed Sauceda should have been sentenced to six months in jail for, believe it or not, putting the police officers—who were armed to the teeth, no doubt—in harm’s way.
This case highlights everything that is wrong with the so-called criminal justice system in America, a system whose shortcomings are more often condoned by the judiciary than set right. Unfortunately, whatever protections we have under the law are being steadily eroded by legislation and court rulings that render the individual completely defenseless against the encroachments of the state. In a very real sense, we truly are back to where we started in those pre-Revolutionary War days, seemingly having learned next to nothing from those early days of tyranny at the hands of the British crown.
We are once again being subjected to broad search warrants, government agents trespassing on property without regard for the rights of owners and the blurring of all distinctions—for purposes of searches and seizures—between what is private and public property. Once again, the courts and state legislatures are seen to favor the interests of government officials, especially law enforcement, even if it comes at the expense of civil liberties. Indeed, there is no true justice in a court system where the judge, the prosecutor and the police form a triad against the accused. And once again, Americans are finding themselves underrepresented, overtaxed and forced at gunpoint, practically, to dance to the government’s tune. The similarities to pre-Revolutionary America are startling.
As government invariably oversteps its authority, Americans are faced with the pressing need to maintain the Constitution’s checks against governmental power and abuse. After all, it was not idle rhetoric that prompted the framers of the Constitution to begin with the words “We the people.”
We must remember that our freedoms were created with extraordinary care and foresight, but they were not meant simply for the moment. Our precious liberties were to be passed on to our descendants indefinitely. As the Preamble to the Constitution declares, the Constitution was drafted to “secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.” Formally adopted on September 17, 1787, it has long served as the bulwark of American freedom. And we the citizens are entrusted as guardians of those freedoms. When we shirk that duty, we leave ourselves wide open for an authoritarian regime to rise to power, place restrictions on our freedoms and usurp our right to govern ourselves.
Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Information about the Institute is available at www.rutherford.org.