Is that what things have come to in the Connecticut criminal justice system? Shame, shame, shame on the Trumbull first selectman, Thomas Hermann, who is reported to have forced the issue, and the librarian, Bernadette Baldino, who called the police. The crime? Bringing the material back in 5 days versus the 24 hours the woman was given as a deadline. What audacity the woman had to disobey the great OZ!! The key part of this case is that there was no express refusal to bring stuff back – just tardiness in doing so. Further, every library has overdue fines for material returned after a deadline. Hell, I have added a wing onto the Wilton library with the fines I have paid for 4 kids! What raises this to the level of a criminal act? Well, nothing, actually.
This is a perfect example of what is wrong with our current system. Police too often abandon their discretion to treat a matter as "criminal." Every shouting match is a Breach of Peace. Every fender bender, even when there is no damage, is an Evading Responsibility. Every family argument is a dual arrest and labeled domestic violence. 5 kids in a car and one bag of pot - they all get arrested. 10 kids at a party and one keg - same thing – 10 arrests.
Let's assume the worse set of facts here. The woman in question is a jerk. She knew she had the books. She thumbed her nose at repeated late notices. She treated librarians and the police with disrespect when they contacted her. The police power of the government expressed their anger by ARRESTING her. Arrest warrants, handcuffs, booking photos, fingerprints, reading of rights, bail and appearance in criminal court subject to 6 months in jail. In order for this to happen the police had to receive a complaint, find it had merit, prepared an arrest affidavit claiming a crime was committed which is then submitted to the State's Attorney's office (prosecutor) for an independent review, the prosecutor has to agree with the police that a crime was committed and then a judge of the superior court has to agree with the police and prosecutor before this matter can ever result in an arrest! Being a jerk isn't against the law.
Thousands of people have their lives turned upside down every year because of poor police judgment in the arrest process over stupid, petty disputes or spontaneous poor decision-making. Police used to have really thick skins; it was part of the job description. They would also settle disputes on site using their authority. If they didn't the prosecutors would separate the wheat from the chaff and drop the charges once they got to court recognizing the person went through a lot just getting to court including everyone in town knowing they got arrested courtesy of the local police logs. Today – everyone gets arrested for everything and rarely is the case dropped. Every arrest is an assault on our liberty interest and subjects the arrested party to the full power of the State no matter how insignificant the transgression.
The politicians and law enforcement could care less about all this. And the fact is, neither will most of you reading this care . . . until it happens to you, or a son, or daughter, or loved one. Then we care. Don't get me wrong. There are still many decent and compassionate people working in the criminal justice system who know the difference between acting like a jerk, a mistake and a crime. They are just becoming fewer and fewer.
This time it was an unfortunate woman in Trumbull. Tomorrow it could be you.
Now, I gotta run. Pretty sure I saw a copy of Lord of the Flies under my son's bed . . .