Northern Valley Beacon

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Monday, December 05, 2005


The dog ate my Habeas Corpus

My son came home from high school Friday before heading off for his station by the deep fryer at Scotty's and said there had been an "adminstrative lockdown." I said, you better get right back to school and let those administrators loose or you kids might end up at Guantanamo. My son gave me that same look his mother does and then looked to the heavens as if asking the head Intelligent Designer if there was not some relief from such prattle on earth. I am very nice to my son because he towers over me by more than half a foot and lifts weights.

But anyway, I found out that an administrative lockdown is when all the students are confined to classrooms while the police come in with drug dogs and sniff out stashes. So how was the hunting today? I asked. He said he heard that they caught two teachers with stashes in their cars, and a couple of students. As I know that high schools are major sources of inane rumors and urban legends without a grain of truth, I grilled him about names and witnesses and such until he gave me that look again and I reappraised his stature and musculature. I decided to wait for the news accounts.

I waited, and waited, and waited, and here it is Monday and no medium has even mentioned that the pot pointers and their handlers were holding maneuvers at the high school.

Back when I was a member of the working press, this would never happen. For one thing, it is the job of the press in its role as the Fourth Estate to report to the people anything and everything that government agencies who work for the people do in their behalf. We did not intrude upon investigations that need to be kept confidential, but locking up kids in the high school while stash hounds and their handlers prowl the hallways and parking lots is not exactly a confidential investigation. We took very seriously the principle that we had a responsibility to inform the people what their servants were doing.

However, in law enforcement actions there is the principle of Habeas Corpus, and it has special implications for the press. In short, the right of Habeas Corpus means that if anyone is arrested or taken into custody, the officials have to reveal that they have detained somebody, reveal who that person is, and start due process of law by charging them before a judge. If officials do not have a case against a person that will justify arrest and detention, the person must be released. If a person is held without being officially charged, he/she may apply for a Write of Habeas Corpus which requires a judge to determine if the person is being lawfully detained. Habeas Corpus as a right is specified in Article I, Section 9, of the Constitution: "The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it."

The press often obtains a Writ of Habeas Corpus when it is apparent that a person is being detained without a valid charge. It is one of the ways that press helps insure that people are not detained in violation of their Constitutional rights and that due process of law is followed.

At the minimum, a large-scale action should be reported by the press so that people can separate fact from rumor. And to fulfill its obligations under the First Amendment, the press must inform the people of just what the people they pay to enforce the laws are doing.

But there is no press in Aberdeen that serves the Fourth Estate function. And so if someone was actually arrested or if someone is being held unlawfully, who is to know?

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