There has been a lot of hullabaloo over Arizona’s new law that has claimed to give police the right to ask for your papers so to speak. With all the hysteria surrounding the bill I decided to go read the bill for myself. I’m not a lawyer but I can generally derive laws from text to an extent. It didn’t take long for me to find the clause that’s causing all the uproar:
B. FOR ANY LAWFUL CONTACT MADE BY A LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICIAL OR AGENCY OF THIS STATE OR A COUNTY, CITY, TOWN OR OTHER POLITICAL SUBDIVISION OF THIS STATE WHERE REASONABLE SUSPICION EXISTS THAT THE PERSON IS AN ALIEN WHO IS UNLAWFULLY PRESENT IN THE UNITED STATES, A REASONABLE ATTEMPT SHALL BE MADE, WHEN PRACTICABLE, TO DETERMINE THE IMMIGRATION STATUS OF THE PERSON. THE PERSON’S IMMIGRATION STATUS SHALL BE VERIFIED WITH THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT PURSUANT TO 8 UNITED STATES CODE SECTION 1373(c).
Talk about vague. I found nothing else in this bill that specifies what lawful contact means, what reasonable suspicion means (usually it’s a cheap cop out that gives officers the authority to make up any old reason for searching your person or vehicle), or what they mean by when practicable.
I believe there are always grounds for concern when vague laws are passed. With the wording present seems to make it perfectly legal for an officer to walk up to you and ask for your papers. As no guidelines are in the bill restricting what “reasonable suspicion” is the officer can pretty much make up any old excuse (the suspect was talking in Spanish, etc.). After carousing through the entire bill I can say that yes this is a horrible piece of legislation based on the above mentioned clause.
This law enacts a guilty until proven innocent clause. According the the Supreme Court case Coffin v. United States (and common sense):
The principle that there is a presumption of innocence in favor of the accused is the undoubted law, axiomatic and elementary, and its enforcement lies at the foundation of the administration of our criminal law.
The entire text of the decision can be read here. It’s a good read as it does go over the history of presumption of innocence. And that is my major quarrel with Arizona’s new law. It violates the basic idea that a person is presumed innocent. Remember no proof of a crime needs to exist for an officer to ask for your papers, just reasonable suspicion (which could be anything really).
Whether you want stronger immigration laws and/or stricter laws against illegal aliens in this country I think you can agree that assuming guilt is no sane way to approach this topic in a free country (and if you think the idea of guilty until proven innocent is a good idea may I suggest moving to China). A person should never have to be assumed guilty without hard evidence collected tying them to the said crime. Having “reasonable suspicion” isn’t hard evidence nor does it constitute an investigation. It just means the officer had a hunch or gut feeling and was able to articulate it well enough to be considered “reasonable” (reasonable of course being different depending on the person you talk to).
Personally I think this is a horrible law that goes against the very ideas this country’s justice system is founded on.