Going out with a bang–and a sniff

Shannon P. O’Connor recently retired as the First Assistant Federal Public Defender for the District of Nebraska. Shannon spent his career defending people accused of crime.

Yesterday, our Court celebrated Shannon’s retirement. Shannon has always been known for being tough, candid, funny and delight to deal with. He was one of the very best.

His last act before retirement was arguing Rodriguez v. United States on January 21, 2015 before the United States Supreme Court. This was a dog-sniff case following a traffic stop. You can read the oral argument transcript here. Shannon did a great a job.

Photo credit: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Photo credit: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images. (This is not Shannon.)

As Shannon enters into his well deserved retirement he can do so knowing he went out with a bang–and a sniff. Shannon should be very proud of himself. Goodness knows, he made the rest of us in flyover country proud of him and the Federal Public Defender’s office for the District of Nebraska.


Radley Balko and the inexperience of the Justices when it comes to criminal law

Radley Balko blogs about criminal justice, the drug war and civil liberties for The Washington Post. He is the author of the book “Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces.”

My guess is that brother Balko and I agree on very little. But that is not true for Mr. Balko’s The Supreme Court’s massive blind spot, Washington Post (January 22, 2015).

Mr. Balko asserts:

This term, the Supreme Court heard two cases involving the actions of police officers during traffic stops. How the court comes down on the two cases will likely have significant repercussions far beyond the facts of the cases themselves. The court’s decisions could affect how police target motorists, which motorists they target and how often, and how they interact with motorists once they’ve pulled them over. The decisions will likely affect how police profile motorists to look for drug couriers, who gets detained and searched, and who has property confiscated through civil asset forfeiture.

Here’s the problem: You’d be hard-pressed to assemble nine lawyers in America who as a collective are further removed from the realities of the facts of these cases than the nine justices of the Supreme Court.

(Emphasis added)

Mr. Balko is correct. And that is a big problem no matter your view about how criminal law cases should be resolved (or even taken up) by the Justices. There is a real world out there where cops interact with citizens. The Justices have no clue about how that world actually functions.


*Balko adds: “(*This post doesn’t look into that case [Rodriguez v. United States] specifically, but to see how the theme of the post applies to it, see this analysis by New York criminal defense attorney Scott Greenfield.) As frequent readers of this blog know, Rodriguez comes from the District of Nebraska.  As Scott noted, “But then an independent, intervening naked mud-wrestling match broke out, and being quite a fan, I sat on the sidelines, munching popcorn, watching intently.  In the comments to my post, Judge Richard Kopf and Lawprof Orin Kerr squared off.  It was a fascinating, and revealing, discussion.”


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