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9/11's Legacy to Criminal Defense Lawyers

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Nobody likes lawyers until they need one. This is especially true of criminal defense lawyers. I've seen the most suburban, conservative people turn into bleeding heart liberals the moment they (or one of their kids) get arrested by the police. In other words, when someone else's liberties are taken, it is an acceptable infringement for purposes of fighting crime and enforcing punishment.

But, what happens when, in the name of the "War on Terror", all of us are at risk of curtailed liberties as citizens? With the images of 9/11 still fresh in our minds and psyche, we likely are willing to sacrifice some of our liberties for greater national security.

What if you learned that your local police department entered and searched your home without a warrant, without your consent, and without your knowledge? In the name of our country's welfare, government agents possess greater berth to do what they want.

Within 5 weeks of 9/11, Congress passed the 342 page Patriot Act. It amended 15 statutes and gave much more latitude to state and federal police officers to employ wiretaps on our phones, made it easier to secure and use search warrants, and increased the scope of governmental subpoenas to appear before court.

Search warrants used to have to be served immediately on the person to be searched. Not under the Patriot Act. Credit card information, bank account numbers, and information concerning computer usage can now be obtained by our local authorities without a court order. Internet service providers must comply with certain requests by the government without the need of a court order.

American's privacy has shrunk exponentially since 9/11. Not all of it bad. But, anytime the government's power usurps those rights preserved to its citizens for 225 years is a bad thing. For all of us. Getting the toothpaste back in the tube is not easy. It may not even be possible.

What about folks who are lawfully in the U.S. but born in another country. I'm not talking about the foreigners who are here illegally, committing crimes, siphoning government resources and other xenophobic news headlines. I am referring to the first generation immigrants, small business owners, family-centric, tax-paying, hard working, and industrious men and women who are here for the same reason our ancestors came here -- to better their lives and those of their children. For a decade these individuals have been under the watchful gaze of the government. We don't hear about the innocent immigrants held on alleged immigration violations, innocent people jailed as "material witnesses", American citizens unilaterally labeled as "enemy combatants" and imprisoned without being charged with a crime, given a public hearing or afforded an opportunity to confront their accusers. These are also known as important constitutional rights.

How do you, as an American, feel about secret trials, nameless incarceration facilities, and the inability of people to consult with legal counsel while being detained? Guilty or innocent, all of us understand the vital role lawyers play when one is accused of a crime. Deprivation of this right rolls back centuries of Anglo-American legal philosophy.

Americans, all of us, should be hard wired for protecting the fundamental fairness and principles living in the United States Constitution. It seems to me that the past decade has resulted in our collective sense of fairness to be tilted in favor of unprecedented governmental intrustion. Is it time to wake up from this stupor and start questioning the tactics of our empowered leaders? Or do we just wait? If we wait, are we only waiting for an infringement on one of us? I'll tell you this much. If we wait that long, it's going to be too late. Our government's probing eyes and tentacles will be too far entrenched into our daily lives.