If you read my Twitter feed, you may know that I am a bit left of center when it comes to politics. Ok, I’m a lot left of center.
But, like so many criminal defense lawyers, I don’t judge my clients’ politics. I have clients who are far right, far left, in the middle and downright apolitical.
It doesn’t matter to me. I’m there to protect and represent them, no matter their political views.
So, although my political side may have been pleased to see Roger Stone, President Trump’s longtime advisor, arrested this morning, that’s not the end of it.
My defense-lawyer side raged at his arrest.
Why in the world is the FBI showing up at Mr. Stone’s house in full SWAT-team gear to arrest him? And, how is it that the media just happened to be there?
The perp walk is alive and well.
It’s an abuse of prosecutorial and law enforcement power.
It should stop.
I wrote about perp walks a few months ago, when former SDNY United States Attorney Preet Bharara showed a cavalier attitude toward their use. Here’s how I described it (read the post for more information about them):
A perp walk is when law enforcement arrests someone and walks them in handcuffs into the police station (or courthouse) in full view of the media. The common assumption is that law enforcement tipped off the media about the arrest.
During Mr. Stone’s arrest this morning, multiple FBI agents showed up at his door in the pitch-black early morning hours. They banged on his door, yelling “FBI. Open Up. Warrant.” I’m not posting the video. Go find it somewhere else.
This is completely unnecessary.
I understand sending FBI agents to arrest someone accused of a white-collar crime if there is credible evidence that he is a flight risk. If the government has information that he is violent, then, sure, send in the big guns. Maybe Al Capone was indicted for tax fraud, but I’m fine with the government sending the FBI to arrest him.
Mr. Stone is neither violent or a flight risk, as far as I can tell. He’s 66 years old. He’s not indicted for murder or any crime of violence, but rather for lying to Congress and witness tampering.
The only possible reason to authorize a perp walk is to humiliate the defendant. For most people, though, an indictment and arraignment and plea hearing (or trial) and sentencing are humiliating enough.
This arrest strikes me as a bizarre demonstration of power by the Special Counsel’s Office. They could have simply called his lawyer, said that the indictment would be unsealed and arranged for his self-surrender.
Perp walks also raise the risk for the agents. There’s always the chance that someone—even the most docile-seeming corporate executive—may decide to pull out a gun or do something rash at the sight of agents storming his lawn or house.
Why put the agents at risk if you don’t need to?
The Special Counsel’s Office has shown admirable restraint during this investigation. Mr. Mueller has been content to proceed in a dignified and appropriate fashion—piecing together his case bit by bit, bringing indictments that are neither stretches of law nor facts and so forth. His team has been remarkably tight-lipped with the media, letting court documents speak for the office, not leaks.
This aberration gives me pause. Perhaps Mr. Stone was unwilling to self-surrender for some reason? Perhaps the Special Counsel’s Office had some intelligence that he might flee the country or is violent?
If one of those is true, then fine. Arresting him this way makes sense.
But leaking the exact timing of the arrest to the media does not.
UPDATE: I’ve seen some back and forth on Twitter making the very valid point that rich, mostly white, white-collar criminal defendants shouldn’t enjoy any special privileges when it comes to arrest.
To be clear, the perp walk is not right for any defendant. If the government has credible evidence that a person is a flight risk or dangerous, then it’s fine to arrest him with agents in the early-morning hours, no matter the charges.
The problem isn’t the method of arrest, as much as the media’s convenient presence to cover it. The image of the defendant’s sudden arrest is then splashed across the news stories every time the case is mentioned–the defendant in handcuffs, looking disheveled and upset. That risks tainting a jury pool.
Every single part of a public perp walk benefits the government. And it can cause an indelible harm to the defendant.
Frankly, Mr. Mueller doesn’t strike me as the prosecutor who would leak this to the press. So, maybe an agent did. Maybe the press was just staking out Mr. Stone’s house in anticipation of an indictment.
Innocent until proven guilty means something, people.