Celebrating “Legal Technicalities”
by Jamison Koehler on January 25, 2010
In “Reconfiguring Terms,” legal blogger Gideon complains about the widespread use of the phrase “legal technicality” to explain why a particular criminal case was dismissed. Writes Gideon: “It really grinds my gears when I hear lay people . . . use the term technicality to describe a violation of some Constitutional right.”
Gideon is absolutely right. People often do use the term, and, in so doing, they usually utter the term in a disbelieving, exasperated tone. As in: “Can you believe the guy got off on some legal technicality?” As in: “But for the legal technicality, the guy would be in jail where he belongs.”
So what does it mean to get off on a legal technicality? In most cases it means that the judge has dismissed the case because of some violation of the defendant’s constitutional rights. Maybe the police made a warrantless search. Maybe they interrogated a suspect without reading the suspect his rights.
If so, the dismissal of the charges should be grounds for celebration, not exasperation or consternation. We should be celebrating the fact our Constitution is alive and well, that we have the means to hold our law enforcement personnel accountable, and that we have the judges with the courage and integrity to enforce the Constitution.
Gideon suggests we try to replace the phrase “legal technicality” with a phrase that more accurately describes the true reason the case was dismissed. For example, it would not be that the charges were thrown out because of a legal technicality but that the case was dismissed because of police misconduct. Or prosecutorial dishonesty. Or fabrication of evidence.
Adds Jeff Gamso of Gamso –For the Defense: “The Constitution is not a technicality.” He too is absolutely right. A legal technicality is a piece of fine-print hidden away in some obscure legal document or statute, not the broad legal protections contained in the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments.