Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The Prosecution Of Michael Phelps

I knew it.

The minute I saw this picture:

I said, "when's the arrest?"

Now, I'm not advocating the arrest of Michael Phelps. In fact, I think the arrest and prosecution of Michael Phelps is a great example of what's wrong with America.

One thing first. Lawyers for Michael Phelps, what were you thinking? Sorry for assuming you were thinking, but why did you allow your client to say ANYTHING?

I trust the lawyers on board Michael's team wear white shirts and rep ties and saw a courtroom last when they were sworn in to the Bar, so allow me to offer some advice: When you are presented with a photo of your client possibly committing a crime, you and your client, say nothing.

Now I know the first thought was "how do we protect Michael's endorsements and his boy scout image?" That was stupid, but I trust you all didn't think to even speak to a yucky criminal defense lawyer.

So now we have a photo and a modified confession. "I engaged in behavior which was regrettable and demonstrated bad judgment," said Phelps. The regrettable behavior and bad judgment being opening his big mouth after opening it to cover the bong.

Cue today's story that the Sheriff is contemplating criminal charges.

"Authorities will file criminal charges if the investigation determines that they are warranted, a spokesman said Tuesday."

Well that's good to know.

Here's my favorite quote: "The Richland County Sheriff's Department is making an effort to determine if Mr. Phelps broke the law. If he did, he will be charged in the same manner as anyone else. The sheriff has a responsibility to be fair, to enforce the law and to not turn a blind eye because someone is a celebrity."

I wonder what would happen if people just started sending in photos of people smoking pot in Richland County?

No, actually, I don't.

Here's the mission of the Richland County Sheriff's Office:

"It is the mission of the Richland County Sheriff's Department to improve the quality of life of the citizens of Richland County by:

Maintaining a high standard of professional accountability, reducing the fear of crime, and reducing the fear of retaliation from those persons who constitute the criminal element within the county."

So if Michael Phelps is arrested for possession of marijuana that "reduces the fear of crime or "reduces the fear of retaliation from those persons who constitute the criminal element within the county?"

No, but what the hell. Pot is bad, illegal, and as the Sheriff said "If someone breaks the law in Richland County, we have an obligation as law enforcement to investigate and to bring charges."

I hate to use legal reasoning here, but c'mon!

Have you seen the news Sheriff? Is your department, your county, facing severe budget cuts? Are the residents crying out for pot smokers to be prosecuted? It is a college town you know.

I say so what, who cares. This is the message we send? That if a photo surfaces of misdemeanor conduct (by the way "misdemeanor" means "mistake in demeanor," not "murder") and someone apologizes, we initiate an investigation and prosecute?

Move on already. America, and especially Richland County are no safer by the arrest or prosecution of Michael Phelps.

I think he will be arrested - not for the photo, but for the photo and for opening his big mouth.

Michael asked for forgiveness from the public. Unfortunately, that public probably does not include the resourceful law enforcement in Richland County South Carolina.

Brian Tannebaum is a criminal defense lawyer in Miami, Florida practicing in state and federal court. Read his free ebook The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer. To learn more about Brian and his firm, Tannebaum Weiss, please visit www.tannebaumweiss.com


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