THE COUNSELOR’S CORNER
Kudos to Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Thomas Willhite who issued a courageous and appropriate decision in late June of this year. This case involves the deaths of racing promoter Mickey Thompson and his wife Trudy, who were slain in 1988. The chief suspect is named Michael Goodwin, who was a former partner of Thompson, and at that time, a rival of Mr. Thompson, with his own racing promotion business. Apparently, Mr. Goodwin has been suspected of hiring the killers of the Thompsons, and he has been suspected of such for a long period of time. As part of their investigation of this case, the Sheriff’s Department wanted Mr. Goodwin to appear in a police line-up. On March 28th of this year, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge John Torribo ordered Goodwin to appear in a line-up. Mr. Goodwin and his attorney appealed, and the Second District Court of Appeal, led by the previously mentioned Judge Willhite, sitting on special assignment, said no.
I mean, think about this: Goodwin is merely a suspect. He has neither been arrested nor indicted, and suddenly he is being ordered to participate in a line-up? The State Appellate Court appropriately decided that Judge Torribo had no jurisdiction to order Goodwin to appear in a line-up. Had he been under indictment or under arrest, that would have been a different story; however, for purposes of court, Goodwin is just a regular citizen out there living his life.
If the Court had ruled that the order to participate in the line-up was proper, we could have people who are suspected of committing crimes brought into jail and forced to submit to police line-ups without their being previously charged. It would create a temporary custodial situation in which the individual would be in custody for however long it took to do the police line-up, and then perhaps would be released. Alternatively, if the individual was chosen from the police line-up, he would not be released. A line-up is supposed to be confirmatory, not purely investigatory. If the police make an arrest and to make sure they have the right person, they decide to put him in a line-up, then he has the right to contact an attorney, and there is an appropriate procedure for the handling of the line-up. In this case, a police department would suddenly have had the ability to obtain temporary jurisdiction of an individual suspected of committing a crime and to deny him of his freedom for a period of time while putting him through the line-up. The State Supreme Court indicated that the law just does not permit this, and if police agencies wish to be able to do this, they need to approach the legislature and have a law written and then passed.
That makes sense to me. I do not like to hear about situations in which judges order regular citizens to appear in line-ups when there is no law upon which such a decision can be based. Many would argue that we have too many laws as it is, or that the laws we have on the books need to be enforced. This involved an attempt to enforce a law that does not exist.
If they want Mr. Goodwin in a line-up, they are going to have to arrest and indict him. If this is to be changed, it is to be changed by the legislature, not by a court of law extending the power of law enforcement by reading into a statute something that does not exist.