When a convicted felon is released from prison because his rights were inadvertently violated by law enforcement personnel the public is, understandably, upset.
Citizens are not alone in their anger and frustration. Law enforcement officials, including Walla Walla County Prosecuting Attorney Jim Nagle, have exactly the same feelings when a procedural error taints a case.
Given that, Nagle should be commended for his principled stand and quick action in doing the right thing in dismissing the charges against a local man serving time in prison when it was learned his attorney-client privilege had been violated.
Joseph A. Davis was released last week from the Airway Heights Corrections Center where he was serving a prison sentence of more than three years for beating up his then-girlfriend and assaulting her sister. He served a total of 19 months in the County Jail and state prison.
It was determined that inadvertent recordings were made at the Walla Walla County Jail of telephone conversations between Davis and his lawyer, William McCool. To its credit, the Sheriff's Office has taken steps to ensure this type of error does not occur again.
Nagle said in an interview with U-B reporter Terry McConn that his office investigated a complaint by Davis this past spring that phone calls he placed to his attorney were recorded in months leading up to Davis' guilty pleas and sentencing in mid-2011. Davis at the time was incarcerated at the County Jail, which is under the jurisdiction of the Sheriff's Office.
All phone conversations made by inmates are recorded except when they are speaking to their attorney. The phone numbers of attorneys are put into the system, which is supposed to stop those calls from being recorded.
Jail staff told Nagle's office that McCool had made an oral request for his cellphone number to be blocked from recording, presumably before the recordings occurred. Nagle said his office is operating on the assumption that not adding McCool's cellphone number to the blocked list was an oversight by a jail officer.
There was no intent to usurp the rights of Davis. This apparently was an honest mistake.
"Regardless of whether we like it or not it's our duty as prosecutors to make sure this type of thing is being taken care of," Nagle said.
Exactly. It is essential the authorities take seriously the rights of all citizens, even those who are accused of detestable crimes, to ensure all get a fair and just trial.
Constitutional rights are being taken seriously in Walla Walla County.
Nagle, after doing an investigation, knew a suspect's rights had been violated. When the information was presented to Superior Court Judge John Lohrmann he signed the dismissal order. The case cannot be refiled.
Nearly everyone involved is not happy that Davis got off the hook on a technicality.
In the end, this was the right thing to do. Nagle fulfilled his duty to the people extremely well.