July 16, 2008

Corruption and a Criminal's Rights

Justin Katz

Regardless of the identity of the alleged harasser, I agree with Will that the timing of Bobby Oliveira's arrest is suspicious. I'd even go so far as to suggest that it's reason for concern, given its Rhode Island political context:

The police yesterday picked up School Committee candidate Robert. T. Oliveira on a year-old arrest warrant, charging him with making harassing phone calls to a Tiverton woman who described herself as an ex-girlfriend. ...

Tiverton police obtained the most recent arrest warrant on June 26 of last year after the woman complained to them about more than one call Oliveira allegedly made to her on her cell phone. ...

A Newport patrolman saw Oliveira jogging on Bellevue Avenue in front of The Elms mansion shortly before 8 a.m. yesterday, said Lt. William Fitzgerald. He said the officer believed an arrest for Oliveira was outstanding and, after confirming his belief, stopped Oliveira and took him into custody. Newport turned him over to Tiverton police around 10:30 a.m. ...

Neither Maltais nor Fitzgerald could specify why it took a year for the police to arrest him on a year-old warrant.

"It's not unusual that some period of time will lapse when someone is wanted on a warrant," said Maltais, who wasn't sure exactly how Newport police knew to pick up Oliveira.

Fitzgerald couldn't speak to the Oliveira case, but said that departments communicate with each other, sometimes by phone and sometimes by teletype. The information is related to patrol officers at roll call, but they may learn about warrants from other sources, he said.

Inasmuch as he'd continued to walk the streets unharassed, Bobby presumably did not know that he was a wanted man. Now, in response to some unknown stimulus, a Newport police officer happened to believe that an arrest was pending for a particular jogger, who happened to be notable on the local political stage.

Speaking from personal experience, I'm sure that the woman who filed the complaint did so with sufficiently credible evidence to justify a warrant, but the story still gives the impression that somebody out there in the state could file a report that could sit dormant until such time as an arrest would be particularly inconvenient, no matter the merits of the charge. Shouldn't even criminals have a right to a timely arrest and fair resolution?

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Yes, actually, that's an explicit statement in the Constitution.

Let's assume for a moment that this complaint had merit. How was the best interest of the complaintant, the defendant or the public served by this one year delay?

The goals of our law enforcement and justice systems should be public safety and prompt justice, not the accumulation of weapons for those in power. Most of the time, they are achieved. In this case, there is doubt.

Posted by: Monique at July 16, 2008 9:08 AM

Can't wait to hear Matt Brown / ACLU weigh in on this potential "inventorying" of arrest warrants until useful to the authorities / political figures (I'm not holding my breath).

Posted by: Tom W at July 16, 2008 10:15 AM
"Shouldn't even criminals have a right to a timely arrest and fair resolution?"

"Yes, actually, that's an explicit statement in the Constitution. "

Where, exactly, in the Constitution do you find the right to a "timely arrest?"

Anybody have an idea how many warrants are outstanding in RI courts?

Posted by: brassband at July 16, 2008 6:44 PM

Not unusual at all for a mideameanor warrant to issue and not be executed. Actually, the police can't enter your home without consent to serve a mideameanor arrest warrant.
Obviously someobody saw his name in the paper and decided to have the warrant served.

Posted by: Mike at July 16, 2008 7:21 PM

The case that is the subject matter of this post is charged as a felony.

Posted by: brassband at July 16, 2008 7:25 PM

I stand corrected, Brassband. The phrase is, "right to a speedy and public trial" - the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution. Apparently, there is no reference to a timely execution of arrest warrants.

The timing of the execution of this arrest warrant still seems like too much of a coincidence. Just at the moment when Oliveira is "causing trouble" for city solons ...?

Posted by: Monique at July 16, 2008 10:02 PM

No, there is absolutely no "right" to a timely arrest--only a trial. Delaying an arrest only benefits the alleged criminal by keeping him on the street longer. Delaying a trial may result in an innocent person behind incarcerated for a long period of time.

I do think this situation raises a question of timing.

But my question is whether Oliveria benefited from his position by being able to walk around free for a year because of his political ties when another ordinary citizen would have been arrested a year ago.

The police didn't "persecute" Oliveria by arresting him a year late; they essentially showed him preference by giving him a "Get Out of Jail Free" Card for the past year.

Posted by: Anthony at July 16, 2008 10:57 PM

If he's out on bail, though, those of you in this forum with daughters in the 18-25 age range will have to keep them locked up a while longer.

Posted by: rhody at July 17, 2008 11:11 AM

I wouldn't be able to pick the guy out of a line up of two people, but I hope the court orders him to get some professional help for his anger management/stalking issues, particularly if he is a repeat offender.

It's scary to think that he wanted to play a role in educating kids.

Posted by: Anthony at July 17, 2008 12:27 PM
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