No end to the lack of seriousness over crime

In August 2023, Cecil Wayman, a man with a violent criminal history dating back to the early 1990s who is appropriately prohibited from possessing firearms, was stopped in downtown Minneapolis for having a broken headlight. The police developed probable cause to search Wayman’s vehicle and located a firearm. Wayman was arrested as a felon in possession of a firearm.

We are either serious about gun violence and violent crime, or we are not. The outcome of this case and the reasoning behind it make it clear we are not.

The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office (HCAO) initially charged Wayman as a felon in possession of a firearm, and Wayman was held in the Hennepin County Jail for much of the fall, pending trial. This is what we should expect from an appropriately functioning criminal justice system.

However, recently the HCAO dropped the charges against Wayman, citing prosecutorial discretion. The HCAO reasoned that the Minneapolis police (MPD) had stopped Wayman for a technical traffic violation and that type of stop will eventually be prohibited as part of the final consent decree process that Minneapolis is entering into with the state and federal governments. 

That’s right, MPD will EVENTUALLY be prohibited from making a similar traffic stop but wasn’t prohibited from doing so in August when Wayman was stopped. Despite this, the Hennepin County Attorney is refusing to prosecute Wayman for this weapons crime “in the interest of justice.”

It’s unfortunate that this case, and many of the supposed merits of the pending consent decrees with the MPD, serve to condemn “pretextual traffic stops.” Given the coverage of the issue, there is little doubt that the general population likely believes such stops are illegal. They are not. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a unanimous decision in 1996 that pretextual stops were completely lawful.

“The temporary detention of a motorist upon probable cause to believe that he has violated the traffic laws does not violate the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable seizures, even if a reasonable officer would not have stopped the motorist absent some additional law enforcement objective.”

US Supreme Court – US vs. Whren

A healthy and informed society would recognize the value of such stops, support their use, and demand nothing less from its criminal justice system. Instead, we sit back and watch as local authorities establish a new dysfunctional norm that is anything but “in the interest of justice.”

The criminal justice system in 2023 needs to get out of it’s own way — “in the interest of justice.”

If you believe a decision not to prosecute Wayman is in the interest of justice, the multi-decade violent felon agrees with you. Wayman recently took the opportunity with the Star Tribune to share his insight into policing and the need for authorities to follow proper procedures: 

“It’s a hard job, but at the same time there are rules. I just think people have to know about what it is that they can and cannot do.”

Let’s hope Wayman feels the same about his own rule following in the future.  Unfortunately, hope is really all we have in 2023 given the dysfunction we see our justice system engaging in with regularity.