Claudette's Moral Superiority
Detective Claudette Wymms is a great and fascinating character, written from the beginning as the Voice of Conscience. She's surely enough that, but she's become especially interesting in the third season demonstrating the limits of conscience.
Or to put it differently, she's become an insufferable self-righteous prig. Julien and Dutch are both just as much truly righteous cops as Claudette. They just don't run around doing a little superiority dance about it.
Now, Claudette's become more and more distasteful with her imagined sense of superiority, but it has really become intolerable in "All In" and "On Tilt," the last two episodes of season three, where she's setting out with great determination to destroy years of convictions associated with a public defender name of Lisa Kinset because she was hooked on pain pills.
We'll get back to this PD situation in a minute. First, though, here's a very thoughtful overall defense of Claudette from the email bag, from Chaynor Hsiao:
Season 2.12, Breakpoint Claudette: "You allowed an innocent man to get the shit kicked out of him." Vic: "He's not innocent, he's a pedophile. You should have seen the diseased crap we found at his place." Claudette: "But he's innocent of this crime." Vic: "Oh, I'm sure he'll think twice before cruising the schoolyard looking for his next victim." Claudette: "But he's innocent of this crime, you just don't GET THAT do you?!"
Season 2.6 Dutch: "Let's throw him a lifeline, give him a free pass for the information." Claudette: "Just because he's a cop, doesn't mean he gets a free pass. Not for me."
You mentioned in your last commentary that Claudette's presumptions of moral superiority are getting tiresome. There's a context, however, for the straightest arrow cop in the Barn. The pedophile in 2.12 was innocent of the crime they were investigating, but Vic contended he probably wasn't innocent of pedophilia crimes. Claudette disagrees, believing that unless they actually know what he's done and have evidence, he's innocent, which is what the law requires. "Innocent until proven guilty", and the rah rah of evidence, probable cause. Claudette could never have planted that bra clasp on Stu, the fat guy who strangled his blind date, but Vic would have certainly taken that shortcut.
You're a little hard on her. Her recent case mirrors the Rampart scandal that the Shield was based on and brings up a major question. If Claudette looks the other way on a case that could retry the cases of major offenders, what of the innocent people who could have benefited from a public defense attorney who wasn't high at the time of trial? Is it acceptable to jail 10 people if 1 of them is innocent? The contention of the founding fathers was no, that one innocent jailed is worse than 10 criminals free.
Rampart caused hundreds of convictions to be overturned and thousands more to be retried. The key investigators rushed out to get the ball rolling on habeas corpus writs when the testimony of flipped Rampart cops implicated evidence-planting by the Rampart Division's CRASH units. Claudette's belief is that no one is above the law, but Vic wouldn't agree.
And she's right. Why does IAD exist? Claudette's beliefs keep the department honest. Cops have to hold themselves to the highest standard, in order to serve as examples to law-abiding, honest citizens. Without cops like Claudette on the force, the department would sink lower and lower into corruption, scandals, self-interest schemes, until it would be impossible to tell good guys from bad. Being a civil libertarian, you could appreciate the slippery slope angle. If Claudette passes the chance to overturn the convictions of innocent people, and turns a blind eye to the "recreational habits" of county employed PDAs, where does it end? Why be a cop and pretend to standards, if being part of the government gets you a free pass?
No one likes to release criminals. After Rampart, gangs got back on the street and started operating. CRASH put a major dent in their presence, but Rampart required they be put on a short leash. This all goes back to the Shield's taglines... How far are we willing to let cops go in order to protect us?
Chaynor has a lot of good points, so let me take this as an opportunity to de-limit my criticism. To a very substantial extent, Claudette is right and valuable. Claudette does perform a valuable service by keeping Vic in particular on a tight leash. It is both good and important to have a few sticks in the mud.
In the case of the pedophile from "Breakpoint," Claudette was right. Vic set this guy up for a severe beating over a crime of which he was innocent. This really wouldn't have been right even if the guy were guilty.
However, there were mitigating circumstances. Vic was not doing this just for fun, or vengeance, or because the guy deserved it. He thought that this guy had a boy kidnapped and hidden away. He weighed finding this missing boy above the civil rights of a known pedophile. This may be unacceptable, but it's understandable.
The "lifeline" comment comes from the episode "Homewreckers." The cop in question is best friends with a guy who has gone off his beam and slaughtered a half dozen women at a shelter. This example actually goes the other way from her usual self-righteous schtick, and makes a particularly good case for showing her cheap grasping at a sense of superiority.
This shows a cheap grasping by a purposeful misinterpretation of her partner's motives. Dutch (and Vic) are not trying to give this guy an out just because he's a cop. Dutch certainly wouldn't give a rat's ass about that. This guy gave his buddy a few hundred bucks for hotel money right after the crime, making him an accessory. That's bad, but Dutch doesn't care so much about that if he can get the guy to tell them where his buddy's at before he kills somebody else. This may or may not be good strategery, but it's a perfectly reasonable consideration.
Rather than take this obvious point, Claudette chooses to accuse her own partner of the cheapest, lowest motivation. Unlike Dutch and Vic, she believes in JUSTICE. That's not doing the best thing, it's merely cheap moral grandstanding.
Chaynor asks: what of the innocent people who could have benefited from a public defense attorney who wasn't high at the time of trial? For starters, I question the assumption that any form of being high automatically constitutes a major impairment. Now, if there was specific reason to believe that THIS defendent got screwed, fine- look into it.
Justice is not and can never be perfect. In "On Tilt" Claudette goes against orders and lets all the criminals off the hook while she turns over one case of an "innocent" man. Now, this "innocent" man was a two time convicted violent criminal previously, so I don't think that's really the right word. OK, fine, he was innocent of THIS crime.
The presumption was that he got screwed because his public defender was high. Why would you presume that? It would be a more obvious guess to me to say it was because PDs are notoriously overworked, and one slips by you now and again anyway. She's only human, whether straight or high.
Further, PDs are not generally considered to be the best attorneys anyway. Usual expectations are that the best attorneys don't become PDs and take the low pay and high work loads, or they don't stay at it long.
Here's an old canard that I find myself questioning, if only just because it is such a universally accepted bromide. Is it acceptable to jail 10 people if 1 of them is innocent? The contention of the founding fathers was no, that one innocent jailed is worse than 10 criminals free. For starters, where did which founding father say this?
Further, do we really mean this? Do we really want 10 serial killers running loose and killing people on the chance that one of them is innocent? What ratio should we accept? Why only 10? Why not 100 guilty going free rather than one innocent jailed? I bet that at least ONE guy in 1000 in prison really is innocent. Let's shut down the prisons entirely, just to make sure we're not jailing ANYONE innocent. Just how many criminals are we willing to leave free victimizing how many civilians rather than have one innocent person jailed?
Some judges made up the right to having a public defender out of the blue in the first place. It's nice that our accused get them, but it's arbitrary to say that you have a "right" to legal representation, and not only a right to representation but to top quality counsel.
Claudette, however, will be happy to set a bunch of guilty people free in order to massage her refined sense of "decency" because their PD was high. Now, if she got that box of Kinset's files, and quietly looked back into a few of the more questionable ones to see if anything was missed, that's one thing -- though if that was what she wanted to do, she should quit the police department, go to law school, and become a public defender herself.
How far are we willing to let cops go in order to protect us? This has nothing to do with this case. It's nothing about police misconduct. Vic didn't set this guy up. It was the witnesses' grandpa who took it on himself to fudge the story. Vic could be charged at worst with not making a big effort to discredit what looked like a perfectly credible witness.
Claudette quite consciously and explicitly flushed her promotion to captain down the drain to pursue all this stuff with the PD. She explained it by proclaiming righteously, "My JOB comes before my CAREER."
This bit of nonsense is just perfectly backwards. She is a cop. Her job is to hunt down bad guys and put them in jail. This other stuff is the job then of lawyers and judges and prosecutors. While the cop is getting her great moral satisfaction acting as defense attorney for other people's old cases, who was out protecting the public, hunting down the rapists and murderers? She was in fact just exactly NOT doing her job.
Now, Claudette gets to make up her own standards when it suits her. She and Dutch were perfectly willing to make up a lie for the cuddler rapist's wife about a routine neighborhood burglary investigation or some such to get her to agree to a search of the house. How is THAT holding up to standards?
She was perfectly happy to slap the PD's suspected pill connection in jail with, as Dutch pointed out at the time, absolutely no legitimate cause in order to MAKE her talk. How is that upholding standards?
It's OK, though, because she's pursuing JUSTICE . Apparently the ends justify the means. Oh wait, isn't that what Vic says?
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