Recently, a 20-year old West Virginia man arrested for a DUI slipped his handcuffs and shot at police officers, killing one.
The police officers pulled over Luke Baber at a park-and-ride off of Interstate 79, after receiving reports of a truck driver driving erratically on the Interstate. The officers determined that Baber was intoxicated and arrested him. As they were in the process of handcuffing Baber and placing him in the back of the police car, Baber pulled out a 9mm handgun that he had likely hidden in his groin area. Baber not only shot the arresting officers, but also a tow truck driver who had arrived to pick up the stolen truck. One of the officers, Police Corporal Marshall Lee Bailey, died at the scene, while State Trooper Eric Workman remains in critical condition at a Charleston hospital. Corporal Bailey’s death was the first fatal shooting of a West Virginia state trooper in 19 years.
After shooting the three men, Baber ran off into the woods, where he later exchanged gunfire with other law enforcement officials and was eventually killed. Little is known or understood about why Baber stole the truck in the first place, except that he was apparently driving to visit his sister, who is a student at West Virginia University. Baber had had several previous encounters with the law. This included threatening his parents with a weapon (later determined to be a BB gun) in 2009. Baber allegedly pled guilty and went to jail. He also had problems with drug abuse, but according to relatives, refused any help.
When incidents like these happen, it is often quite difficult for people to sympathize with the perpetrator. As presented in the news media, nothing about Luke Baber makes him worthy of sympathy. He threatened loved ones with violence, stole someone else’s property, killed or wounded others seemingly without a second thought, and threatened to kill some more before he died of a bullet wound himself. Yet despite this, had Luke Baber lived and been arrested after his shooting crimes, he would have been entitled to representation by a West Virginia criminal defense attorney. That is because under the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution, every criminal suspect is entitled to representation by counsel. The Sixth Amendment states that in all criminal prosecutions, the accused must receive “a speedy and public trial,” “an impartial jury,” to be “confronted with the witnesses against him,” and “to have the Assistance of Counsel” for his defense. If Baber had been brought into police custody for questioning, he could have invoked his right to counsel, and the police would not have been allowed to question him unless Baber’s attorney were present. If Baber had been too poor to hire an attorney, the state would have appointed a public defender.
To many people that might seem unfair, since it seems clear that Baber was guilty of committing several serious crimes. However, there are many cases where the circumstances are less clear-cut, and it is not so easy to tell who bears the blame. Even Baber’s case might have ambiguities that might never be considered since he was ultimately killed in the shootout. Maybe he was threatened with severe bodily harm before he drew his weapon. There have been no facts to suggest that this was the case, but it might have been the case in several other traffic-stop situations in West Virginia or elsewhere. What looks like the case of a young thug veering out of control could actually be far more complicated. That is one reason criminal defense attorneys exist: to ensure that all of the facts are portrayed, and that the entire story is known, before the jury reaches its verdict.