evidence against Lisa Nowak rejected by Florida judge

Soundtrack in my head:  INXS, “I Send A Message”
Press People Stand Alone Human
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On a couple of different occasions, I have objected to the humiliating treatment of former astronaut Lisa Nowak at the hands of local Florida officials and the news media. (She has been charged with attempting kidnapping and burglary with assault and a misdemeanor battery, with the trial set for March 2008.) I said in February and April that the personal, sordid, and R-rated details about Ms. Nowak–released by prosecutors and trumpeted by the mass media–were over the top.

Apparently, a Florida judge now agrees that local officials in the Lisa Nowak case have gone too far—but for slightly different reasons. According to the Orlando Sentinel, Orange Circuit Court Judge Marc Lubet ruled yesterday that the details Nowak gave investigators in February of this year cannot be used as evidence if the case goes to trial, because investigators illegally searched her car and were evasive when it came to her Miranda rights.

In the 24-page decision issued by Judge Lubet, several reasons were cited for his decision. The judge said that the detective failed to answer “in a simple and straightforward manner” Nowak’s questions about her right to a lawyer, and requested that Nowak speak to him prior to advising her of her Miranda warning. Lubet said Nowak was not allowed to make a phone call and faced both “threats” and “promises of benefit” during her interrogation. Lubet also agreed with Nowak’s attorney’s argument that police did not get permission to search her car.

Prosecutors used evidence from that car to reveal deeply embarrassing details about Nowak’s personal life–many of them irrelevant to the actual case–and these details were broadcast all around the world, and on the front pages of many newspapers. A number of bloggers joined the peanut gallery, using those embarrassing details to pour ridicule on the former astronaut.

Now a judge has said the search of her car that produced most of the embarrassing information broadcast around the world was an illegal search. I guess I’m not surprised.

The technology that can give us instant communication can also inflict instant humiliation on someone at levels previously unimaginable. The degrading details about Lisa Nowak’s personal life were trotted out in front of at least a half billion people, and perhaps even a billion or more. One could argue that Hester Prynne had nothing on Lisa Nowak. The experience of the former astronaut makes The Scarlet Letter look like a bad week at summer camp. Totalitarian governments would salivate over the power that media outlets like Time Warner, Gannett Company, and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation wield. That such invasive, ruinous practices are hardly even questioned in today’s society is downright scary.

So learning that Ms. Nowak’s Miranda rights were trampled on and that the search of her car was illegal seems altogether fitting, given the public flogging that Florida officials subjected her to. It’s sad that this story didn’t make page one like the initial story of her arrest did.

Lisa Nowak’s guilt or innocence is really not important to me. If she is indeed guilty, then I hope justice is served. But this public dragging of a person’s dignity through the dirt is something completely separate and something completely unnecessary. Yet for the reporters that choose to participate in it, it’s all in a day’s work…

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