The Home Depot Shooting and the Criminal Justice Process

We have received many phone calls and emails from people cjsysteminterested in the outcome of the case at Home Depot where a customer fired shots at 2 shoplifters.  We have seen the Facebook and Twitter comments on our pages and we have been following the national press coverage. It has been interesting to read the opinions of so many people on this incident. Many people are calling for us to charge the person who fired the shots and some seem impatient at the pace of the investigation.  And some don’t seem to be clear about the process so I’d like to clarify.

We continue to investigate this case in an effort to answer all the pertinent questions and make sure that we have all the facts –facts are important.  Officers on the scene opted to release the person pending completion of the investigation.  That is not necessarily a statement on what we ultimately intend to do.  It does say that we thought we had more work to do on the investigation.  If we take a person into custody we have only a very short time period to charge the person and take them before the court.  We cannot hold people indefinitely while we investigate.  Remember the US Constitution?

What we will do, when we believe the investigation to be complete, is take that investigation to the Oakland County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office for review.  They are the county’s attorneys who make determinations, based on the law, about whether or not a person is charged with a state level crime.  The decision is not ours alone-we work with the prosecutors.  If you watch “Law and Order” it gives you a good sense of how the pieces and parts of the system work together.

If they determine that a crime has been committed and believe that we have identified the person who committed the crime, they will issue a complaint and warrant which we will take to our local court and swear to the facts as we know them.  If a judge concurs, she will issue the warrant directing us to bring the defendant before the court for a trial.  That is the point at which an arrest can occur.  Sometimes we go out and arrest a person on a warrant, often people who are charged appear at the court on their own once they know there is a warrant. When they appear the first hearing is an arraignment where they are formally advised of the charges.  The court will then set a bond.  The bond is not based on perceived guilt or innocence but on whether the defendant is likely to appear at trial.  Of course, the defendant is innocent until proven guilty.  This process is pretty consistent throughout all states.

I appreciate that many people want to share with us (and others) their point of view and their advocacy for a particular point of view.  I would like to remind everyone that our job is to gather all of the facts and with the prosecutors, to make a reasoned determination based on law.

Don’t worry–we will let you know our progress when we are ready.

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I'm the Chief of Police for the Auburn Hills Police Department.

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