The D.C. Statehood Convention last night began adoption of a strongly worded bill of rights for its proposed constitution that includes detailed limitations on searches, seizures and arrests by police.
The convention, rushing to complete the constitution by the Saturday deadline, also approved a broad "freedom of religion" provision that proponents acknowledged could bar the proposed new state from stopping such religious rites as snake handling or other practices that could cause a health or safety problem.
"If someone wants to handle snakes, let them handle snakes," said Ward 3 delegate Franklin Kameny, member of the convention's preamble-and-rights committee. "Why should the state prevent them?"
As for protection from police abuses, the committee originally proposed guaranteeing citizens the right to a lawyer at the "commencement of custodial interrogation, arrest, trial, appeal and whenever they are subject to a deprivation of liberty."
Ward 3 delegate Courts Oulahan, an attorney, argued that the language appeared to require a lawyer "on every corner" so one would be present the instant a suspect was arrested.
The convention then accepted a proposal of Ward 3 delegate Philip Schrag, another attorney, that suspects "when arrested . . . shall be informed of their right to consult with counsel"--language that meets current Supreme Court standards on the right to counsel.
Oulahan, Schrag and others, however, were unable to alter broad language on other police action provisions.
One, for example, would compel the state to provide a criminal defendant with "all evidence possessed by the state"--language so broad that it would require police and prosecutors to disclose the names of confidential informants, Oulahan argued.
"There is nothing here that clearly states that names of informants must be produced," countered Ward 5 delegate Michael Marcus.
In still another action, the convention voted down a proposal that would have protected news organizations from having to disclose confidential sources.
Several delegates contended that the press has abused its use of confidential sources, and Ward 8 delegate Mildred Lockridge asked if citizens are adequately protected from "confidential, erroneous stories resulting in hoaxes"--an apparent reference to a 1980 Washington Post story about an 8-year-old heroin addict who, it was later determined, was fictitious.