Category Archives: Castle Doctrine

Reason’s Mike Riggs Interviews Radley Balko on Police Militarization

It’s been nearly a month since Radley Balko’s latest book Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces was released. Now Balko is making the rounds with the various media outlets about this subject which normally receives very little attention by the media. As one would expect, Balko has more than his share of critics particularly from the cops-can-do-no-wrong crowd but there has also been a quite positive response by at least some members of law enforcement (particularly former cops who began their careers prior to the SWAT era).

In the video below, Reason’s Mike Riggs interviews the author.

(Note: Link above is taken from Reason‘s site, so if you click through and buy it from Amazon via that link, a portion of the proceeds go to Reason Magazine.)

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Radley Balko’s Book, Released Today

Just a quickie here, folks… Radley Balko’s book, Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces, was released today.

It’s no secret that we here at TLP have enormous respect for the work Radley has done over the years chronicling the militarization of police and evisceration of our most cherished rights with it. It’s no surprise that when every podunk police force in the country has their own SWAT team, that those SWAT teams will be a solution in search of a problem — a problem conveniently available in the form of victimless crimes like drugs, gambling, and prostitution. Any tool is ripe for overuse and misuse, but all too often, when the SWAT team is called in, people die.

This book is one of the few that I’m actually going to buy in hardcover — I love my Kindle, and almost everything I buy is for that, but I want to have this book to easily lend after I read it.

(Note: Link above is taken from Reason’s site, so if you click through and buy it from Amazon via that link, a portion of the proceeds go to Reason Magazine.)

“Common Sense” Legislation to Curb Gun Violence?

Like most people who value individual liberty, I listened to President Obama’s speech about reducing gun violence with a great deal of trepidation. He presented several ideas such as limiting the size of magazines to 10 rounds, banning “military-style assault weapons” (i.e. any gun that looks scary to progressives who know almost nothing about firearms), and “universal” background checks for anyone trying to buy a gun just to name a few “common sense” reforms. In so many words he basically said that anyone who doesn’t favor these proposals is getting in the way of preventing future gun violence (Why even St. Ronald Reagan was even in favor of some of these proposals!)

One point of particular irritation for me is this notion being promoted by the Left that AK-47’s and other “weapons of war” should not be made available to “civilians.” President Obama rightly pointed out that these weapons with these magazines “ha[ve] one purpose: to pump out as many bullets as possible, to do as much damage using bullets often designed to inflict maximum damage.”

Well if we civilians do not “need” these weapons, why should the police have them? Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t the local police also considered “civilian”? (i.e. civilian law enforcement). Why do the police “need” these awful “weapons of war” which “inflict maximum damage” to serve a warrant for a late night drug bust?* If everyone else should be limited to certain weapons with magazines containing 10 rounds or less, they too should be limited to what weapons are permissible (or at the very least, what situations these weapons should be used). To suggest otherwise would be to suggest that the police are “at war” with the “civilians” since war is all these weapons are good for.

As some who are critical of the president’s approach have correctly pointed out, these reforms would not have prevented the killing at Sandy Hook Elementary. Obama and his allies like to say “if these proposals save only one life…” but they fail to recognize that these reforms might save one life in one situation but might cost a life in another situation (such as a home invasion; the homeowner runs out of rounds due to smaller magazine capacity etc.). Most, if not all of these reforms are meaningless measures to prevent guns from falling into “the wrong hands” (at best) so that the president can say he’s “doing something” to prevent mass shootings.

Some of these proposals do seem reasonable based only on the broad outlines (as always, the devil is in the details). I don’t have a problem with person-to-person background checks** in the abstract. Why shouldn’t an individual be subjected to the same background check as when buying from a gun dealer when s/he is buying from someone who posted his firearm on Craig’s List? I would think that the seller would want to have the peace of mind and/or limit any exposure to liability for any misuse of the firearm.

There are many proposals that are being floated that need to be thought through rather than rushed through to score cheap political points. These proposals go well beyond the 2nd Amendment into areas such as free speech (i.e. censorship), doctor/client privilege (privacy), state’s rights, and more. I do think that we supporters of the right to bear arms need to try to offer up some “common sense” solutions of our own to reduce illegitimate force that either enhance liberty or at the very least, do not tread on the liberties of others.***

» Read more

The Mind of an Anti-Gun Loon

I’m a defender of the 2nd Amendment right to bear arms but let’s face it: there are some loony gun owners on our side. The anti-gun media loves to try to hold these people up as typical supporters of the 2nd Amendment, the castle and stand your ground doctrines. If they cannot find the loon they are looking for, the media can edit a segment on TV or take a person’s words out of context to make it seem as though a rational person is irrational.

What we don’t hear about much is that there are loony people on the other side of the debate. Dallin Kelson writing an article “Loganville woman jumped to the gun” in The Independent Florida Alligator is one example.

We can learn a lot about the problematic illusion-making tendencies of the discourse on guns by analyzing a recent news story from Loganville, Ga.
You may have heard about it: A lady was hiding in her attic from a burglar with her two kids and her Saturday night special when he used a crowbar to bust in on them. So she did what she had to do. Next thing you know, the creeper with them two feets who came a-creepin’ like a black cat do is on the floor full of .38 holes.

There’s an important aspect of this story I need to draw attention to at this point because it perplexes the hell outta me: He didn’t mean to violently intrude upon this family.

What? He didn’t mean to “violently” intrude? This two bit thug intended to “peacefully” intrude?

No answer. So he rings the doorbell a bunch of times, and instead of answering the door or somehow asking him what he wants, they hide and call the cops!
Now that he’s satisfied that no one is home, he begins liberating the family’s belongings in the name of the proletariat. Like any good burglar, he’s thorough, working through every room in the house until he eventually reaches the attic.

He opens the door, and suddenly a relatively harmless cat burglary becomes a violent home invasion.

I have no words.

The problematic part of how this scenario played out is not what she did in the heat of that moment. I just want to know why she didn’t, you know, answer the door in the first place.

C’mon, you gotta at least open a window and ask the dude what he wants!

Why didn’t she answer the door? Dallin, frankly that’s none of your damned business. This was her house and for whatever reason, she didn’t feel comfortable answering the door. She don’t “gotta” do anything. (Did I mention that Dallin is an English major?)

Obviously I’m not saying she deserved to have her house broken into.

Obviously? Could have fooled me.

She’s been so conditioned by the stories of murders and home invasions that populate the evening news that she immediately went into xenophobia-induced panic mode as soon as someone whose appearance was mildly threatening intruded into her comfort zone.

Whether or not the media is “populating the evening news” with murders and home invasions or that she “went into xenophobia-induced panic mode” is beside the point. In this case, this panic mode probably saved her life and the lives of her children. Her intuition was dead on. Sometimes when a stranger is banging on your door and won’t go away, he might intend to do harm to you. Just a thought.

From all appearances, this guy was trying to find an EMPTY house to break into. If she had initially responded proactively by confronting him when he was a random, annoying guy hanging around ringing the doorbell incessantly, there’s a nonzero chance he would’ve just made up some excuse and moved on.

Instead she acted in an inexplicably irrational and paranoid way. Now he’s badly wounded, maybe dying, and her kids had to watch their mother repeatedly shoot a man while he begged her, crying, to stop.

Maybe guns are good, maybe they’re bad, but this story should’ve never gotten to the point where they were involved.

Sometimes it’s easier to ask someone just what the hell they think they’re doing rather than wait for them to do it.

Yeah, if only the poor bastard found an empty home or one occupied by an unarmed woman…

Is this article just a poor attempt at satire? I hope so. On a more positive note, of the 51 comments to the article (so far) almost all of them say this writer is a moron. I have to agree.

Tim Masters, Anthony Graves, and Cory Maye Each Receive Some Semblance of Justice

More often than not, when I write about the criminal justice system generally or write about specific cases the news is very bad. This time I have not one, not two, but three very positive developments in three separate cases that have to this point been very negative.

#1 Larimer County Commissioners will Not Cap Compensation Tim Masters or Other Wrongfully Convicted in its Jurisdiction
Larimer County, CO like most governments at all levels is looking for ways to save money to deal with budget shortfalls. But is capping the damages for those the county has wrongfully convicted a reasonable way to address some of this shortfall? A majority of the commissioners say ‘no.’ Kevin Duggan writing for The Coloradan reports:

A proposal to limit the compensation a wrongfully incarcerated person could receive from a local government got a firm thumbs-down Tuesday from the Larimer County commissioners hours before Tim Masters was formally exonerated for the 1987 murder of Peggy Hettrick.

With the Masters case in mind, the commissioners said they would not support a suggestion from county staff to seek state legislation that would cap damages someone who was wrongly convicted and jailed may recover.

[…]

Commissioner Steve Johnson said he understood the goal of saving taxpayer money, but a cap on damages wasn’t the way to do that.

The best way to avoid paying out for wrongful incarcerations is to not let them happen, he said. Those in the judicial system have to make every effort to ensure innocent people are not convicted, he said.

“It just seems to me that having a high award possibility is almost like a deterrent to law enforcement and everybody else,” he said.

Masters received a combined $10 million settlement from Larimer County and the city of Fort Collins last year to settle a lawsuit over his prosecution and conviction for the 1987 slaying of Hettrick. Masters served 10 years in prison, but his conviction was vacated in 2008 based on DNA evidence.

#2 Texas Gov. Rick Perry Does the Right thing by Signing a Bill to Compensate $1.4 Million to Wrongfully Convicted Anthony Graves
After spending 18 years in prison (10 years on death row) Anthony Graves was denied a modest compensation of $1.4 million from the State of Texas. As I wrote in February, Graves was denied the compensation because the Texas Comptroller’s office determined that Graves was not entitled to the compensation because the phrase “actual innocence” appeared nowhere in the judge’s ruling that reached that obvious conclusion. To Gov. Rick Perry’s credit, just over a week ago he reversed this injustice by signing a bill that would grant Graves the full amount of the compensation.

Perry on Friday signed a bill that will compensate Graves for his imprisonment, including more than a decade on death row.

With Perry’s signature, the legislation takes effect immediately.

State law allows $80,000 for each year of wrongful imprisonment, tax-free.

[…]

A bill “relating to claims for compensation for wrongful imprisonment and group health benefits coverage for persons wrongfully imprisoned” — specifically addressing Graves’ case — was adopted by the Texas Legislature with no opposition during its regular session this year.

Kudos to Gov. Perry and the Texas Legislature for doing the right thing for Graves and other wrongfully convicted Texans.

And now last but certainly not least…

#3 Cory Maye Accepts Plea Deal; Will be Released Soon
The final chapter of the Cory Maye case is nearly closed. After spending nearly 10 years in prison, Cory Maye will finally be released in a matter of days. Maye accepted a plea deal to a lesser charge of “culpable negligence” manslaughter which carries a 10 year sentence but will be given full credit for the time he has served.

While this is not the ideal, just outcome this is probably about the best that could be hoped for. Yes the double standard between non-cops shooting cops by mistake vs. cops shooting non-cops by mistake is extremely frustrating but this is the world we live in. From a letter Maye provided Radley Balko to share with his supporters Maye explains:

I realize a lot of people are going to wonder why I accepted a plea. We just felt that regardless of the facts and evidence that pointed in my favor, there was the possibility that one or more jurors could not see it my way, causing a mistrial. That could leave me sitting here another nine months or more, or longer if it keeps repeating that way.

This is Mississippi, and some people refuse to let go of their old ways from the old days. I just didn’t want to put my family through any more heartache, and didn’t want to have to wait any longer. It was take a chance of a mistrial, or grab hold of my future and be the man/father/friend that I can be, and that my family loves and misses.

Given the shenanigans the prosecutors and their witnesses got away with in the original trial, one can hardly blame Maye for taking the deal, securing his release, and getting as far away from Mississippi as possible.

The Cory Maye case is the case is one that has transformed how I view the criminal justice system over recent years. The idea that an individual could be convicted and put on death row for defending his home against who he believed to be unlawful intruders who turned out to be police conducting a no-knock raid made me question everything I thought I knew about the system. As I followed this case at The Agitator, I was introduced to many other similar cases of injustice and concluded that our system is far too prone to error for me to continue supporting the notion of the death penalty. I’m hopeful that many others were similarly touched by this case and that this will eventually lead to reforming the system for the better.

As these three cases demonstrate, justice may not be possible but with people in high places doing the right thing (often from pressure from regular concerned citizens) a semblance of justice is possible.

Liberty Rock: “No Knock Raid” by Lindy

It had to happen sooner or later – a song about no knock raids. Be warned, this music video contains disturbing footage from actual no knock raids. But you know what? This is an issue that we should be disturbed about.

What disturbs me the most is the double standard concerning shootings in these raids. The police routinely kill innocent individuals in the course of a raid while unsuspecting home owners who kill who they believe to be criminal intruders who turn out to be cops do time. Recent examples: An Albuquerque, New Mexico man shot a cop in the groin; he will do three years. In the neighboring State of Arizona, 5 SWAT officers have been cleared of any wrong doing when they shot honorably discharged Iraq war veteran who served two tours as a Marine Jose Guerena, 22 times and didn’t allow paramedics access to him for more than an hour which resulted in his death.

Some of the footage from the Guerena raid appears near the very end of the video.

Repost: Anyone Who Believes America is Winning the Drug War Must Be High

Last Friday, June 17, 2011 marked the 40th anniversary of Richard Nixon’s “War on Drugs.” As Jacob Sullum points out here, the drug war didn’t actually begin with Nixon and it’s not likely to end on Obama’s watch (even though the Obama administration admits that current drug policy over this period has been a failure). In marking this dubious anniversary, I thought it would be apropos to repost one of my very first blog posts: Anyone Who Believes America is Winning the Drug War Must Be High.

Those of you who are familiar with my writing here and elsewhere might notice the style is a little different than my normal, more conversational second person style (i.e. I refer to “you” the reader frequently). This is because this essay was originally a writing assignment (note the APA format) for a college writing class I was taking at the time even before I got into blogging (I’ll leave it to you to guess what my grade was). This also means that some of the sources I used are older than what is available now. I have since learned a great deal more about how and why the war on (some) drugs is a failure. The following essay is by no means comprehensive but I still stand by these arguments as well as others we have offered here at The Liberty Papers.

Even in the face of reasonable arguments, proponents of prohibition say legalization would cause “moral destruction of the human soul” (Hannity around the 18 minute mark on this video) or say that those of us who would support anything from decriminalization to harm reduction strategies to outright legalization should spend some time with individuals or families whose lives have been destroyed because of drugs. I would counter that emotional argument with another and suggest that drug war proponents spend some time with Kathryn Johnston’s family or the many other “isolated incidents” whose victims have been (in some cases, innocently) traumatized, maimed, or killed as a result of a no knock raid gone wrong. I wonder if these actions resulting from the current drug policy cause any moral destruction of the human soul?

********************************************************************************************************************

    Anyone Who Believes America is Winning the Drug War Must Be High

Could legalizing drugs be the answer to reducing drug use in America? Most people would probably call that idea crazy. Why would the government want to encourage drug use? This is a misconception most people have when the taboo topic of legalizing drugs is brought up. Many people believe that because something is legal, the government is somehow saying it is right. Tobacco is a legal product yet it is constantly under attack. When was the last time the surgeon general told the public that tobacco is safe and healthy? Could this reasoning apply to other drugs that are currently illegal, yet kill far fewer people than tobacco? In fact, tobacco kills more people every year than all illicit drugs combined (McWilliams, 1996). What would happen if tobacco was suddenly illegal? Would people who want to smoke try to find and buy cigarettes despite it being a banned substance? What would the consequences be of this prohibition? The result of course would be a complete failure, just as the prohibition of drugs has been a failure. There are three main reasons why the prohibition of illegal drugs should end: it is ineffective, it causes unnecessary strain on the criminal justice system, and above all, it is dangerous.

Prohibition is Ineffective
America spends roughly $30 million (Federal and State) a day to fight the war on drugs (Stossel, 2004). The White House is requesting for congress to appropriate an additional $556.3 million for the 2005 fiscal year above the 2004 figure of $12.1 billion (The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, 2004). If money was the solution to the drug problem, it would have been solved by now. Unfortunately, money and the programs the money supports has done very little to solve the problem.

While politicians fight this war from the comfort of their air conditioned offices, law enforcement officers see things from another perspective. An organization of police officers who oppose the drug war known as Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), conducted a national survey among police officers. The survey found that 95% believe America is losing the drug war. Over 90% believe that treatment and prevention is more effective than incarceration. When asked what would happen if drugs were discriminations or legalized, 30% of the police officers believed there would be no effect or that usage would go down (McNamara, 1995). Based on these statistics, one could imagine the frustration these police officers are dealing with and the morale for fighting on cannot be very high. Retired narcotics officer and LEAP board member, Jack Cole put it this way:

After three decades of fueling the [drug] war with over half a trillion tax dollars and increasingly punitive policies, illicit drugs are easier to get,cheaper,and more potent than they were 30 years ago. While our court system is choked with ever-increasing drug prosecutions our quadrupled prison population has made building prisons this nationÂ’s fastest growing industry, with two million incarcerated-more per capita than any industrialized country in the world. Meanwhile drug barons continue to grow richer than ever before (2002).

One might conclude that with this number of people serving time for drug offences, this would be an effective deterrent. While some people may decide not to take drugs because of the sentences associated with them, most rightly conclude that the odds of getting caught are very slim. The people who are most likely to get caught are the poorest Americans. Police concentrate their efforts to fight drugs on the poor neighborhoods. The rich are less likely to get caught because police do not typically patrol rich neighborhoods unless there is a reason to suspect the illegal activity (McWilliams, 1996). Even innocent people who happen to be poor are not exempt from punishment. Strict drug laws for public housing tenants go beyond the offenders themselves. The law states that tenants are responsible for anyone who enters the property, who participates in illegal drugs in any way, on or off the premises. This means that parents who are doing the best they can to be productive citizens could be evicted from their home if their teenager brings drugs into the home. The Supreme Court ruled that the law does, in fact apply to the tenant regardless of whether the tenant has knowledge of the criminal activity or not (Pilon, 2002). Is it right for the government to remove innocent people from their homes in the name of fighting the war on drugs?

Prohibition Puts Unnecessary Strain on the Criminal Justice System
Mandatory minimum sentencing laws for drug offenders is a major cause for prison over crowding. Violent offenders, who have no mandatory minimum sentence requirements for their crimes, are released early to make room for non-violent “criminals” who do (Cole, 2002). Federal sentencing guidelines require a five year prison sentence for possessing a single gram of cocaine. One gram is equivalent to a single packet of sugar (FAMM, 2002). Approximately 4,000 people are arrested daily for selling or using drugs. Roughly a half million non-violent drug offenders are in prison right now, who committed no other crimes (Stossel, 2004). A drug felon is more likely to spend more time in prison than someone who steals, rapes, molests children or even kills (McWilliams, 1996). Is society better off locking up someone for drugs than any of these other more serious offences?

Making room for a half million non-violent drug offenders means allowing a half million violent felons to roam free. Peter McWilliams, author and expert on consensual crimes, made this observation and stated:

Here’s how over worked law enforcement is in the United States: Only 21% of the people who commit murder and negligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, theft, motor vehicle theft, or arson are ever arrested; 79% of them – almost four out of five get off scot-free (1996, p200)

In an effort to alleviate the problem of overcrowding prisons, some jurisdictions have turned to “drug courts” as a solution. Recognizing the ineffectiveness of incarceration, Florida policy makers created drug courts as an alternative for first time non-violent drug offenders. Through the drug courts, drug offenders are given a chance to seek treatment instead of serving prison time. Florida’s drug courts have served as a model for the rest of the country (Facts.com, 2002). In fact, the White House is recommending an increase of an additional $32 million for fiscal year 2005; nearly twice the amount appropriated in 2004 for these drug court programs (The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, 2004). While forced treatment is a better alternative than prison, treatment is only effective for those who truly want to get help. Even if drug users kick the habit, the criminal record that goes with it still has its consequences.

Drug Prohibition is Dangerous and Breeds Crime
Drug prohibition, as well intentioned as it may be, has at least one more consequence: it breeds crime and is dangerous. Why is it that people who, after being released from prison, return to a life of crime? Do they like being criminals? To answer these questions one must consider this: convicted felons cannot apply for federal student loans, have a difficult time finding jobs, have a difficult time buying or renting homes and are prohibited from voting (unless their civil rights are restored). There are no distinctions made between violent and non-violent offenders; a felon is a felon (McWilliams, 1996). The criminal record leaves ex-convicts with very few choices. The only market these most of these people qualify for is the black market. The experience of being locked up with violent criminals teaches inmates how to commit more crimes better.

Only 15% of people who try illicit drugs become addicts (Cole, 2002). For this unfortunate 15%, they find themselves desperate for more. Because prohibition artificially inflates the price of drugs, addicts resort to crime that does harm other people. Unless the addict happens to be very wealthy, stealing, selling drugs and prostitution are a few options for those whose daily drug habit can cost between $200 and $400 (McWilliams, 1996). Participating in the drug trade is very profitable but dangerous. When one dealer encroaches on another dealerÂ’s territory, very bad things happen. Things like drive-by-shootings, which oftentimes endangers the lives of innocent people (Cole). If drugs were legalized, the price would drop dramatically and the drugs could be obtained safely. Even chronically addicted people would spend no more than $5 a day. Supporting a $5 habit would be a great deal easier than supporting a $400 habit. All that would be required would be a part-time job (McWilliams, 1996). In fact 80% of all crime is related to drugs one way or another. It is then reasonable to believe that legalizing drugs would reduce crime by 80% (Cole). Law enforcement could then use its limited resources on the other 20%.

Prohibition is also responsible for much of the health risks commonly associated with banned drugs. Risks include: selling drugs to minors, dirty needles and paraphernalia, uncertain dosages, and contamination (McWilliams, 1996). If drugs were legalized, the government could regulate and set quality control standards for all drugs; much like alcohol and tobacco. To keep children from purchasing drugs, the seller would have to be licensed and could only sell to adults. Currently, drug dealers sell to anyone who will buy them, including children. Quality control standards would result in a lower occurrence of overdoses. The users would know how potent the product is by its labeling. Dirty needles and paraphernalia would no longer be an issue (Cole, 2002). The drugs could also be taxed to fund treatment programs to help those who want to get off drugs as well as drug education programs for schools.

Conclusion
The very idea of legalizing drugs is a scary prospect to most people. Upon further examination however, one thing is very clear: the current strategy is not working. Though the risks would be dramatically reduced, a number of people would still overdose. Regrettably, though drugs would be less accessible to children, some would still get their hands on them. Minors drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes despite both products being illegal, legalizing drugs would have similar effects. As terrible as that may sound, the drug problem could at least be contained through legalization. Granting amnesty to those who have been convicted of non-violent drug offences along with legalization, regulation, treatment and education would go a long way to reducing drug use and crime in general. It is unrealistic to believe that America will ever be 100% drug free. A certain number of people will use drugs no matter what the laws are. Prohibition continues to do more harm to society than drugs ever will. Ending prohibition, though not a perfect solution, would do much less damage. This effective solution would relieve much of the burden on the criminal justice system and would make America a safer place to live. Until America as a whole believes this and plans to do something about it, our society will remain “high” on its arrogance.

References
Cole, J. A. (2002). End prohibition now!. Retrieved April 22, 2004, from http://www.leap.cc/publications/endprohnow.htm

FAMM (2002). Crack vs. powder cocaine sentencing. Retrieved April 7, 2004, from http://famm.org/si_crack_powder_sentencing.htm

Facts.com (2002, February 15). Drug courts. Retrieved April 8, 2004, from http://80-www.2facts.com.ezproxy.apollolibrary.com/ICOF/Search/i0700280_1

McNamara, J. D. (1995, April 9). Cops view of the ‘drug war’. San Francisco Examiner,. Retrieved April 7, 2004, from http://www.leap.cc/publications/copsview.htm

McWilliams, P. (1996). Ain’t nobody’s business if you do: The absurdity of consensual crimes in our free country. Los Angeles, CA: Prelude Press.

Pilon, R. (2002, September 9). Tenants, students, and drugs: A comment on the war on the rule of law. Retrieved April 7, 2004, from http://www.cato.org/pubs/scr2002/pilon.pdf

Stossel, J. (2004). Give me a break: How I exposed hucksters, cheats, scam artists and became the scourge of the liberal media…. New York: HarperCollins.

The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (2004, March 1). National drug control strategy FY 2005 budget summary. Retrieved April 10, 2004, from http://www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov/publications/policy/budgetsum04/index.html

Open Thread: Successes and Setbacks for Liberty in 2010/Hopes for 2011

Was 2010 a good year or bad year for liberty and why? Like most of you will likely respond, 2010 was very much a mixed bag IMHO.

On the positive side, the mandate section of ObamaCare was found unconstitutional, the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy was repealed, Wikileaks exposed the federal government for the corrupt organization it is, the Democrats took a beating on election day, and the Bush era tax cuts were extended (though with the return of the death tax, extension of unemployment benefits, and other compromises in the bill, I’m not yet sure if this was a good or bad thing).

On the other hand, Republicans gained ground on election day (I’m not optimistic that they have changed much since the last time they ran things), the vast majority of incumbents in both parties were easily reelected, government spending is way out of control, the Fed wants to pump some $600 billion into the economy by printing more counterfeit money, unconstitutional invasive searches continue to take place at airports in the name of safety, both Democrat and Republican politicians consider Wikileaks to be a “terrorist” organization, and President Obama believes he can assassinate American citizens where they stand with no due process whatsoever.

On the criminal justice front, The Innocence Network (part of The Innocence Project) exonerated 29 individuals in 2010 for crimes they did not commit. Back in March, Hank Skinner came within an hour of being executed when SCOTUS halted the process. Skinner’s case continues to wind its way through the courts. In other death penalty news of 2010, Kevin Keith’s death sentence was commuted to life by Gov. Strickland, Anthony Graves became the 12th death row inmate to be exonerated in Texas, a key DNA sample was determined to not be a match for another Texas man, Claude Jones who was executed in 2000, and Texas continues to stonewall inquiries into the likely wrongful 2004 execution of Cameron Todd Willingham. As these questionable death penalty cases pile up, hopefully this will be the beginning of the end of the death penalty in Texas and elsewhere.

In a couple of other cases we never quite got around to at The Liberty Papers but deserve to be mentioned: Cory Maye was granted a new trial by the Mississippi Supreme Court because the trial judge failed to give jury instructions to consider a “defense of others” defense and in Arkansas, the Arkansas Supreme Court ordered a new hearing for the so-called “West Memphis 3” to consider newly discovered DNA evidence and juror misconduct from the original trial (if you are not familiar with this case, I urge you to follow this link as a starting point. The more I have looked into this case the more disturbing I find it to be…a perfect example of what is so terribly wrong with the system).

Hopes for 2011
Rather than offering predictions for 2011, here are some of my hopes:

– I hope that the justice will be served in the above cases.

-I hope I am wrong about the Tea Party Republicans and that they will actually be a force of positive change for more liberty and smaller government

-I hope that Ron Paul decides not to run for president for the 2012 campaign but instead puts his support behind former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson (I’ll get into my reasoning in a future post).

-I hope by this time next year, I’ll have far more successes than setbacks for liberty to report.

Now it’s your turn. How do you feel about the state of liberty in 2010 and how do you feel about the year ahead?

City of Atlanta Agrees to Pay $4.9 Million to Kathryn Johnston’s Family; Vows to Change Police Culture

Ernie Suggs of The Atlanta Constitution reports:

Four years after rogue APD narcotics officers killed 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston during an illegal raid of her home, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has offered her family a $4.9 million settlement.

[…]

Reed said the resolution of the case is an important healing step for the city and the police department, which was nearly ripped apart because of the shooting.

As a result of the incident, several police officers were indicted in federal and state court on charges and were later convicted and sentenced for their actions,” said Reed, adding that the Narcotics Unit has been totally reorganized.

Obviously, the $4.9 million will not bring Kathryn Johnston back but it is good to see that her family will receive the settlement without having to continue to fight the City of Atlanta in court. I’m also hopeful that the city and the APD are truly making changes to prevent another tragedy such as this from ever happening again.

In a 13-0 vote, the city council ratified George Turner as the APD’s new Chief of Police. With Turner’s firing of two cops who lied and falsified documents regarding the Johnston case, he told the city council that he has higher standards for the department in his charge.

The article continues:

Councilwoman Felicia Moore told Turner Monday that she questioned whether he could reform the department’s culture of silence regarding police wrongdoing that the Johnston case unveiled because he was a product of that culture.

“That culture needs to change,” she said.

Turner responded that he had had already began to reform the Office of Professional Standards to make it more accountable.

“Since being in this role, I have terminated nine employees, specifically those employees who have not lived up to the standards,” Turner said during a committee on council meeting Monday morning.

The article also reports that Turner also said that arrest quotas were at least partially to blame for the botched raid and said that such a metric is not only illegal under state and federal law but also said that what the community really wants from the police is a department “that is accountable, that has high integrity and that gives a good day’s work.”

Police Chief Turner is saying all the right things; we should expect nothing less from any police department in America. Time will tell if these changes will be meaningful or not.

If Turner is successful in changing the APD’s culture for the better, the people of Atlanta will be much better served. It’s just too bad that it took such a terrible, preventable tragedy for such changes to be implemented.

Hat Tip: The Agitator (who else?)

Related:

The Next Phase of the Kathryn Johnston Saga Begins
Third Police Officer Sentenced in Kathryn Johnston Case
How To Create A Police State
A Kathryn Johnston Update
Breaking: Two Officers Surrender In Johnston Death
Police Culture is the Problem
Did Kathryn Johnston Follow the Four Basic Rules?
More Details in the Kathryn Johnston Case

Kelo, Five Years Later

It was five years ago today, that the Supreme Court issued it’s decision in Kelo v. City of New London

In 1998 the pharmaceutical company Pfizer announced plans to build a giant new research and development center in New London, Connecticut. As part of the deal, city officials agreed to clear out neighboring property owners via eminent domain, giving a private developer space to build a fancy new hotel, apartment buildings, and office towers to complement the corporate facility. Five years ago today, in Kelo v. City of New London, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld this seizure of private property because it was part of a “comprehensive redevelopment plan” that would provide “appreciable benefits to the community.”

Basically, the City of New London, Connecticut sought to redevelop an older neighborhood in hopes of increasing the city’s tax base. The City didid this by entering into a development deal with the politically powerful Pfizer Corporation for the expansion of Pfizer’s property in the city and the creation of a business conference center. Several property owners refused to sell to the city, one of them being Susette Kelo. As a result, the New London Development Corporation initiated condemnation proceedings against Kelo and the remaining property owners and the case made it’s way through the Court system and, of course, Susette Kelo ultimately lost her bid to protect her property. Then, the ultimate ironic injustice occurred this past November when Pfzier announced that they were abandoning the property that had been condemned, including the lot that had once contained Suzette Kelo’s house.

The reaction to the decision was swift and severe, with condemnations coming from both sides of the political aisle, and five years later the Kelo case has had the ironic benefit of spurring many states to limit the use of eminent domain:

• 43 states have passed either constitutional amendments or statutes that reformed their eminent domain laws to better protect private property rights. Although the quality and type of reform varies, the bottom line is that virtually all of the reforms amount to net increases in protections for property owners faced with eminent domain abuse. (For a state-by-state grading of all state eminent domain reforms, see: http://castlecoalition.org/57.)

• Nine state high courts restricted the use of eminent domain for private development while only one (New York) has so far refused to do so.

Kelo educated the public about eminent domain abuse, and polls consistently show that Americans are overwhelmingly opposed to Kelo and support efforts to change the law to better protect property rights. Among the most-recent surveys was one conducted by the Associated Press, which found 87 percent of respondents said government shouldn’t have the power of eminent domain for redevelopment, 75 percent opposed government taking private property and handing it over to a developer, and 88 percent of respondents said property rights are just as important as freedom of speech and religion.

• Citizen activists defeated at least 44 projects that sought to abuse eminent domain for private gain in the five-year period since Kelo.

As the Institute for Justice, a libertarian legal group that handled Susette Kelo’s defense, puts it:

“This significant public opposition to eminent domain abuse led to a complete change in the public’s view on this issue,” said Christina Walsh, IJ’s director of activism and coalitions. “Although public officials, planners and developers in the past could keep condemnations for private gain under the public’s radar screen and thus usually get away with the seizure of homes and small businesses, that is no longer the case.”

“One of the other reasons for this fundamental shift in eminent domain policy has been the response of state courts to Kelo,” said Dana Berliner, an IJ senior attorney and co-counsel in the Kelo case. “When the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to correctly interpret the U.S. Constitution, the state high courts began to fill that void. For example, the courts in Hawaii, Ohio, New Jersey and Pennsylvania—all states that used to regularly abuse eminent domain—each decided that, unlike the U.S. Supreme Court, they would closely scrutinize municipal takings and prevent unconstitutional abuses.”

So, in that sense, Kelo was arguably a good thing because of the unprecedented backlash that it generated. Nonetheless, it does teach us something that Thomas Jefferson is attributed with saying many years ago:

Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.

Indeed.

Cory Maye to Have a Second Chance at Justice

With my busy work schedule as it is, I managed to miss the very encouraging news that Cory Maye will get a new trial!

I think it will be very interesting how his second trial unfolds now that he will have a better legal team with better expert witnesses to debunk the dubious testimony of the prosecution.

The prosecution isn’t showing any signs of dropping the charges; if anything they seem to be hell bent on keeping Maye behind bars:

“Certainly we disagree,” said District Attorney Hal Kittrell, adding that the attorney general’s office will seek a rehearing on the matter and will appeal, if necessary, to the state Supreme Court.

If the courts all agree that a new trial is necessary, there will be another trial because prosecutors believe Maye is guilty, he said. “We didn’t buy it (his self-defense claim), nor did a jury, so we’ll go back.”

For more background on the Cory Maye saga, here are some of my previous posts on the case posted here and elsewhere.

Reason.tv also did a great job telling Cory’s story (below).

Pfizer Abandons Site Condemned In Infamous Kelo v. New London Case

In the annals of Supreme Court history, there are perhaps only a handful of cases that go down in history as more egregious than what happened in Suzette Kelo v. City of New London. In that case, the Supreme Court approved an eminent domain taking by the City of New London, Connecticut that involved taking the land of the principal plaintiff, and many others, and using it for a commercial development that would be used by Pfizer Corp. for a new corporate business center. It was a decision that was roundly and deservedly condemned at the time and which led to some efforts at eminent domain reform at the state level, many of which were successful.

But, in the end, Suzette Kelo still lost her property, and now, to add insult to injury, Pfizer has abandoned the project that was the subject of the eminent domain proceeding:

The private homes New London, Conn., took through eminent domain from Suzette Kelo and others, are torn down now, but Pfizer has just announced that it closing up shop at the research facility that led to the condemnation.

Leading drugmakers Pfizer and Wyeth have merged, and as a result, are trimming some jobs. That includes axing the 1,400 jobs at their sparkling new research & development facility in New London, and moving some across the river to Groton.

To lure those jobs to New London a decade ago, the local government promised to demolish the older residential neighborhood adjacent to the land Pfizer was buying for next-to-nothing. Suzette Kelo fought the taking to the Supreme Court, and lost, as five justices said this redvelopment met the constitutional hurdle of “public use.”

The private homes that New London, Conn., took away from Suzette Kelo and her neighbors have been torn down. Their former site is a wasteland of fields of weeds, a monument to the power of eminent domain.

But now Pfizer, the drug company whose neighboring research facility had been the original cause of the homes’ seizure, has just announced that it is closing up shop in New London.

Scott Bullock, Kelo’s co-counsel in the case, told me: “This shows the folly of these redvelopment projects that use massive taxpayer subsidies and other forms of corporate welfare and abuse eminent domain.”

One wonders if Suzette Kelo is paraphrasing former Labor Secretary Ray Donovan and wondering, where do I go to get my house back ?

Obama, Gates, Crowley, and the Troubling Controversy that Seemingly Won’t Go Away

Up to now I have purposely avoided this whole disorderly conduct arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr. for a number of reasons.

First reason being that compared to the other cases I’ve written about here and elsewhere, this is a very minor case of police misconduct. I have yet to read or hear any reports that Mr. Gates was roughed up even a little bit.

Second, Mr. Gates seems like a real ass. Gates seems to be someone who has a chip on his shoulder and apparently views the world in black and white (i.e. if the police as much as ask a question, s/he is a racist!). A woman saw 2 men trying to break into Gate’s home; unbeknownst to the woman, one of the men was the resident of the home. The woman even said as much on the 911 call:

“I don’t know what’s happening. … I don’t know if they live there and they just had a hard time with their key, but I did notice they had to use their shoulders to try to barge in…”

Now some people are calling her a racist for making the call to the police to begin with!

Third, like President Obama, I “don’t have all the facts” but unlike the president, I’m not going to say definitively that the police “acted stupidly.” There are no videos that documented the encounter and I wasn’t there so I cannot make a judgment as to who acted stupidly or to what degree. My best guess, based on what I have read about the case, is that both Mr. Gates and Sgt. Crowley acted inappropriately and overreacted.

So why have I decided to weigh in now you ask? I think the reason has to do mostly with the fact that this story won’t go away and with so much commentary in the MSM, talk radio, and the blogosphere, I can’t help but offer my 2 cents because certain aspects of this saga trouble me.

I am troubled that this case has turned into a race issue. This was not a case where a white police officer pulled over a black man for DWB. The police responded to a 911 call of a possible break in. This is what the police are supposed to do!

I am troubled that the president would make a public statement without knowing more about the facts of the case. For whatever reason, President Obama thought that this would be the perfect opportunity to opine about the historically troubled relationship between racial minorities and the police. Whether or not the president has a legitimate case to make, this case is not what I would consider a good example of the police racial profiling. What he should have said was something like: “Mr. Gates is a friend of mine but I don’t know all the facts; it would be inappropriate for me to comment about this case at this time.”

I am troubled that (apparently) the police did not leave Mr. Gates home once he identified himself as the home’s rightful resident, thus proving no crime had been committed.

I am troubled with how the police can apparently arrest someone for disorderly conduct for just about any reason they wish. While I do believe that Mr. Gates acted like an ass…since when is that a crime? Sure, he yelled some nasty things at the police when he should have been thanking them for investigating what appeared to be an unlawful break in, but how is making his displeasure known to the police disorderly conduct? I believe Doug is right: arresting Gates in this case was an unconstitutional voilation of his civil rights.

I am troubled by the way certain commentators such as Glenn Beck have gone off the deep end on Obama’s handling of this case, even going as far as calling the president a racist. I didn’t like it when people called Bush a racist and I don’t like it when people call Obama a racist*. That is a hell of a nasty charge to make of anyone (and if one does make that charge, they should have some damn good proof). Like I said before, Obama mishandled this situation but to say he is racist for commenting on race relations with the police (however inappropriate in using this case as an example) is a bridge too far.

I am troubled that other commentators say that because Obama said that the police “acted stupidly” that this is a slap in the face to police officers everywhere…as if he called all police officers stupid. What complete nonsense. I think its worth pointing out that Obama called the actions of the police stupid; he did not call the police stupid. This is a very important distinction. Even the most intelligent, honest, and morally upstanding individual acts stupidly at times. Not even college professors, police officers, or world leaders are immune from this.

Yes, this is indeed a teaching moment. Its just too bad that too many people seem to be learning the wrong lessons.

» Read more

Fake Cops, Fake Raid, Real Guns

Here’s yet another example illustrating why the practice of SWAT style raids should be ended: robbers posing as cops.

Here’s the news story from WRAL:

This is the unedited surveillance video:

As bad as this situation was, it could have ended much worse. It’s very fortunate that the armed robbers encountered the man on the porch first and the others inside could see what was happening thanks to the surveillance video (had this individual not been on the porch, the robbers could have gained entry as police officers serving a lawful warrant). Also, the fact that one of the patrons was armed and able to return fire was the difference in being cleaned out by the robbers (and possibly murdered) and forcing the robbers to abandon their criminal pursuit. It’s just too damn bad that neither robber was killed.

Of course if the police didn’t routinely use paramilitary tactics to raid poker games or those suspected of drug possession in the first place, then individuals would know without question that the intruders are indeed criminals attempting to do harm and could respond appropriately without fear of killing a police officer.

Hat Tip: The Agitator

Maryland House Passes Mayor Calvo’s SWAT Bill by 126 to 9 Vote

Despite the objections of the National Tactical Officers Association, the bill championed by Berwyn Heights Mayor Cheye Calvo passed the Maryland House by a wide margin:

Delegates adopted a bill, on a 126 to 9 vote, that would require law enforcement agencies to report every six months on their use of SWAT teams, including what kinds of warrants the teams serve and whether any animals are killed during raids. The bill was prompted by the case of Berwyn Heights Mayor Cheye Calvo, whose two black Labrador retrievers were shot and killed during a botched raid by a Prince George’s County Sheriff’s Office SWAT team in July.

Calvo has said he was surprised to learn that police departments use the heavily armed units far more routinely than they once did but that it is difficult to get reliable statistics about SWAT raids. The Senate has passed a similar measure.

Here’s hoping that the differences in the House and Senate bills are ironed out, that the Governor has the good sense to sign this bill into law, and that the remaining 49 states will soon pass similar legislation.

H/T: Reason Hit & Run

My Name Is Suzette Kelo And The Government Stole My House

The Cato Institute has a new video out telling the story behind Suzette Kelo’s legal fight against the City of New London, Connecticut and Pfizer, Inc, which resulted in one of the worst Supreme Court decisions in recent memory:

You can also listen to Suzette Kelo tell her story in her own words.

And, yes, as of today, the lot on which her house once stood still stands empty.

A Few Thoughts About the Ryan Fredrick Case

The long and short of the case is that three days after his home was broken into, Fredrick fatally shot an intruder who turned out to be a police officer. Fredrick promptly surrendered to the police once he realized the intruders were in-fact a SWAT team serving a warrant (a very small amount of marijuana was found in Fredrick’s home). The jury considered several charges including capital murder but ultimately decided Fredrick’s actions amounted to voluntary manslaughter and recommended a 10 year sentence.

Rather than rehashing the Ryan Fredrick case here, I would encourage readers to read the coverage by Hamptonroads.com , Tidewater Liberty and Radley Balko .

The police department did not believe the sentence to be harsh enough:

For the Shivers family and the Police Department, the verdict did not provide closure.

“Closure?” said Jack Crimmins, president of the Chesapeake Coalition of Police. “There’s no closure.”

“Their verdict today has jeopardized the lives of police officers,” Crimmins said. “I think the jury failed. They failed the community. You’ve got a man involved in an illegal enterprise, the police come to his house, and he takes the matter into his own hands.”

Funny that Crimmins chose the term “illegal enterprise.” This description is more appropriate for the way this police department chose to circumvent the Fourth Amendment by allowing a known criminal to break into Fredrick’s home to obtain probable cause to search the home in the first place! Most of the case made against Fredrick was from testimony of jailhouse snitches and informants of very questionable character.

And this notion about a homeowner who “takes the matter into his own hands” when someone breaks into his home is especially infuriating. Mr. Crimmins, it’s called the castle doctrine , perhaps you’ve heard of this concept? It’s not exactly new.

When a civilian makes a mistake and kills a police officer, it’s almost always assumed that s/he must “pay the price” but what happens when the shoe is on the other foot? When a police officer makes a mistake and kills a civilian, the badge worshipers and law enforcement boot lickers come up with a statement like this:

A jury verdict that cleared a police officer in the drug-raid shooting death of an unarmed woman will allow other officers to do their job without hesitation, police union officials said.

Officers throughout the state closely watched the trial, fearing that a guilty judgment would have changed how they react in the line of fire.

[…]

During the trial, a Columbus SWAT officer and a retired FBI agent both testified that Chavalia had no choice but to shoot because he thought his life was in danger. They also said Chavalia should have fired sooner.

So when a civilian believes his or her life is in danger, he or she must be certain of who s/he is targeting but when a police officer believes s/he is in danger, s/he can “shoot now and ask questions later”? What’s particularly galling about this is that in statements in both cases, the lives of law enforcement are of paramount concern as the lives of civilians is of little or no concern.

This is but another illustration of how the government has the one power the rest of us don’t: the monopoly of the use of force to accomplish its goals. The War on (Some) Drugs is a means to an (impossible) end (eradication of banned drugs). If non-violent individuals are killed in the process, its considered collateral damage. The War on (Some) Drugs must be won at all costs!

With respect to Ryan Fredrick, his fate is in the hands of a judge (the judge will decide whether or not to impose the jury’s recommended sentence), but what now? How can we prevent these tragedies from happening? Tide Water Libertarian Party has offered some excellent suggestions:

In the months since the tragic death of Det. Jarrod Shivers in the course of serving a search warrant at the home of Ryan Frederick, many questions have arisen regarding procedures of the Chesapeake Police Department. These questions have gone unanswered by the department. The Tidewater Libertarian Party asserts that because all powers granted government to use force on the behalf of the people reside ultimately with the people, it is unacceptable for the agents of government force, the police, to deny the people explanations for their actions when there are legitimate questions as to whether that force has been used with due caution and within the powers granted by the people through our Constitution and law.

• The tragic and avoidable death of a law enforcement officer.

• The use of Confidential Informants is an unfortunate necessity in criminal investigations, and particularly so in drug cases, but we question whether it is good public policy to request or issue search warrants based on the unsupported and unsworn allegations of Confidential Informants without some corroboration through independent investigation.

• Forcible entries in serving search warrants are acceptable police practice only when there is evidence subject to rapid destruction, hostages are in peril, or known, armed, and dangerous criminals are judged to be most safely taken by surprise. The recent trial of Chesapeake resident Ryan Frederick has revealed such forced entries to be the standard practice in serving all drug search warrants in Chesapeake. The Chesapeake Police Department has provided no acceptable explanation for choosing an exceptionally dangerous method of serving a warrant on a citizen with no criminal record over numerous safer and more Constitutionally acceptable methods.

• We are further concerned by the lack of transparency and consistency on the part of the Chesapeake Police leadership regarding what policy changes might be made to avoid future tragedy. Because we believe the police have taken the position that they need not explain their actions to the public, we hold this that is unacceptable in a free society.

This is the City of Chesapeake, in the Commonwealth of Virginia, in the United States of America. The police are answerable to the people, not only to themselves. Our military and our police are subject to civilian control and review. Citizens are owed the truth. The proper first level of that oversight is through our local elected representatives on city council.

We understand that it may be necessary to withhold some tactical policy from the public at large for the protection of police officers, but what information can and cannot be made public is properly the choice of civilian authority, with expert guidance, and not that of those being overseen.

The Tidewater Libertarian Party therefore requests the City of Chesapeake establish a citizen review board consisting of trustworthy citizens chosen by council, but with no connection to the Police Department or city government, to investigate this matter. This citizen review board should have full access to all evidence, record, reviews, and testimony, and report to the City Council, and ultimately, with council approval of sensitive content, to the public, in order to restore the lost trust of the citizens in our police department and to ensure that our police officers and citizens are no longer placed in unnecessary danger.

I would also like to offer at least one other suggestion: cameras. Each SWAT team member should have a camera attached to his/her helmet. This would provide invaluable insight to a sequence of events and would help ensure that the police follow procedures properly. Police vehicles have cameras installed on dashboards, there is no good reason why cameras should not be used for knock and no knock raids.

Unfortunately, I fully expect to learn of many more of these tragedies before any such reforms are made.