Category Archives: Criminal Justice Reform

Quote of the Day: A Question for “Pro-Life” Death Penalty Advocates Edition

Matthew DesOrmeaux over at United Liberty poses a very important question to those in the “pro-life” community who support the death penalty. This question comes in response to a South Carolina judge vacating the conviction of George Stinney Jr. who was executed at the age of 14 in 1944.

Is the execution of an innocent person, even a child, enough to undermine faith in the criminal justice system as a whole, and capital punishment in particular? If one error is not convincing enough, is there some acceptable level of innocent life ended at the hands of the state (or their peers, if that makes you feel better) that would change your mind? Or is the (spurious) deterrent factor of the death penalty or faith in the process, regardless of further evidence, so strong as to make all wrongful convictions and executions irrelevant?

I’ve already seen one person respond in the comments section to the effect “Well that was during Jim Crow [1]; our criminal justice system is so much better now.”

Even as cynical as I am about the American criminal justice system, I believe it’s fair to say that there has been some improvements since 1944. I cannot imagine a 14 year-old being executed in 2014 (someone with the mental capacity of less than a 14 year-old…sadly yes but not an actual 14 year-old). DesOrmeaux’s overall point is relevant as the National Academy of Sciences found that currently 1 in 25 death row prisoners is innocent.

With the learning curve so steep for supporters of capital punishment, at this rate it will be 2074 by the time a Texas judge admits that Rick Perry allowed (likely innocent) Cameron Todd Willingham to be executed on his watch.

[1] For what it’s worth, George Stinney Jr. was black.

A Public Service for Our Readers Regarding Federal Drug Enforcement

We are posting this as a public service and informational notice, for our cannabis using, interested, curious, or just plain liberty oriented readers and friends…

Contrary to articles such as this:

Congress Effectively Ends The Federal Ban On Medical Marijuana
HighTimes

It seems the controversial $1.1T spending bill that is preventing the U.S. government from shutting down is chock full of surprises.

As you may know, much to the dismay of marijuana activists and lovers of democracy everywhere, the bill smacked down Washington DCs referendum that legalized recreational marijuana in the nation’s capital. What you may have missed (because those shifty politicians are doing everything under the table) is that the bill also quietly, but effectively lifted the federal ban on medical marijuana.

Let us be VERY clear… NO the federal government has not legalized, or ended the federal prohibition of medical marijuana.

No, really, they didn’t, no matter what High Times says.

Manufacture, distribution, transportation, storage, sale, possession, and use, of Marijuana are all still federal crimes. Further, they are automatic disqualification on a background check, or a drug test, or a security clearance etc… etc…

They also make one a prohibited person with respect to firearms, explosives, and destructive devices.

Yes… even in Washington and Colorado. 

All they did in this omnibus appropriations bill, was to partially defund and deprioritize enforcement of federal marijuana prohibition, against medical marijuana dispensaries only (NOT grow ops, or users) in those states with medical marijuana, between January and September.

That’s it. 

Here is the actual text, of the portion  of the bill in question:

“Sec. 538. None of the funds made available in this Act to the Department of Justice may be used, with respect to the States of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin, to prevent such States from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana. Sec. 539. None of the funds made available by this Act may be used in contravention of section 7606 (“Legitimacy of Industrial Hemp Research”) of the Agricultural Act of 2014 (Public Law 113-79) by the Department of Justice or the Drug Enforcement Administration.”

There has been no real change in the law, there is just a change in the administration of a small subset of enforcement.

In fact, this action makes getting the changes we need in the law harder and less likely.

Far worse though, it furthers the toxic notion that we can just arbitrarily, capriciously, and disparately, choose to not enforce the law, when we feel like it… But then any time we change our mind we can go ahead and start enforcing it again.

This disrespects and debases the very foundation of rule of law.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

This Advice Could Save Your Life and Preserve Your Liberty

garner

The fact that the police can get away with killing an individual who presented no threat to anyone with the whole incident caught on camera is quite disturbing. A grand jury decided not to indict a NYPD officer by the name of Daniel Pantaleo who used a choke-hold banned by his own department which resulted in the death of Eric Garner. Unlike the incident in Ferguson which contained conflicting testimony and forensics which support Darren Wilson’s version of the event, this event in New York was caught on video from at least two different camera angles (and available on YouTube for the whole world to see). This seems pretty cut and dry at least for an indictment.

So how is it that almost any accused individual brought before a grand jury is indicted unless the accused individual happens to wear a government issued costume? Are grand juries really that biased toward the police? After reading a few dozen comments on threads responding to the grand jury decision, I’m afraid the answer is yes (if you want to lose all hope for humanity, read the comment section to any article of consequence). I reach this conclusion because these are the sort of people who serve on juries and decide that it’s perfectly okay for the police to kill someone if the suspect had any criminal record of any kind, resisted in any way, or even “disrespected” the police on the scene.

The truth is that reforming the way police do things is going to take time as changing people’s attitudes is going to take time. There are things that we as individuals can do here and now so that we don’t become victims of the police, however. Many of these perfect, law abiding specimens of humanity who like to share their wisdom with the rest of us on the internet say that if Eric Garner hadn’t resisted (at all) he would never have been put in the choke hold that contributed or caused his death. On this point, I grudgingly have to agree.

I don’t say this because I believe the use of force against Garner was appropriate but because far too many people do (and juries are composed of people who aren’t always very reasonable).

One common thread in many of these viral videos where the police overreact is that the individual either resists (however mildly), makes a sudden move, or is perceived as being armed [1]. The worst thing you can do is give the cops a reason to use force and an excuse for jurors who will normally give the police the benefit of the doubt a reason to doubt.

So how does one increase one’s odds of surviving an encounter with an overzealous cop? Here are a few suggestions.

1. Before you end your session on the internet today, watch Flex Your Rights’ “10 Rules for Dealing With Police.” I have the entire series and a summary of the rules posted here. If you know how you can respectfully but firmly assert your constitutional rights before the next time you are confronted by the police, you will have advantages most people do not and you will reduce the chances that the encounter will escalate to violence.

2. Act as if the encounter is being recorded and your actions will be scrutinized in front of a judge, jury, and/or the general public. For better or worse, cameras have become ubiquitous, so the chances the encounter is being recorded increase everyday. Use this to your advantage. Better yet, if you have a camera phone, record the encounter yourself. Recording the police in public is legal almost everywhere in the U.S. Follow this link to be sure of the specific legalities of your state. Once you have the camera rolling, follow the aforementioned “10 rules” and be the kind of person a judge, jury, and the general public would be sympathetic toward. If you act like a jerk or are disrespectful in any way (regardless of how the cop acts) this could all backfire.

3. Don’t make any sudden moves and keep your hands visible at all times. If you are pulled over keep your hands on the steering wheel and turn on the dome light if its dark out. When the cop asks for your license and registration, say something like “My license is in my wallet” and very slowly reach for it and hand it over. Then say “My insurance card and registration is in the glove box” then slowly open the glove box and retrieve the documentation. Better yet, have the documentation ready before the cop comes to your window; its less movement and you know you will be asked to produce these items anyway. Had this man followed similar advice, he might not have been shot by a South Carolina State trooper.

4. Understand that you are NOT in control. If the police have decided to put cuffs on you and/or arrest you, do not physically resist, attack, or run. If you do, the results will not end in your favor. Whatever injustice has befallen you will not be settled until later. Also, keep your mouth shut and only speak of the event with your attorney.

Its my hope that these cases which have scandalized us all will lead to better understanding of how we can peacefully resist the growing police state. Its not my intention to blame the victims such as Eric Garner, John Crawford III, Kelly Thomas and countless others but to do my part in not creating new victims of overzealous cops afraid of their own shadows.

[1] Its become a pet peeve of mine seeing headlines that state that the police shoot an “unarmed” man. For one, unarmed does not mean harmless. Also, its probably safe to say that most of the time when the cops shoot an unarmed person, it was unclear if s/he was armed at the time. While we can and should scrutinize the police when they use force, we cannot expect them to have perfect knowledge in real time.

Oath Keepers Protect St. Louis Until Being Disbanded By The Police They Effectively Replaced

Oath-keeper-patch-in-english

In response to the looting that has damaged numerous businesses in Ferguson, MO since last Monday’s announceemnt that former police officer Darren Wilson would not be indicted for killing Michael Brown, a group called the Oath Keepers descended onto Ferguson to protect businesses from being damaged or destroyed by rioters, oftentimes by setting up armed sentries on rooftops. Over the long weekend, St. Louis County’s police officers demanded that the group disperse.

Threatened with arrest for operating without a license, the volunteers argued but eventually left their positions early Saturday, Rhodes said.

“We are going to go back as protesters,” Rhodes said Saturday afternoon.

(…)

“We thought they were going to do it right this time,” Rhodes said of government response to the grand jury decision released Monday in the Michael Brown case. “But when Monday rolled around and they didn’t park the National Guard at these businesses, that’s when we said we have got to do something.

“Historically, the government almost always fails to protect people,” he added.

The Oath Keepers were started in 2009 as a militia-like force that advocates military and law enforcement personnel disobey orders that are in violation of the Constitution of the United States. Despite accusations of racism, they were started in 2009 by a Mexican-American, Stewart Rhodes, who graduated from Yale Law School and once worked for Ron Paul. They have dodged criticism for years and are regarded by some as extremists or domestic terrorists, though they maintain a 30,000 strong member base and are highly regarded among libertarian parts of the Tea Party movement.

I am personally sceptical of the Oath Keepers because I feel their tin-foil, Alex Jones-like views on the government are extreme to say the very least. Any group that gains traction due to the election of one man and finds common cause with the birther movement tends to draw scrutiny. With that said, I find it very hard to blame anyone locally for being very happy to see them. Whatever one’s views on Michael Brown’s killing – I was very dim on the “no indictment” ruling – the fact is that St. Louis County has handled the entire situation in Ferguson and surrounding areas in an illegal, borderline evil fashion. They instigated an already edgy populace from moment one, turning military-grade weapons on the citizens they “police” in a method of crowd control so poorly conceived it raised legitimate questions as to whether or not the police were intentionally trying to rile their citizens.

As the grand jury’s announcement approached, the mistakes continued. It was announced at 8PM CST, with advance warning and a preemptive call for National Guard support. They gunned for a fight, prepared for a fight, and then stoked a fight. Since then, the overly militarized police, and the actual military, guarded the police station but left local businesses to burn. After blaming the failure to indict a man who shot at an unarmed teenager twelve times on social media, they proceeded to protect their own stuff while totally abandoning any pretense of protecting anyone locally. The failures of the Ferguson and St. Louis County police departments are so legion, so flagrant, and so damaging that multiple people involved in them should never hold jobs in authority again. Their treatment of those doing their job for them only exemplifies what has been a clown car.

In light of that, is it any wonder that the Oath Keepers – at heart, an anti-government organization that is convinced martial law is imminent – would show up? This isn’t just why they were conceived; it proves all of their fears, all of their statements, and all of their actions to be legitimate, or at the very least to have a degree of truth to them. “The government is against the people!” isn’t just the cry of a guy who failed Western Civ; in this case, it’s a provable fact. The police in this area have shown more effort in going after football players than they have in any form of police work.

In striking down the Oath Keepers, the local authorities might have made them more powerful than they could ever imagine. I expect membership to spike, hard.

Christopher Bowen covered the video games industry for eight years before moving onto politics and general interest. He is the Editor in Chief of Gaming Bus, and has worked for Diehard GameFan, Daily Games News, TalkingAboutGames.com and has freelanced elsewhere. He is a “liberaltarian” – a liberal libertarian. A network engineer by trade, he lives in Derby CT.

Quote of the Day: Grand Jury Decision Aftermath Edition

Scott Shackford over at Reason made an excellent point in the wake of the grand jury decision finding insufficient probable cause to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the killing of Michael Brown.

Based on the information [St. Louis Prosecuting Attorney Robert P.] McCulloch described tonight it may seem unlikely Wilson would have convicted, and perhaps that would have been the right decision by a criminal jury. That raises yet another question, though: Should we be upset at the amount of deference and effort made to find reasons not to indict Wilson in this case or should we be upset that the same doesn’t happen to the rest of us? Is the outrage that a grand jury didn’t indict Wilson or is the outrage that the grand jury indicts just about everybody else?

As far as I’m concerned, my outrage is that grand juries indicts just about everybody else. This jury heard the evidence with all the conflicting testimony and the rest of us have not. I cannot say whether this is a just outcome or not and neither can anyone else at this point. We will most likely never know for sure what happened that fateful day.

I imagine that at least a few of the protesters in Ferguson who have themselves (or know someone who has) been indicted with very little evidence then either strongly encouraged to take a plea deal or were convicted. It’s not to hard to see why some might feel that the criminal justice system works one way for the police and a different way for everyone else, regardless of the specific circumstances in this case (the specific circumstances in this case being all the grand jury should have been concerned about).

“No Refusal” Laws: A Perversion of Well Intended Law And A Violation of Personal Liberty

Delaware-lawyer-fights-DUI-Checkpoint-arrests

I received a tip from a friend of mine who does a lot more Reddit browsing than I do that in Texas, this weekend is what’s called a “No Refusal” weekend in Tarrant County, Texas.

What is a “No Refusal” weekend? The tipped-off post, from Reddit user Korietsu (emphasis mine):

Just a warning to those traveling via I-35, 290, and 45. TxDPS and local LE are out in large numbers for No Refusal Weekend and using all of their tools at their disposal. TxDPS will be monitoring via Radar, Helicopter and Laser for all speeding infractions.

There are also sobriety checkpoints, and it is No Refusal Weekend. This means that you can have your blood drawn at mobile testing stations, as judges will be on hand to sign warrants 24/7 this weekend. Don’t drink and drive, and please, if you have been drinking, call a cab.

In short: if, at a sobriety checkpoint, officers feel that a driver is driving under the influence, they can order the suspect to submit to a breathalyzer or blood test. If the driver refuses the blood test, then the police may use a warrant to forcibly seize the blood. On-call judges expedite that process, ostensibly before the suspect can sober up. In addition, refusing the test subjects the suspect to additional penalties under implied consent laws.

The first reaction anyone would have is “come on, that can’t be legal, right?”, but the right to take blood is authorized in Texas law.

1. Texas Transportation Code Section 724.012. TAKING OF SPECIMEN. (a) One or more specimens of a person’s breath or blood may be taken if the person is arrested and at the request of a peace officer having reasonable grounds to believe the person: (1) while intoxicated was operating a motor vehicle in a public place, or a watercraft; or (2) was in violation of Section 106.041, Alcoholic Beverage Code. (b) A peace officer shall require the taking of a specimen of the person’s breath or blood under any of the following circumstances if the officer arrests the person for an offense under Chapter 49, Penal Code, involving the operation of a motor vehicle or a watercraft and the person refuses the officer’s request to submit to the taking of a specimen voluntarily: (1) the person was the operator of a motor vehicle or a watercraft involved in an accident that the officer reasonably believes occurred as a result of the offense and, at the time of the arrest, the officer reasonably believes that as a direct result of the accident: (A) any individual has died or will die; (B) an individual other than the person has suffered serious bodily injury; or (C) an individual other than the person has suffered bodily injury and been transported to a hospital or other medical facility for medical treatment; (2) the offense for which the officer arrests the person is an offense under Section 49.045, Penal Code; or (3) at the time of the arrest, the officer possesses or receives reliable information from a credible source that the person: (A) has been previously convicted of or placed on community supervision for an offense under Section 49.045, 49.07, or 49.08, Penal Code, or an offense under the laws of another state containing elements substantially similar to the elements of an offense under those sections; or (B) on two or more occasions, has been previously convicted of or placed on community supervision for an offense under Section 49.04, 49.05, 49.06, or 49.065, Penal Code, or an offense under the laws of another state containing elements substantially similar to the elements of an offense under those sections. (c) The peace officer shall designate the type of specimen to be taken.

In Tarrant County, Texas – which covers Dallas, Fort Worth and Arlington – nine no-refusal weekends are funded by various grants by the federal government, which Texas allows to be conducted county-wide. Normally, DUI checkpoints are illegal in Texas. DUI checkpoints themselves have been codified by the Supreme Court of the United States as being legal, per Michigan Dept. of State Police v. Sitz in 1990. Typically speaking, major holidays and major concerts are designated “No Refusal” weekends due to the higher rate of alcohol-related accidents.

I do not dispute the legality or the cause for DUI checkpoints. When motorists take to taxpayer-funded roadways, they acquiesce to the rules of the road, which include laws designated around an acceptable level of blood-alcohol content (BAC). I also am behind additional scrutiny on holiday weekends where drinking – and resulting accidents and fatalities – are increased. This is smart policing, it saves lives, and it’s not a violation of liberty due to the fact that they’re publicly owned roads. I’m not nearly as big of a fan of implied consent laws – which punish a person for simply exerting their Fourth Amendment rights against illegal search and seizure – but I believe that battle has been lost.

But the idea that the police can – on mere suspicion – force a person to be tied down, stick a needle in them, and take their blood, against their will is stomach churning. If we don’t have liberty to our own bodies from invasion by the state, unless we have been legally convicted of a crime, what liberty do we, as citizens, have? It is important to note that in this case, no crime has yet been even charged; the blood test is used to prove the crime, it is not taken after the fact. That is a gross violation of the Fourth Amendment, which starts to look shambolic when one considers the hits it’s taken over the years due to judicial overreach and milquetoast courts.

Typically, the probate judge’s role would be to supervise this process and ensure that the police have reasonable suspicion of a suspect. However, that process has been made ruthlessly efficient, with many warrants being granted over the phone within a matter of minutes, rendering the whole process meaningless. I would love to see how many warrant requests actually get turned down; I’m willing to bet the number is single digits at best. Who says the government doesn’t move quickly?

Of course, Texas – a state marked by a conservative, independent mindset that so hates government overreach that they frequently threaten to secede from the United States – is perfectly fine with invasions of a person’s individual liberty, even their bodies, when it suits the state’s desires. Texas calls for mandatory transvaginal sonograms for anyone seeking an abortion, despite other, less invasive methods of sonogram being available. They also lead the nation in state sponsored executions by an almost five to one margin. People in Texas seem to be perfectly fine with penetrating citizens with foreign objects when it suits something popular.

That is unacceptable. The American Civil Liberties Union has been fighting this for some time, as should anyone, even those who feel that anything that reduces the number of people driving drunk on the roads is a good thing. We can’t shread the Constitution because it’s popular.

Christopher Bowen covered the video games industry for eight years before moving onto politics and general interest. He is the Editor in Chief of Gaming Bus, and has worked for Diehard GameFan, Daily Games News, TalkingAboutGames.com and has freelanced elsewhere. He is a “liberaltarian” – a liberal libertarian. A network engineer by trade, he lives in Derby CT.

Hey FCKH8, I Have a Few ‘F-Bombs’ of My Own!

If you thought modern progressive feminists couldn’t be any more childish, you haven’t seen FCKH8’s latest viral video entitled: “F-Bombs for Feminism: Potty-Mouthed Princesses Use Bad Word for Good Cause.”

In the video (below), girls aged six to thirteen repeat progressive feminist bromides and talking points along with some F-bombs (as advertised) in an attempt to get this message to go viral (mission accomplished). As expected, the response by many is to be offended by having these ‘princesses’ use such foul language for any reason.

Personally, I think the whole thing is awful. I don’t like it when children are used for any cause foisted on children by adults, regardless of how noble the cause might be. It even turns my stomach a little when I see politicians use their own children in their campaign ads. It’s even more tacky to hear children speak about such things they most likely have no clue about. My daughter is pretty intelligent and the same age as some of these girls but I’m fairly sure she doesn’t even think about the ‘equal pay’ or ‘rape culture.’ Why should she? She’s nine years-old for crying out loud!*

So here’s the full uncensored version. If this is too much for your ears to handle, go here for the censored version.

Now, wasn’t that just precious!

More important than the shock value of elementary shool girls cursing like sailors…are the things these girls saying true? For the most part, no, these are the same old progressive feminist myths repackaged yet again. I’ve already dealt with the ‘equal pay for equal work’ nonsense here and here. You can also read this article 5 Feminist Myths that Will Not Die. I’ll let Julie Borowski take care of the rest as only Julie Borowski can – dropping her own F-bombs (Fact bombs, I should say) without actually cursing.

I have a few other F-bombs about gender disparities progressive feminists almost never bring up (and I’ll do so without exploiting any elementary age children to make my points):

A young man is required by law to sign up for Selective Service by his 18th birthday. In the event Congress decides to reinstate the draft, men exclusively are conscripted to risk life or limb for ‘his country.’ Also, of those who have died in all the U.S. wars (declared and undeclared) since the American Revolution, 99.99% were men. When men’s rights activists say that society has long decided that men are the ‘disposable gender’ this is one example of what they are talking about.

When young girls are circumcised we call it ‘genital mutilation’ and we are rightly scandalized by this barbaric practice. When baby boys have their genitals mutilated, we call it circumcision because either the boy should ‘look like his father’ or because some women prefer their partner to be circumcised. So much for ‘my body, my choice.’ And imagine the outrage if even one man said that because he preferred the look of a woman’s vagina without a clitorous, baby girls should have it removed?

When it comes to parenting and divorce, mothers get custody of the children roughly 84% of the time.

Let’s call this the gender ‘crime/time’ gap. For Similar crimes under similar circumstances, on average women serve 18.51 months vs. 51.52 months for men.

Since 1976, 15 women (2.9% of the executions) have been executed even though women are responsible for 10% of murders. While I am unapologetically opposed to the death penalty, as long as this barbaric practice is part of the system, this punishment should be an equal opportunity punishment without regard to sex, race, religion, economic or political status, or creed.

At least 3 states (California, Tennessee, and Kansas) require men to pay child support to his statutory rapist.

I could go on but I think I have made my point. There is inequality between the genders and both have their challenges. Personally, I would like to look at the individual rather than who is on ‘team penis’ or ‘team vagina.’ But first, we need to elevate the debate above the elementary school playground.

*This isn’t to suggest she isn’t already very opinionated or doesn’t care about important issues. That’s right, my daughter already has an issue she cares deeply about. Her issue: the alarming decline of the ‘big cat’ populations. According to National Geographic, there are as few as 3,000 tigers, 7,500 snow leopards, 10,000 cheetahs, and 30,000 lions left in the wild. I had no idea about this until my daughter started writing out a script she wanted to read over the intercom at her elementary school to collect money to help ‘save the big cats.’ I suggested that she should ask for donations to the local big cat sanctuary for her birthday instead of presents. Would you believe she was actually thrilled with this idea and followed through? I couldn’t be more proud of her. If she wanted to make a viral video about saving the big cats, I might make an exception to my ‘no kids’ rule because this is an issue that she actually cares about.

John Grisham Had A Point On Child Porn Punishments

John Grisham, a lawyer famous for his legal thrillers who has advocated for a more reasonable approach to crime sentencing and is on the Board of Directors for the Innocence Project, has caused a stir with his comments on some men who watch child porn:

“We have prisons now filled with guys my age. Sixty-year-old white men in prison who’ve never harmed anybody, would never touch a child,” he said in an exclusive interview to promote his latest novel Gray Mountain which is published next week.
“But they got online one night and started surfing around, probably had too much to drink or whatever, and pushed the wrong buttons, went too far and got into child porn.”

Mr. Grisham referred to a person he knew from law school who got himself in trouble regarding 16 year old girls:

“His drinking was out of control, and he went to a website. It was labelled ‘sixteen year old wannabee hookers or something like that’. And it said ’16-year-old girls’. So he went there. Downloaded some stuff – it was 16 year old girls who looked 30.

“He shouldn’t ’a done it. It was stupid, but it wasn’t 10-year-old boys. He didn’t touch anything. And God, a week later there was a knock on the door: ‘FBI!’ and it was sting set up by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to catch people – sex offenders – and he went to prison for three years.”

“There’s so many of them now. There’s so many ‘sex offenders’ – that’s what they’re called – that they put them in the same prison. Like they’re a bunch of perverts, or something; thousands of ’em. We’ve gone nuts with this incarceration,” he added in his loft-office in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Reaction has been negative, and somewhat predictable. Think Progress was quick to condemn. Others have gone beyond condemnation and gone straight to calling for government intervention. Rosie O’Donnell has hinted that he should be targeted by the police:

(…) “Did John Grisham feel like these people needed a champion and he was it? I actually was horrified by what he said, as was most of the country because now he’s issued an apology… Nobody accidentally stumbles onto child pornography. If I were the police, I’d look at John Grisham’s hard drive right now.”

Despite the rage, Grisham has had defenders, including Radley Balko of the Washington Post:

Grisham certainly could have chosen his words better. But he isn’t wrong, and the invective he’s receiving right now is both misinformed and wildly over the top. There are Twitter users calling him a pervert, or for his home to be raided by the FBI. It isn’t all that different than suggesting that people who criticize the drug laws must be doing or selling drugs.

Take this quote out of context, and one could make Grisham look like he thinks the biggest problem with the criminal justice system is that old white guys are getting locked up for looking at child porn. But context is important. Grisham has spent a great deal of time, money, and influence advocating for criminal justice reform. He helped found the Mississippi Innocence Project, and sits on the board of directors for the Innocence Project in New York. He wrote a nonfiction book about a wrongful conviction, and helped another get published. He testified before Congress about the need for reforming the forensics system, addressing the problems he’s seen firsthand in Mississippi.

Grisham, feeling the heat, apologized:

Anyone who harms a child for profit or pleasure, or who in any way participates in child pornography—online or otherwise—should be punished to the fullest extent of the law.

My comments made two days ago during an interview with the British newspaper “The Telegraph” were in no way intended to show sympathy for those convicted of sex crimes, especially the sexual molestation of children. I can think of nothing more despicable.

I regret having made these comments, and apologize to all.

Even the “law school buddy” he was referencing, a Gulfport, MS personal injury lawyer named Michael Hollemann, has stated that he deserved his punishment:

Speaking to the Daily Mail, Mr Holleman, once one of Mississippi’s top criminal lawyers, said that did something illegal and it was right to have received punishment.

“I did something wrong and I don’t have a bit of resentment about the way I was treated,” he said.

“It’s illegal and should be punished. If it’s a crime, it’s a crime. There’s a violation of the right of privacy involved. There’s people now who, because of the internet, who are making child pornography so they can share it across the internet. There are good reasons for it to be illegal and punished.”

It’s important to note one thing: no one involved, including myself, is stating that downloading child pornography should not be punished. It should be, without a doubt. Plus, even Grisham admits he spoke poorly.

However, the larger context of Grisham’s overall point is one about inflexibility. In Hollemann’s case, he was looking at a site of women advertised as 16. It is illegal – in both the United States and Canada1, where the sting was conducted – to look at pornography involving anyone under 18. But the age of consent in many states is 16; that means that some states have determined that 16 year olds are mature enough to decide when they want to have sex. We currently sentence looking at a 17 year old – such as former porn star Traci Lords, as noted by Balko – as harshly as looking at children half that age, despite the fact that that 17 year old can enlist and fight in a war if they want.

Of course, Holleman was guilty of looking at a site that clearly advertised 16 year olds. There are no provisions in the law as it stands for looking at something that’s not advertised as such. There’s also no allowance for minors looking at minors (e.g.: sexting). This has allowed a few attorneys general to make grandstanding pledges to arrest and charge all of the kids involved in cases where sexting has gone wrong – such as images being leaked, be it maliciously or via hacks like the recent Snapchat hack – with either possession of or manufacturing child pornography.

In both cases, the issue isn’t just the threat of jail time, it’s being permanently branded with a scarlet letter via the databases created by Megan’s Law. The intent behind the law is noble, but the consequences have been people being branded as heinous sex criminals – forever limiting their ability to get and hold a job, travel, or even live peacefully – for accidentally downloading child pornography, or for sleeping with the wrong teenager in the wrong state who has the wrong father. The ends do not always justify the means.

On a troubling note at a societal level is the call for John Grisham to be raided by the FBI. The fact that such a call flaunts the very purpose of the First Amendment – that government cannot punish people for their opinions or statements – is flagrantly obvious, but many people would be willing to trample the Constitution If It Protects Just One Child™. It’s easy to laugh at Rosie O’Donnell because she’s Rosie O’Donnell, but any time someone gets busted for anything relating to child pornography, there’s an arms race of sorts to see who can think of the best way to punish the perp. Lifetime jail term! Chemical castration! Execution! Mob mentalities accomplish nothing.

This is a bipartisan issue as well. The left is generally concerned with protecting victims, while the right is generally concerned with removing society’s unfit, but they both agree that children must be protected. This is noble. But the calls to raid John Grisham show why it’s very hard to get moderation on this issue: any calls for such are perceived as the person in question proclaiming that child pornography is a wonderful thing, and to Hell with the kids. Nothing could be further from the truth, but it makes even agreeable goals such as fixing Megan’s Law or adding provisions for things such as sexting leaks virtually impossible to reach.

John Grisham wasn’t railing in favour of child porn, he was really coming out against mandatory minimum sentencing, which is consistent with his statements on this subject for years. We can’t shred the Constitution because it’s popular. In the meantime, I urge people who have the welfare of exploited children in mind to consider supporting or donating to the Rape, Abuse and Incest Network or to the Polaris Project.

1 – Canada’s federal age of consent laws – key here, draw a line between regular sexual activity – where the age of consent was raised from 14 to 16 in 2008 – and that which “exploits” the person in question, with listed examples being that of pornography, prostitution, or anyone in a position of trust, e.g. teachers, caretakers, coaches, etc. Source: Canadian Department of Justice.

Christopher Bowen covered the video games industry for eight years before moving onto politics and general interest. He is the Editor in Chief of Gaming Bus, and has worked for Diehard GameFan, Daily Games News, TalkingAboutGames.com and has freelanced elsewhere. He is a “liberaltarian” – a liberal libertarian. A network engineer by trade, he lives in Derby CT.

President Obama Appoints Drug War Opponent To Head DOJ’s Civil Rights Division

President Obama has appointed attorney Vanita Gupta to head the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. What should be of interest is Ms. Gupta’s opposition to the Drug War and calls for prison reform.

Reason has more:

A drug-war denouncing, prison-reform crusading, longtime civil-rights attorney is President Obama’s new pick to head the Justice Department’s civil rights division. Venita Gupta, 39, will take over as acting assistant attorney general for civil rights next week, and the White House will likely propose making it permanent within the next few months, according to The Washington Post.

Gupta has called the drug war “disastrous”, the asset forfeiture program “broken”, and police militarization “out of control”. She supports marijuana decriminalization and eliminating mandatory minimum sentencing. “It’s time for states to end the costly criminalization of marijuana and recalibrate sentencing laws so that the punishment actually fits the crime as opposed to a politician’s reelection agenda,” she wrote in a September op-ed for CNN.

This is a positive step from an administration that has been all talk on drug policy. While it is unknown if Gupta supports legalization, even just moving towards an approach of decriminalization, eliminating mandatory minimums, and reining in police militarization and the asset forfeiture program would be a very big positive step for civil liberties.

There has been one positive to the Eric Holder Justice Department, which is that the Holder Justice Department has been relentless in launching civil rights investigations in response to police brutality committed by local law enforcement. Gupta’s record and previous writings show that she would be as aggressive in this role as her predecessor, which is a very good thing.

All in all, this is a very good appointment by the Obama Administration that should be praised by anyone concerned with civil liberties.

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at IJ Review.com and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

Performance Enhancing? Nope… normalizing… But don’t try to tell the DEA that

There’s a funny thing about my life… I’m not sure if this is comic, tragic, ironic or what…

I spent more than 10 years as a serious competitive powerlifter, football player, wrestler, and martial artist, and another few years as a just a hobbyist.

In that entire time, I never did a single “performance enhancing drug”… Never even tempted to do so.

Now I’m a broken down, fat, middle aged cripple… who the DEA looks at like I’m a drug dealer or abuser of “performance enhancing substances”… just to keep from getting fatter, more broken down, and more crippled.

I’m 8 years into the frank symptoms of chronic illness (which turned out to be a weird and rare kind of endocrine cancer, that almost killed me, and basically destroyed my endocrine system. I have been cancer free for almost 2 years now), and  I am now on damn near the exact combination of drugs that “juicers” would traditionally use for such things.

I take more testosterone every week than most steroid abusers would even think of… and I don’t cycle it, I take it constantly, deep muscle injection every week.

I take an aromatase inhibitor to keep all that testosterone from converting to estrogens and testosterone antagonists (and giving me all the nasty side effects that not cycling off testosterone injections give you). We’re experimenting with that one right now, but we may end up adding an estrogen/estradiol antagonist to the mix on top of the aromatase inhibitor.

By the by… those drugs are normally what they give to breast cancer and ovarian cancer patients. They actually say in the interaction warnings “do not take if you are a man”… unless of course you’re a man whose body is producing too much estrogen, or converting too much testosterone into estrogens and testosterone antagonists, and blocking his ability to produce and use testosterone properly. If you’re not one of those men, it dramatically increases the effect of testosterone (and other steroid hormones) on your body.

I’m on enough primary thyroid hormone to quite literally kill a normal person… in fact, not just “enough”, the amount I take is several times the lethal dosage. It’s still may not be enough for me. The doc just increased it today, and will probably increase it again in 6-12 weeks when we sort out the effects of the new meds. Sometimes athletes abuse thyroid hormones for weight loss, increased energy, and to boost other performance enhancing hormones naturally.

For allergies, and for inflammation pursuant to the endocrine issues, I take two different other steroidal medications (a glucocorticoid and a mineralcorticoid), which act as bronchodilators and anti-inflammatories.

To deal with some of the unfun and nasty side effects and after effects of the cancer (to improve metabolic function, energy, mental acuity etc…) I’m also taking enough creatine to put a normal person into kidney failure… For me, it actually makes my kidneys work better.

Because of the aftereffects of the cancer, the endocrine issues, and the side effects of the medications, I’m on megadoses of vitamins and minerals. I mean MEGADOSES.

Between all of those, my growth hormone production and DHEA production should be elevated through the roof… as if I was taking illegal supplementation of HGH. It’s not… because my endocrine system is so screwed up.

For my edema (another lovely endocrine side effect, which can be made worse by my meds), I take more diuretics than the most abusive wrestler, gymnast, or bodybuilder. I’ve lost 24lbs in 24 hours, and 48lbs in 7 days just from the pills.

For musculoskeletal pain and systemic inflammation, I’m on more and stronger anti-inflammatories than any athlete rehabbing after a major injury (I take 1000mg of etodolac twice a day). I also get periodic shots of antiinflammatory medications directly into my knees.

Those let me get out of bed and walk. Without them… I just don’t.

Between my normal blood chemistry, the damage the cancer did, and the side effects of medications, I’ve got polycythemia, and I’m a hyperclotter. I’m basically naturally blood doping.

To counter the aftereffects of the cancer and make the other meds work better (adrenal and pituitary support), I’m on enough stimulant medication (which is also a bronchodilator) to make the DEA look funny at my doctor… until he explains all of the above.

In fact, the DEA looks funny at several of the drugs I’m taking above. My doctors have had to explain to my pharmacists, and both have had to explain to the DEA… no, I’m not a drug dealer or abuser, I’m not a steroid abusing weight lifter… I’m just a guy who needs this stuff to live.

I should be taking actual pain killers too… I’ve got enough musculoskeletal  damage, neurological damage, and inflammation, that my baseline background pain is pretty substantial.

For those familiar with pain management, I live at about a 3-4 most days, with breakthrough to a 7 on good days, and 6 or 7 with breakthrough to 9 or 10 bad days.

That’s with the meds. Without… there are no good days. There’s just days I can get out of bed, and days I can’t.

I simply refuse to take painkillers. They don’t do a damn thing for me unless I take horse tranquilizer doses, and then they knock me out cold… or worse, leave me sami conscious and barely awake, but unable to think, or concentrate, or really actually sleep. Beside, I don’t like the other side effects.

I’ve learned just to live with the pain, and take what pain reduction I can get with my other medications.

And by the way… this is a MASSIVE REDUCTION of the stuff I used to be taking, during the cancer. My primary care physician and my endocrinologist are both alternative and integrative medicine believers who hate drugs, and only prescribe the absolute minimum necessary.

I’m not overmedicated… if I go off of any of them, or all of them, nothing gets better and it all gets worse. We’ve done differential testing, going off one at a time and seeing the impact then going back on, then varying dosages… I’m definitely not overmedicated.

If anything, there are some other medications that might help me more. We’re very slowly adding things in one at a time, so we can test and measure and adjust.

This isn’t overmedication…

This is what happens, when your endocrine system completely loses the ability to regulate itself. It’s trying to regulate through medication, what the body normally regulates naturally.

It’s what I need to live, and be functional.

The worst thing is though… because of DEA actions, regulations, guidelines, and investigations… Several of my medications, that I need to live, and be productive, and actually be ME?

They’re constantly short of them, or out of them entirely. Sometimes it’s every pharmacy within 30 miles.

They don’t stock them, they don’t stock the dosages I need, or they don’t stock enough to fill my scrips for a month.

I have to get hand written, signed scrips every month, I can’t get refills, and I can’t get more than a 30 days supply at once. If I’m caught with more than a 30 days supply, I can be charged with unlawful possession, and possession with intent to distribute.

I have to hand carry those scrips to the pharmacies, only for them to tell me that it might be a week, maybe two weeks, before they can fill the scrip; because the DEA production quota for that quarter had been exceeded, or the distributors orders were above the DEAs suspect threshold, or because they had sold out of all they could order for that month without the DEA investigating them, or because one scrip of mine was more than the DEA told that pharmacy they could keep in storage.

We won’t even get into what the drugs themselves cost, or what they would cost without the regulatory and compliance burden to deal with these issues.

…And god help me if I actually took the painkillers I should be taking.

All this… because the medications that I need to live and function… are sometimes abused by other people to “enhance their performance”.

… and somehow, some people still seem to think that the “drug war” is helping?

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

One Out of 25 Prisoners on Death Row is Innocent

Benjamin Franklin once argued: “It is better 100 guilty persons should escape than that one innocent person should suffer.” The purpose of courts as drafted in the Constitution was to minimize the occurrences innocent people from “suffering” via an adversarial system in which the accused is considered innocent until proven guilty to a jury of his or her peers.

Regardless of these lofty goals, the question must be asked: how well has this system worked?

If the standard is that of Franklin’s (i.e. less than 1%), then the idea that a rate of 1 in 25 death row convicts are likely innocent is clearly unacceptable. According to a study by the National Academy of Sciences, to the best the researchers were able to determine, this about what the rate is.

Pete Yost for the Associated Press reports:

From 1973 to 2004, 1.6 percent of those sentenced to death in the U.S. — 138 prisoners — were exonerated and released because of innocence.

But the great majority of innocent people who are sentenced to death are never identified and freed, says professor Samuel Gross of the University of Michigan Law School, the study’s lead author.

The difficulty in identifying innocent inmates stems from the fact that more than 60 percent of prisoners in death penalty cases ultimately are removed from death row and resentenced to life imprisonment. Once that happens, their cases no longer receive the exhaustive reviews that the legal system provides for those on death row.
[…]
Because of various assumptions, it might be best to use the margin of error in the study and say the innocence rate is probably between 2.8 percent and 5.2 percent, said University of South Carolina statistics professor John Grego, who wasn’t part of the study.
[…]
“The high rate of exoneration among death-sentenced defendants appears to be driven by the threat of execution,” says the study. “But most death-sentenced defendants are removed from death row and resentenced to life imprisonment, after which the likelihood of exoneration drops sharply.” The study estimates that if all defendants sentenced to death remained in that status, “at least 4.1 percent would be exonerated. We conclude that this is a conservative estimate of the proportion of false conviction among death sentences in the United States.”

I have to say that, even as a fierce opponent of the death penalty, I would have never guessed the number of innocent individuals on death row to be this high. I was horrified by the notion that 1 in 100 or even 1 in 1,000 such individuals could be killed by the state, but 1 in 25?

This brings me to my question for those who support state sanctioned killing: is this an acceptable error rate to you? How many innocent people are we willing to sacrifice in order to kill the most heinous of individuals? Based on this study, the current policy is that we are apparently at peace with the idea of killing 4 innocent people to kill 96 guilty.

This is a price that a free and just country should be unwilling to pay.

This is…

…why I don’t trust people who want power:

By mid-May Steve [Heymann] was acting weird. None of his raids seemed to have turned up what he wanted. Aaron’s lawyer was talking to JSTOR, which had found him through Steve. We had contacted people to talk to JSTOR, eminent people, many of whom were shocked by what was happening. JSTOR was key to the prosecution, it was the victim, and we were winning them over. Steve had agents drop off a warrant made out to Aaron [Swartz], rather than law enforcement. It demanded the JSTOR documents, with the location for serving the warrant left blank. Aaron showed it to me, and we tried to interpret it in bewilderment. Warrants are executed by officers, not suspects. Aaron then told me Steve had threatened to get him arrested for contempt of court if he didn’t turn over JSTOR files. It was all tricks and lies, but it just seemed crazy at the time. But tricks and lies are part of prosecutions, allowed, and perhaps even encouraged, by prosecutorial immunity.

Read the whole thing.

Hey Ann, the War on (Some) Drugs is a Welfare Program

According to Ann Coulter, libertarians are “pussies” for wanting to end the war on (some) drugs and for agreeing with the Left on certain social issues such as gay marriage. Coulter was a guest on Stossel at the Students for Liberty Conference.

Coulter elaborated:

We’re living in a country that is 70-percent socailist, the government takes 60 percent of your money. They are taking care of your health care, of your pensions. They’re telling you who you can hire, what the regulations will be. And you want to suck up to your little liberal friends and say, ‘Oh, but we want to legalize pot.’ You know, if you were a little more manly you would tell the liberals what your position on employment discrimination is. How about that? But it’s always ‘We want to legalize pot.’

[..]

Liberals want to destroy the family so that you will have one loyalty and that is to the government.

Clearly, Ann Coulter hasn’t spent much time hanging around libertarians, going to libertarian events, or reading anything libertarians write. The war on (some) drugs is but one issue. The welfare and warfare state receives at least as much attention by libertarians as the war on (some) drugs. Libertarians have certainly been more vocal about the welfare state than the conservatives of her ilk. I suppose when we agree with her on these issues, progressives should say we are ‘sucking up’ to our conservative friends. It couldn’t be that we have our own principles (such as the non-aggression principle which neither the Left nor the Right practices) and our own reasons for having them.

And speaking of destroying families, what does she think the war on (some) drugs does to families? What about the “magnificent war” in Iraq (her words), war in Afghanistan, or war in general? I wouldn’t suppose war plays any role at all in destroying families. There are the multiple long deployments, soldiers coming home physically and/or mentally disabled, or worse, come home in a box. For all the concern about the destroying of families, one would think that Ann Coulter would want to be a little more careful about when troops are called to risk life and limb (maybe she should consider the Just War Theory ). I would further argue that the military adventurisim our military is engaging in is its own kind of welfare. Most of what our military does is defend other countries rather than ours.

When respoding to a question from a young woman in the audience asking Coulter why it’s any of her business what someone else puts in his or her body Coulter responded:

It is my business when we are living in a welfare state. You get rid of the welfare state then we’ll talk about drug legalization but right now I have to pay for, it turns out down the pike, your healthcare. I have to pay your unemployment when you can’t hold a job. I have to pay for your food, for your housing…

Coulter went on to say that if not for the welfare state, she would be okay with legalizing drugs.

What does she think incarceration does? When someone is incarcerated, s/he is quite literally being housed, fed, and provided healthcare at the taxpayers’ expense. In California, it costs taxpayers $75,000 per year for each inmate. As terrible as the welfare state is (and yes, it is terrible), I cannot imagine that ending the war on (some) drugs would be any worse for taxpayers as what drug prohibition has done. The drug war costs state and federal government over $30 million per day.

If Ms. Coulter wants to talk about people not being able to hold a job she should consider what wonders a criminal record does for a person’s job prospects. All too often, the only kind of job an ex-con can get is selling illicit drugs which s/he will eventually get arrested and be incarcerated once again. For some repeat drug offenders, the thought of going back to jail or prison isn’t much of a deterrant. It’s ‘3 hots and a cot’ plus security and structure (believe it or not, there are some people who don’t know how to live outside of prison).

Far from being pussies, Ann Coulter, we libertarians have the balls to be consistent in our criticism of the welfare state. Yes, Ann, we should join hands in opposing Obamacare, the out of control welfare state, and reckless spending. Rather than providing drug users food, housing, and healthcare via incarceration, why not join with us and say that everyone should be responsible for their own lives?

With freedom comes responsibility. Is that manly enough for you?

“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 Innocence Project Marks 300th Exoneration; Provides Statistics About the 300

Back in the spring of 2011, some of you may recall our fundraising efforts to raise $500 for The Innocence Project. Our Liberty Papers readers and writers surpassed that donating $570 of the $20,000 The Innocence Project’s overall goal for that period. Though our fundraising effort is over for the time being, you can always donate at their page if you feel compelled to do so (actually, it’s a very good time to donate as right now, the next $19,000 are being matched by other anonymous donors).

Back when we joined the effort, The Innocence Project had marked 266 exonerations; as of last month they reached the 300th exoneration milestone, well ahead of where I predicted they would be by this time when they reached the 225 mark. Their 300th exoneration, Damon Thibodeaux spent 15 years on death row before being cleared with DNA evidence.

This is a great cause that I cannot say enough good things about. While the 300 exonerations is a very impressive achievement, more important is their efforts to reform the system to reduce the number of wrongful convictions in the first place. This infographic from The Innocence Project provides some very eye-opening statistics concerning their first 300 exonerations.

Do We Really Want the President to Enforce ALL Federal Laws?

The Rule of Law, theoretically at least, is superior to the arbitrary Rule of Men. For most of human history, the law has been subject to the whim of a head of state be s/he a monarch, czar, dictator, emperor, etc. James Madison and the framers of the U.S. Constitution wisely determined that the document would be the “supreme law of the land” and everyone from the President to the peasant would be subject to the same law.

But what happens to the Rule of Law when the laws become too vague, too numerous, too unpredictable, and too unjust? According to a 2008 Louisiana State University study (referenced in this article), there were over 4,500 federal crimes on the books. This does not include the thousands more regulations that also carry criminal penalties.

So my question to conservatives and some libertarians who have been critical of President Obama’s executive order to allow individuals who were brought illegally across the border as children under the age of 16 to have temporary work permits is as follows: Do you believe that the president should enforce each and every one of the over 27,000 pages of federal code and prosecute everyone who can be accused of any of the 4,500 + crimes? Should the president send uniformed men with guns to raid the Gibson Guitar Corp, dairy farms who sell raw milk to the public, and medical marijuana dispensaries which operate pursuant to state law? If the argument is that the president is shirking his responsibility by picking and choosing the laws he will “faithfully execute,” the answer necessarily must be “yes.”

Obviously, the federal government even as large as it is could not possibly enforce every single federal law. Assuming for a moment the federal government could enforce every single federal law and regulation, as people who claim to value personal liberty above all else, is this something that would in any way be compatible with liberty?

I think not.

When the federal code is so full of laws and regulations, it’s the same as having no Rule of Law at all. The president necessarily must decide which laws to enforce and which to ignore or at the very least prioritize how he will execute the law. As immigration laws go, it seems to me that deporting individuals who were educated here, not criminals, and pay taxes should be a much lower priority to be deported or jailed than someone who as an adult illegally immigrated, stole someone’s identity, and committed a host of other crimes.

Beyond the sheer volume of laws and regulations, I do think there are instances when the president should NOT enforce the law if he, in good faith, believes the law violates the constitution and/or is unjust. Who among us today would argue that when the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was in force that a president who refused to enforce such a law was acting like a king because he was usurping the “will of the people”? I would also point out that when the Fugitive Slave Act was the law of the land, it wasn’t at all unconstitutional even though most sane Americans today, regardless of political affiliation and/or philosophy would say the law was immoral. If the constitution itself violates Natural Law (i.e. does not recognize the rights of life, liberty, and property for all human beings), then it too should be nullified in those instances.

Nullification presents problems of its own, however. I recognize that nullification of laws passed by congress presents a possible constitutional crisis. We certainly do not want an all-powerful executive branch that can ignore the congress and the courts, so what is the solution?

The solution, however politically difficult it would be, would be to repeal the vast majority of the federal criminal code and much of the remaining 27,000 pages of statutes. The most sensible place to begin would be with the federal criminal code. Most criminal law should be dealt with at the state level anyway. I haven’t checked recently but I’m pretty sure that rape, murder, burglary, assault/battery, and fraud are crimes in all 50 states and in all U.S. territories.

Additionally, even those who believe the war on (some) drugs is good public policy, most states would most likely (unfortunately) continue locking up non-violent drug offenders without Washington’s help. The country we love would not descend into chaos if criminal law was dealt with almost entirely by the states. If we cannot trust the states to handle protecting individuals inside their borders, what is the point of even having states?

If the federal criminal code only dealt with crimes such as counterfeiting, treason, enacting legitimate interstate commerce regulations (to keep the trade among the several states “regular,” not what the interstate commerce clause has become thanks to SCOTUS), and yes, immigration policy, the president could and should conceivably enforce all the federal laws that are neither unconstitutional nor immoral. The president would no longer have the discretion to enforce the laws he favors and not enforce the ones he does not.

Quote of the Day: Penn’s Sunday School Lecture on Obama’s Drug War (Beyond) Hypocrisy Edition

What troubles me about this… I think it’s beyond hypocrisy. I think it’s something to do with class. A lot of people have accused Obama of class warfare, but in the wrong direction. I believe this is Obama chortling with Jimmy Fallon about lower class people. Do we believe, even for a second, that if Obama had been busted for marijuana — under the laws that he condones — would his life have been better? If Obama had been caught with the marijuana that he says he uses, and ‘maybe a little blow’… if he had been busted under his laws, he would have done hard fucking time. And if he had done time in prison, time in federal prison, time for his ‘weed’ and ‘a little blow,’ he would not be President of the United States of America. He would not have gone to his fancy-ass college, he would not have sold books that sold millions and millions of copies and made millions and millions of dollars, he would not have a beautiful, smart wife, he would not have a great job. He would have been in fucking prison, and it’s not a god damn joke. People who smoke marijuana must be set free. It is insane to lock people up.

Watch the segment from “Penn’s Sunday School” non-truncated rant here.


Related Posts:
Song and Open Letter to a President Who is “No Stranger to the Bong”
A Youthful Indiscretion
Reforming America’s Prison System: The Time Has Come

The Nutmeg State’s Senate Passes Bill Protecting Right to Record Police AND Abolishes the Death Penalty in the Same Week

This week, the State of Connecticut made progress in the right direction on the criminal justice front on two issues I care deeply about: the right of individuals to record the police in public and abolishing the death penalty.

Earlier today, the Connecticut Senate passed a bill 42-11 that would hold the police liable for arresting individuals who record their activities in public. Carlos Miller writing for Pixiq writes:

The Connecticut state senate approved a bill Thursday that would allow citizens to sue police officers who arrest them for recording in public, apparently the first of its kind in the nation.

As it is now, cops act with reckless immunity knowing the worst that can happen is their municipalties [sic] (read: taxpayers) would be responsible for shelling out lawsuits.

Senate Bill 245, which was introduced by Democratic Senator Eric Coleman and approved by a co-partisan margin of 42-11, must now go before the House.
The bill, which would go into effect on October 1, 2012, states the following:

This bill makes peace officers potentially liable for damages for interfering with a person taking a photograph, digital still, or video image of either the officer or a colleague performing his or her job duties. Under the bill, officers cannot be found liable if they reasonably believed that the interference was necessary to (1) lawfully enforce a criminal law or municipal ordinance; (2) protect public safety; (3) preserve the integrity of a crime scene or criminal investigation; (4) safeguard the privacy of a crime victim or other person; or (5) enforce Judicial Branch rules and policies that limit taking photographs, videotaping, or otherwise recording images in branch facilities.

Officers found liable of this offense are entitled, under existing law, to indemnification (repayment) from their state or municipal employer if they were acting within their scope of authority and the conduct was not willful, wanton, or reckless.

While I think the fourth and fifth exceptions to the law could be problematic, this should go a long way toward holding the police accountable.

As if this wasn’t enough good news, just yesterday Gov. Dannel Malloy signed a bill to abolish the death penalty in the Nutmeg state. CNN reports:

(CNN) — Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy signed a bill into law Wednesday that abolishes the death penalty, making his state the 17th in the nation to abandon capital punishment and the fifth in five years to usher in a repeal.

The law is effective immediately, though prospective in nature, meaning that it would not apply to those already sentenced to death. It replaces the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of release as the state’s highest form of punishment.

“Although it is an historic moment — Connecticut joins 16 other states and the rest of the industrialized world by taking this action — it is a moment for sober reflection, not celebration,” Malloy said in a statement.

Connecticut isn’t a state that comes to my mind when I think of a death penalty state and for a good reason: only 2 people have been executed in that state in the last 52 years (both of which wanted to be executed), according to the governor. So, if the administration of the death penalty is so infrequent, why does this abolishing of the death penalty even matter? I think Gov. Malloy said it quite well in his signing statement: “Instead, the people of this state pay for appeal after appeal, and then watch time and again as defendants are marched in front of the cameras, giving them a platform of public attention they don’t deserve.”

Keep up the good work Connecticut!

Hat Tip: The Agitator

Frontline Investigates the State of Forensic Science in “The Real CSI”

Is the forensic science used in the courtroom reliable? The PBS documentary series Frontline makes an attempt at answering this question in an episode entitled: “The Real CSI.”

I cannot recommend this episode enough.

Watch The Real CSI on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

Also, the producers of this episode hosted a live chat for viewers to ask some follow-up questions (I’m sorry I missed it). Here is the archive from the chat.

Related Posts
Popular Mechanics Separates CSI Fact from CSI Fiction
Dr Michael West Filmed Committing Attempted Murder
An Innocent Man Was Probably Executed on Gov. Rick Perry’s Watch…Not That Anyone Cares
200 Innocent and Counting
25 More Reasons for Criminal Justice Reform

Quote of the Day: In Response to Van Jones’ Remarks About “so-called libertarians”

Over at Reason, Mike Riggs responded to President Obama’s former Green Jobs czar Van Jones’ tirade about “so-called libertarians” at an Occupy rally in L.A. In case you missed it, Van Jones said that libertarians “say they love America but they hate the people, the brown folk, the gays, the lesbians, the people with piercings.” Clearly, he has never been to a Libertarian Party convention; I have. These people are more welcome in the LP than either of the big two political parties, I assure you.

Riggs responds:

I’m going to have to mic check you there, Mr. Jones. You’re not talking about so-called libertarians, but your former boss and current president. See, it’s Barack Obama who supports “traditional marriage”; Barack Obama who supports a drug war that sends an alarming number of black men to prison and destroys their employment prospects; Barack Obama who supports a foreign policy that kills children; Barack Obama who supports regulatory barriers that require the poorest of the poor to borrow their way into the workforce; Barack Obama who supports an immigration strategy that rips apart families and sees the children of undocumented workers put up for adoption.

Whether Obama’s support for those policies means he hates gays or brown folk is not for me to say. As the scriptures tell us, “For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?”

Libertarians, on the other hand, love brown folk, the gays, the lesbians, the people with piercings, and immigrants. Many of us, after all, fit rather neatly into those categories, and we show our affection for ourselves and our neighbors by supporting the right of all peoples to live free of state-sponsored violence, discrimination, undue imprisonment, and theft; as well as the entirely predictable consequences of both left-wing and right-wing social engineering.

In fairness to Van Jones, there are a fair number of social conservatives,* NeoCons, and yes, certain unwelcome elements who do advocate these things who try to call themselves libertarians, but damn man. Would it be too much trouble for Jones to go on the series of tubes that is the interweb and do a search on the Libertarian Party Platform before shooting off his mouth about “so-called libertarians”? If so, he would find that true libertarians are the polar opposite of what he described.

» Read more

1 2 3 5