Category Archives: Criminal Justice Reform

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.
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