Category Archives: Criminal Justice Reform

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.***

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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.

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