Category Archives: Crime and Punishment

No Apologies for “Heated Political Rhetoric” Here

Like many Americans following Saturday’s senseless murders and attempted murders in Tucson, AZ I am very angry. In fact, I probably haven’t felt so angry following a national tragedy/attack since September 11, 2001. I must acknowledge, however; that most of my anger is directed at Left wing pundits and politicians who have decided to turn these despicable acts into political fodder to attack those who “mistrust” or “want to tear down government.” Neal Boortz put it quite nicely (I recommend everyone read the whole article) in his response to this tragedy:

What SHOULD we be talking about in the aftermath of the horrible shooting in Tucson? We should be praying for the complete recovery of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. We should be expressing our sympathy of the families of the other victims. We should be discussing the irony of a little girl born on September 11, 2001 being killed in a senseless act of violence nine years later. There should be discussions on failures in our system that permits mentally deranged people access to weapons and political leaders. Discussion on security for our elected officials would also be appropriate. Though these items were included in the conversation over the weekend .. they all took a back seat to talk driven by the left and the ObamaMedia over the supposed role that evil right wingers, Sarah Palin and the Tea Parties in particular, played in this situation.

We all remember Rahm Emmanuel’s comment at the beginning of the Obama reign: “Never let a crisis go to waste.” We only need to change one word there. “Crisis” to “tragedy.”

The “ObamaMedia” as Boortz put it was very quick to blame “heated political rhetoric” and “hate speech” on the part of those of us who dare to criticize our government (though when Bush was president, criticizing the government was a very patriotic thing. I say it was and still is and always will be patriotic to criticize government). Somehow, when sick individuals take someone’s words and uses them as an excuse to commit violence, the person who said or wrote the words are somehow supposed to be “held responsible.”

What exactly does this mean? Are those on the Left suggesting that Sarah Palin should be held criminally liable for something she put on her PAC website? This reminds me about how metal groups in the late ‘80’s and early ‘90’s such as Judas Priest and Ozzy Osborne were blamed for their music influencing teenagers to commit suicide. I’m also reminded of when the role playing game “Dungeons & Dragons” was blamed for young people joining the Occult and even committing murder. As a teenager I listened to Judas Priest and Ozzy (and still do to this day) and played D&D and I can tell you that none of these things ever encouraged me to harm myself or others.

But in listening to the media, they seem to acknowledge that most individuals won’t respond violently to such messages; only a small minority of individuals would respond this way. If I am understanding correctly then, we should illuminate eliminate any rhetoric that might encourage an unstable person to respond violently even though most people are right thinking and reasonable.

So what might the MSM consider “overheated” because we need to know lest we be “responsible” for someone else’s actions. Might this be considered overheated:

“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

Oh no, that’s a call to overthrow separate from the government and form a new independent government! Surely this is overheated rhetoric.

How about this:

“Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!”

Or maybe this:

“The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”

These are all quotes from the founding fathers of this country (The Declaration of Independence, Patrick Henry, and Thomas Jefferson respectively). Merely reposting these words could reasonably inspire someone to take violent action against the government.

Perhaps I should apologize for reposting this as well as other content found on this site?

Well if this is what you are hoping for, hoping that we will “tone it down” at The Liberty Papers you will be very disappointed. I make no apologies for any content I or others have written on this site. We cannot nor will not be held responsible for any acts of violence that some might try to hold us responsible for.

We do not believe in initiating violence to further our political agenda. We all grieve for those who were harmed in this attack, hope that justice will be swift, and hope the perpetrator will be punished to the full extent of the law.

For anyone who would read this blog and believe that something we have written has inspired you to commit an act of violence, you clearly do not understand what we are all about.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is it Possible that More Conservatives are Getting a Clue About Criminal Justice Reform and Even the War on (Some) Drugs?

Up until about Monday of this week, such a question would have made me laugh. As I have increasingly involved myself in criminal justice issues, I have found the Democrats to be slightly more willing to take on the Prison Industrial Complex, mandatory minimum sentences, and decriminalization (if not outright legalization) of marijuana. These Democrats are typically vilified as being “soft on crime” for suggesting alternatives to hard time for non-violent crimes such as the ones I recently wrote about in my movie review for It’s More Expensive to do Nothing.

And no, I’m not talking about Ron Paul/Rand Paul*Gary Johnson, or Republican Liberty Caucus Conservatives here, I’m referring to the traditionally “tough on crime” Social Conservatives like Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Attorney General Ed Meese who usually take pride in legislating morality. Radley Balko wrote an article at Reason about this new Conservative project called Right on Crime. While I haven’t had the chance to review the website for myself, what Balko has reported about the project is very encouraging: they actually recognize many of the very problems I have been writing about such as the size and makeup of the prison population, recidivism, and the economic and social costs associated with each.

As if this new project wasn’t enough to get my attention, there was this video that first saw yesterday on my Facebook page from something Pat Robertson said:

Did Pat Robertson just come out in favor of decriminalizing marijuana and criticize mandatory minimum sentences? It’s a freaking Christmas miracle!

While I don’t necessarily agree with some of Right on Crime’s and Robertson’s proposed solutions to reforming the criminal justice system, I find it very encouraging that they are at least beginning to recognize the problems associated with the “tough on crime” mentality. Perhaps now Libertarians, Conservatives, and Progressives can actually have a much needed adult conversation about these issues and find some common ground.

That would at least be a start.

» Read more

UPDATE: Gov. Christie Commutes Brian Aitken’s Sentence to Time Served

Just yesterday, Gov. Christie commuted Brian Aitken’s sentence to time served and earlier today he was released from state custody.

Christie commuted Aitken’s sentence Monday, shortening it to time served. It was the first time he has commuted a sentence since taking office almost a year ago.

“The governor has reviewed all the facts of Brian Aitken’s case and has commuted his sentence to time served,” Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak said Monday. “Considering both Aitken’s offense and punishment, the governor believes this is the most compassionate and just solution.”

Aitken was being held at the Mid-State Correctional Annex, which is located on Fort Dix. He declined comment through a spokesman for the Department of Corrections.

It’s very good to see that Gov. Christie did the right thing in this case. Well done sir.

Hopefully, New Jersey legislators will now reconsider these burdensome anti-gun laws to prevent something like this from ever happening again.

Previous Post:
ACTION ALERT: Call/Write NJ Gov. Christie and Tell him to Pardon Brian Aitken

***UPDATE II***Complete written statement from Brian Aitken’s Facebook page (reposted @ TigerHawk) since his release:

Hi Everyone,

I wanted to briefly thank a few people individually for all of their hard work–and I couldn’t think of a better place to do so than here (my very own Facebook Page, crazy)!

Governor Christie, thank you. Seriously. I understand the risk you assume while making any decision that affects the People of New Jersey and that this was no trivial decision for you. In the days and years that will come to pass I am positive you will find yourself proud of your decision… and if you heard that quote about me running against you for President; I was just kidding. :)

Dennis Malloy, thank you. You’ve helped deliver an amazing gift this Christmas for a very loving and deserving family. I wouldn’t be typing these words right now if it wasn’t for you.

Richard Gilbert & Evan Nappen, thank you. You’ve been amazing counsel through this all and I’m proud to have you represent me in this case.

To the 15,000+ Facebook supporters, thank you. To each and every person who wrote the Governor, thank you. To each and every person who wrote to me and sent me hope… thank you.

To the Soldiers, Airmen, and Marines who wrote me from overseas – thank you for your kind words and your dedication to our country. The work you do amasses a debt that can never be repaid and I am humbled that you supported me from bases and War Zones around the globe. Thank you.

Lastly, thank you to my family, friends and beautiful fiancee. I’m lucky to have you all in my life.

There is a great deal of work yet to be done but, in the meantime, I hope everyone has a very Merry Christmas.

My very best,

Brian D. Aitken

The Philadelphia Daily News reports that Aitken and his legal team are going to continue to clear his name via the courts:

Christie’s commutation does not clear Aitken’s conviction or criminal record, and he has yet to hear from the New Jersey appellate court. He is not content with freedom, though, and plans a return to court.

“This is not over,” he said.

His case, he said, hinges on an exemption in New Jersey’s gun laws that allows gun owners to transport their weapons if moving to another residence. Aitken had moved back to New Jersey from Colorado, where he purchased the guns legally in 2007, and claims he was in the process of moving from his family’s home in Mount Laurel to Hoboken at the time of the arrest.

ACTION ALERT: Call/Write NJ Gov. Christie and Tell him to Pardon Brian Aitken

For those of you who are unfamiliar with this case involving a lawful gun owner being caught in the snare of New Jersey’s strict gun control laws, here’s a summary of what happened:

On January 2, 2009 Brian was arrested for illegal possession of firearms while moving from one residence from another. All of the firearms were legally owned—Brian passed three different FBI background checks to purchase and had even cleared an FBI screening for employment as a data researcher handling confidential information for a banking security software firm. His integrity, character, and right to own was not in question…so what was?

New Jersey statutes make it illegal for anyone without a concealed carry permit to possess a firearm even if it’s otherwise lawfully owned. The only way to lawfully possess firearms in New Jersey is through exemptions to the law like driving to and from a shooting range or moving residences. However, as they are exemptions from the law they must be raised during trial therefore removing the presumption of innocence for the charge of possession.

[…]

Several witnesses, including the arresting officer, testified that not only did Brian have multiple residences but that his car was packed with his personal belongings–so much so that it took the police 2 hours and 39 minutes before they found Brian’s guns locked and unloaded in the trunk of his car, exactly as NJ law dictates. Brian knew this because only days earlier he had found out through the NJ state police how to legally transport his firearms in NJ. The officers, believing Brian had done nothing wrong, then offered to leave the firearms at his parents’ house, but when they wouldn’t fit in his father’s safe the supervising officer decided to arrest him instead.

[…]

During the trial it became clear to everyone in the courtroom that Brian fit the exemptions of the law for moving between residences. However, the judge withheld the law from the jury, thereby ensuring a guilty verdict. Regardless, the jury returned from deliberation three times specifically requesting to be read the exemptions of the law. One can only assume that this was so they could find Brian not guilty. The judge and the prosecutor made it clear that they had no intention of allowing Brian to walk out an innocent man. They were more interested in a guilty verdict than truth and justice.

It seems pretty clear to me that the judge (who was not reappointed by Gov. Christie) and prosecutor want to make an example of Mr. Aitken. By all accounts, Aitken went out of his way to obey New Jersey’s absurd anti-gun laws but somehow finds himself serving 7 years in state prison.

There is a very good possibility that Gov. Christie (R) will pardon Aitken as Christie seems to be sympathetic in this case. He’s already getting quite a flood of messages into his office to do the right thing but I believe we should join in and encourage even more to do the same.

Call Gov. Christie at 609-292-6000 and politely leave a message to set Brian Aitken free so that he can spend his Christmas with his family instead of behind bars.

You can also join “Free Brian Aitken” on Facebook. Go here for additional details.

***UPDATE***

I’m very pleased to announce that this action alert can be cancelled: Gov. Christie has commuted Aitken’s sentence to time served. Go here to read my update on the case.

Thanks to all who participated in this action alert.

Hope n’ Change: Pardon Edition

Thus far, President Obama has pardoned 4 turkeys and 0 people. Does anyone else have a problem with this?

George Lardner Jr. writing an article for The New York Times entitled “No Country for Second Chances” does:

If by tomorrow [November 23, 2010] he pardons no one but turkeys, President Obama will have the most sluggish record in this area of any American president except George W. Bush. He’ll have outdone George Washington, who granted a pardon after 669 days. And he will also have outlasted Bill Clinton, who took three days longer than Washington to grant his first pardons. If Mr. Obama waits until Christmas Eve, he will make even his immediate predecessor, who waited until Dec. 23, 2002, seem more generous.

Last month, President Obama turned down 605 requests for commutations — from prisoners who wanted their sentences shortened — and 71 for pardons.

Lardner reports that the Obama administration has requested some hope n’ change with regard to clemency recommendation standards but apparently doesn’t want to grant clemency to anyone (other than turkeys) until then.

The article continues:

It’s difficult to understand why the president has been so unwilling to grant any clemency. As someone who has taught constitutional law, he knows that the founders gave him, and him alone, the power “to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States except in cases of impeachment.” It is likely that he also knows that a disproportionate number of federal prisoners are black, that mandatory sentencing guidelines have left many of them with excessive sentences and that at least a few of them deserve clemency, whether they’ve asked for it or not.

The president has not only the power but also the responsibility to grant clemency when it is warranted. A pardon can help a worthy former prisoner qualify for a job or a license. But mainly it restores the person’s civil rights, including the right to vote.

This puzzles me as well for many of the same reasons. This is one area I thought Obama actually would be a positive force for change but sadly he seems content with the status quo. The status quo being that only politically well connected individuals* or those whose cause for clemency become political causes** in of themselves ever have a realistic chance of success (regardless of merit or lack thereof).

Surly, out of the 4000+ clemency requests, there are at least a few hundred that are worthy of a presidential pardon. Off the top of my head, I can think of one.

Hat tip: The Agitator

» Read more

Playing the World’s Smallest Violin for Rep. Charlie Rangel

Via CBSNEWS.com:

A House ethics committee subpanel today found Democratic Rep. Charlie Rangel guilty of 11 of the 13 charges of ethics violations against him.

The panel, composed of four Democrats and four Republicans, emerged after private deliberation to announce their findings.

[…]

The subpanel will now submit its findings to the full ethics committee, which will schedule a public hearing to determine the appropriate sanctions to take against the longtime New York representative. Whatever action they decide on during the sanctions hearing will then go to the full House of Representatives. The committee could go so far as to recommend expelling Rangel, but that would be unlikely. Other possible sanctions include a House vote deploring Rangel’s conduct, a fine or a denial of privileges.

[…]

The hearing to consider the charges against Rangel began yesterday, but Rangel walked out of the proceedings in protest because he has been unable to acquire legal representation. Rangel’s legal team dropped the case this fall, reportedly after disagreements with Rangel over their defense strategy, and the lawmaker insists he neither has the money to find new counsel nor the time to set up a legal defense fund. By walking out of the hearing, Rangel chose to leave the evidence in the case against him unchallenged.

“I truly believe I am not being treated fairly,” Rangel said yesterday.

Poor Charlie. Here’s a tax and spend Leftist who lectures “the rich” to pay “their fair share” but when he gets busted for failing to properly file – well, he was just being “sloppy.”

I’m sure there’s a good number of people who were “sloppy” with their tax returns who couldn’t afford to pay for a good lawyer either. I’m also quite certain that most of these people have to worry about much worse consequences than to be censured by their colleagues (censure = “Shame on you, you’ve been a very naughty boy!”).

But as we all know, the rules are just different for the Washington elite because some people are more equal than others.

Innocence Project: Key DNA Sample Not a Match to Man Executed in Texas

The Innocence Project reported just today that the hair sample used to condemn Claude Jones to death was not a match.

“(Houston – November 12, 2010) The Innocence Project today released DNA test results proving that crucial hair evidence found at the scene of a murder, the only physical evidence linking the accused Claude Jones to the crime, did not belong to Jones. Although he always maintained his innocence, Jones was executed for murdering Allen Hilzendager on December 7, 2000. George Bush, who was awaiting a decision from the Florida Supreme Court on whether the presidential election recount would continue, denied Jones’ request for a 30 day stay of execution to do DNA test on the hair sample. The memo from the General Counsel’s office that recommended against the stay did not tell Bush that Jones was seeking a DNA test of the hair. Evidence that the hair “matched” Jones was critical to the prosecution’s case at trial and proved to be the key factor in a narrow 3-2 decision by the Texas Court of Appeals finding there was sufficient corroboration of the accomplice who testified against Jones to uphold the murder conviction.

[…]

“It is unbelievable that the lawyers in the General Counsel’s office failed to inform the governor that Jones was seeking DNA testing on evidence that was so pivotal to the case,” said former Texas Governor and Attorney General Mark White. “If the state is going to continue to use the death penalty, it must figure out a way to build safeguards in the system so that lapses like this don’t happen again.”

[…]

“The DNA results released today may not prove that Jones was innocent, but they do raise serious questions about whether the prosecution’s case was strong enough to present to a jury and the decision to seek the death penalty in the first place,” said Governor White. “No matter what your opinion of the death penalty, I hope we can all agree that it should only be used when the state is absolutely sure that the right person has been convicted.”

So why are we only now learning nearly 10 years after the fact that the State of Texas executed Claude Jones who was convicted based solely on a hair sample that did not tie him to the crime scene?

After the San Jacinto County District Attorney’s office refused to give the Innocence Project permission to do testing on the evidence, the Innocence Project, the Texas Observer, the Innocence Project of Texas and the Texas Innocence Network brought a successful lawsuit to do the testing that proved the hair did not belong to Jones.

Yet another example of the State of Texas stonewalling to keep the facts from ever seeing the light of day. These are the same government officials who are actively covering up another case where the state likely executed an innocent man in 2004 by the name of Cameron Todd Willingham (See the Frontline documentary of this case here).

Just two weeks ago, another man by the name of Anthony Graves became the 12th death row inmate exonerated in Texas (and 139th in the country) since 1973 after serving 18 years. Fortunately for Graves, his exoneration came before his date with the death chamber.

In Gov. Rick Perry’s mind, the exoneration of Graves was proof positive the criminal justice system in Texas is “working.”

“I think we have a justice system that is working, and he’s a good example of — you continue to find errors that were made and clear them up,” Perry said. “That’s the good news for us, is that we are a place that continues to allow that to occur. So I think our system works well; it goes through many layers of observation and appeal, et cetera. So I think our system is working.”

Now that this new revelation that Claude Jones was executed based on faulty evidence has come to light, I wonder if Gov. Perry still thinks the system is “working”? They were so cock sure that Graves, Jones, and Willingham* were guilty of capital murder and proven wrong but continue to use the same stonewalling tactics in Hank Skinner’s and other cases. Gov. Perry et. al would rather cover these cases up because they don’t want to risk losing their license to kill.

» Read more

Correcting the so called “Corrections” system

As of today, it should be clear to everyone in this country, that our system for dealing with criminals (I won’t call it a “criminal justice” system since justice has so little to do with it), is utterly broken, beyond any conventional concept of repair.

At this point, again I say, it should be clear we can’t just “fix it”, we need to start over again, with a different concept.

I have a radical idea…. how about this time we start with an HONEST concept… because right now we are anything but honest about what the real function of the “criminal justice” system is; and that dishonesty is what has made all our efforts to date fail miserably.

Today, although we will never admit this to ourselves publicly, there are three things keeping the “Corrections” system going:

1. It’s a jobs program for law enforcement and “corrections” officers, and administrators

2. Non-offending people ARE actually safer when offenders are imprisoned (the problem is, what happens when they get out).

3. We like lots of cops (or at least the IDEA of lots of cops), we want to be “safe”, and we feel that people who do bad should be PUNISHED.

That’s really what it comes down to though, is punishment.

Punishment isn’t SUPPOSED to “help” them. Punishment isn’t supposed to “rehabilitate” them.

The very term “department of corrections” is a hypocritical misnomer.

Americans (and to a large extent most other cultures), put people in prison to punish them, not to “fix” them.

“Correctional system”, “penitentiary”… All high minded hypocritical myths.

The reason “Sheriff Joe” “Americas Toughest Sherrif” is so popular (despite being the worst sort of self aggrandizing, corrupt, civil rights abusing scum) is because he reassures people that he is “punishing the bad guys”; and THAT is honestly what people want.

Eastern State Penitentiary, the first “modern” penitentiary style prison, was deliberately fashioned to resemble monks cells (which is where we got the name for inmate housing units), in the belief that isolation, contemplation, prayer, and penitence (thus the name), would reform criminals into decent men. It was held up as the new “humane” model. In reality it drove prisoners mad and they killed themselves, and each other, in droves.

So long as we refuse to acknowledge the true purpose behind “custodial sentencing” and pretend it has anything to do with the offender coming out better on the other side, we are stuck with what we’ve got (And rapidly getting worse).

We have to stop pretending that punishment does anything but feed our base emotions.

We have to stop pretending that the negative prospect of prison is sufficient to deter criminals from committing crimes. Most criminals by nature have a poor appreciation for consequences, poor impulse control, and an inability to make valid risk/reward calculations.

When you put a criminal away, all you are doing is warehousing him where he can’t commit that crime anymore. That does serve a valid purpose, but it costs a huge amount of money, and doesn’t fix the problem.

The so called “criminal justice” system can no longer serve as a jobs program for law enforcement, lawyers, administrators, and corrections personnel; nor can it simply be warehousing of offenders until we release them to commit their next offense.

So, here it is, really simple; my pie in the sky ideal for how to deal with crime and punishment.

Step 1: drug addiction, possession, use, and sale, must be decriminalized

This has to happen for ANYTHING to have any hope of working. That would eliminate something like 80% of the offenses in higher criminal courts, and drastically reduce prison populations (at least 40%, most likely something more like 80%).

Step 2: We must not only stop, but revert the proliferation of felonies

Right now, you can be convicted of a felony in some states, for as little as selling the wrong kind of fish at the wrong time. We have established a ridiculous number of offenses as “high crimes” (what felonies are intended to be); without any real justification or social purpose, except to inflate those whom the state can claim as convictions, claim higher punitive penalties from, or incarcerate for longer periods of time.

Accordingly, all crimes currently classified as felonies must be reclassified as misdemeanors unless they meet one or more of the following conditions:

1. Physical violence sufficient to cause grievous bodily harm, grievous trauma (such as rape and molestation), or substantial risk of loss of life (or more).

2. Physical or monetary damages equal to or greater than two years income at minimum wage, presuming a 1940 hour work year.

3. Crimes against basic human rights, including terrorism, tampering with courts, deprivation of rights etc…

4. Grave harm to the national security of the united states, including espionage and treason.

5. Criminal negligence, gross indifference, coercion, conspiracy, or fraud sufficient to cause the above.

Step 3: We must completely overhaul our punishment and societal protection model

We must eliminate custodial sentences for non-violent crimes, including felonies, unless those crimes involve:

1. Gross negligence or indifference leading to violent consequences or the loss of life (anything from drunk driving to greater liability issues)

2. Coercion, force or fraud causing damages in excess of five years of minimum wage (because this is effectively slavery for the victim)

3. Special circumstances which are considered “heinous” (more on that later).

We must restore the element of criminal intent into how crimes are charged and sentenced. If there is no intent, then there can be no intentional crime; only crimes of negligence or indifference, which are generally considered far less severe.

In this regard, any action taken while intoxicated or impaired should be considered qualifying, HOWEVER only if criminal damage or injury to others results.

I believe that people should be allowed to drink, swallow or smoke whatever they want, but if their choices cause impairment which then causes damage or injury to others, they should be punished SEVERELY; and crimes involving impairment should be considered intentional for purposes of determining severity.

Also for purposes of determining the severity of an offense, coercion or fraud shall be considered equivalent to force (force being defined as violence, or the threat of violence).

All other criminal offenses should be punished by restitution and compensatory and punitive damages to the victim, compensatory and punitive fines to the state, labor for public benefit, public humiliation, and two years of convict status (which can be reduced by order of a judge only after discharge of all obligations).

Further, on discharge of all other obligations, convicts shall be given a term, of “probation” equal to the length of their existing sentence.

The crimes, sentences, and photographs of all those convicted of criminal offenses should be published in all local newspapers, as well as on local and national web sites; and announced on local television.

All convicts should be required to wear a distinctive article (bracelet, necklace, ankle bracelet etc…) which lists their crime and sentence, and which cannot be covered up while in public.

Convicts must wear this article, until such time as their sentence and obligations have been discharged. At any time, the convict should be legally required to disclose their crime and sentence to anyone who asks; unless doing so would cause danger or disruption.

If a convict is able to earn more than a state mandated minimum wage in their private pursuits, they may continue performing them, and pay restitution and fines directly. If not, then they are directed to work for the state, at a competitive wage for such jobs as they perform, while meeting prevailing employment standards for such a position (i.e. if the only job they qualify for is ditch digger, it’s the only job they can get; and they still have to compete for it with non-convicts).

If the convict is unable to meet basic standards of work, or is unwilling to work, then they will be reduced to menial forced labor at minimum wage. If they refuse this, they will be incarcerated, as a regular inmate, for the term of their sentence.

Restitution, damages, and fines should of course be directly garnished from the convicts wages; but should be considered pre-tax income deductions for tax purposes.

All custodial sentences shall have terms of two, five, ten, twenty five years, or life (or death in states that allow it).

Different charged offenses can be combined consecutively to “stack” sentences; but only if those offenses make up separate criminal acts (if one crime involved 8 different chargeable elements with a 2 year sentence for each, then the convict would receive 8 two year sentences to run concurrently. If he committed the same crime on 8 different occasions, he could receive consecutive sentences, for a total of 16 years incarceration)

There is no parole, however sentences can be reduced (more on that later).

Forcible rape, aggravated sexual assault, sexual molestation, aggravated kidnapping, intentional premeditated or depraved homicide (what would be first degree murder in most jurisdictions), felony murder if the homicide is heinous by itself, any intentional negligent or depraved indifference crime resulting in mass death or mass grievous injury (mass being defined as multiple victims who were not individually targeted, or multiple victims who were unknown to the criminal and whom they had no individual an personal motive to harm), any crime involving tampering with a court or an election, any crime involving the intentional deprivation of an individuals basic human and civil rights (as enumerated in the declaration of independence, and the constitution), torture, espionage, treason; or any attempt to commit those crimes, or conspiracy to commit those crimes; shall all be considered “heinous crimes”.

Heinous crimes should all carry the maximum length of incarceration, and should be eligible for the death penalty in jurisdictions that allow it.

It is important however, that all state and federal laws about the definitions of these crimes must be clarified and harmonized to meet the highest standard of criminal act, and criminal intent (for example, a potentially but not explicitly sexual element to a simple assault – such as public nudity or forced nudity -, would not make it sexual assault. The intent and act must be sexual in nature, and involve sexual contact or acts, or attempted sexual contact or acts. Forcible rape must be limited to actual acts of physical violence, or coercion by threat of violence, resulting in a sexual act).

Oh and yes, I really do believe that voter fraud and election fraud should be punishable by life in prison. So should criminally preventing someone from voting who has the lawful franchise. Any criminal deprivation of rights should be considered as serious as rape or murder.

In addition to their custodial sentence, of course, all penalties that apply to non-custodial sentences would also apply. Restitution, damages, fines and fees, as well as all other conditions of convicts.

Sentences can be reduced, by a judge, on review of the case, and circumstances. A review will be automatically initiated at the time the convict discharges their restitution, damages, and fines, should they do so before the term of their incarceration is completed. Criminals convicted of heinous crimes however, would not be eligible for early release except for humanitarian reasons.

While serving a custodial sentence and incarcerated, unless disabled and unable to do so, the convict will be required to perform productive labor for at least 8 hours a day, five days a week; for which they will be paid at minimum, a base sum equal to the cost of their incarceration (for which they will be charged). They will also accumulate sick leave benefit, and paid vacation days, equivalent to a government employee of the same grade as whatever productive labor they perform.

If the convict is disabled and unable to perform any work, they will be given the same disability status as any disabled individual; and will receive the equivalent of all federal and state disability payments and benefits, to offset the cost of their incarceration.

The convict is to be given the opportunity to voluntarily learn useful job skills, and perform at a useful job at market rates, which can earn them money to pay their fines and restitution.

If the convict has useful skills which can be applied to work that can be performed within the terms of their incarceration without undue risk, this is to be allowed.

The convict is also to be offered the opportunity to work overtime, and earn more money; to be used to pay the cost of their incarceration, their fines and restitution; the balance of which should be the inmates to control as they see fit.

This should not imply the inmate has a right to any job other than basic labor paid at a rate sufficient to cover the cost of their incarceration. Only that the opportunity to seek and perform other employment must be allowed.

If a convict refuses to work, or does not meet minimum standards of work, they are to be restricted to solitary confinement without public exercise, visitation, or communication privileges (excepting legal and spiritual council), and reduced to subsistence ration. Additionally, any work day the convict refuses to work, the cost of their incarceration for that day will be added to their obligations.

Some of this may seem ridiculous (vacation days for convicts?) but it serves an important purpose. The convict should understand, they are performing a job, for pay. They benefit from their own labor, and they have to pay for their own upkeep. If they work harder or more or at a better job, they get ahead; just like everyone else.

This kind of normalization is really the only way to produce people who won’t reoffend when they get out. Get them useful job and life skills they can transfer to the outside world; and get them in the habit of meeting standards of behavior; you’ll see a huge difference.

Any convict caught committing any felony while incarcerated will be subject to immediate extension of their sentence to life in the case of non-violent felonies, or death in the case of violent felonies. Self defense (against ANY crime or attempted crime against them, not just murder) is considered a valid defense against such charges however.

On their release from custody, convicts will be liable to the same penalties and strictures as those who have received non-custodial sentences.

Any further felony committed by any felony convict, whether incarcerated or not, prior to the discharge of any and all obligations (fines, restitution, service or labor), or in the convicts “probation” period will result in an automatic custodial sentence of at least five years; even for offenses that would not normally carry a custodial penalty.

Any violent felony committed prior to the discharge of any and all obligations shall result in an automatic custodial sentence of life in prison, or death.

On the discharge of their fines and restitution, and completion of any service or labor requirements, and any probation period; all convicts shall have all their civil rights restored, including the right to vote, and the right to keep and bear arms.

Private employers may discriminate against convicts, even after their obligations have been discharged, should they choose to do so. The federal, state, and local governments however may NOT discriminate against convicts whose sentences have been discharged however, except for those convicted of Heinous crimes (who should, in general, not be released anyway) or in the case of employment in law enforcement, criminal justice, corrections, national security, or the military.

Any repeat offense of the same felony, or any violent felony by a convicted felon who has discharged their sentence, shall cause a convict to be considered an incorrigible offender, and subject to an automatic sentence of 25 years, life, or death at a judges discretion (25 years for any crime that would normally rate a sentence less than 25 years. Life for any crime that would normally rate 25 years. Death for any heinous crime, or crime that would normally rate life). As always, this is subject to review and reduction by a judge after the convict has discharged their obligations (excepting heinous crimes).

I call this the “one chance, don’t blow it” rule. I believe it is fully justified, because the nature and scope of felonies is being dramatically reduced; the standards for offense are much higher, and the ability of someone to reintegrate into society without re-offending should be much better under this regime.

That’s it. Not exactly simple, but a lot less complicated than our current system… and if anything can work, it ought to be this.

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

“More Expensive” Offers Alternatives to Incarceration to Break the Recidivism Cycle

Title: It’s More Expensive to do Nothing

Producer: Humane Exposures Films

Directed by: Alan Swyer

Non-violent offender is arrested, convicted, does his time, re-enters society and the cycle repeats. This is the typical cycle of recidivism in the American criminal justice system thanks largely to the “tough on crime” approach of state and federal policy. If the goal of policy makers is to put more individuals in prison, they are surely succeeding as the U.S. has 2.38 million prisoners; the highest number of reported prisoners in the world. If the goal of policy makers is to aid individuals in rehabilitation the policy makers have surely failed.

If incarceration is not the answer, does anyone have a better alternative?

Humane Exposures, the producers of the up and coming documentary It’s More Expensive to do Nothing believe they do. Their answer to this growing problem is a less costly alternative to incarceration; they say remediation is a better way. More Expensive, focusing primarily on California’s criminal justice system, interviews some 25 experts in the fields of psychiatry, law, law enforcement, corrections, policy, and healthcare as well as several individuals who themselves broke their personal cycles of recidivism and successfully turned their lives around with the aid of the very policies and programs the film advocates.

The most obvious question to answering the problem of recidivism is simply “why do 75% of California’s offenders re-offend?” Several very good answers are offered in the film but perhaps the best answer comes from Bruce Perry, MD, PhD, and Senior Fellow of the ChildTrauma Academy of Houston, Texas:

I would challenge anybody who is watching this [documentary] to be able to take 200 bucks, with no place to live really…except for a flophouse and not have a job or even job skills…

I mean, you may be a lawyer with no job. How long are you going to last?

[…]

Why do we expect somebody who has fewer skills than a professional to be able to somehow get out into the community and be successful?

We libertarians talk a lot about how individuals should be held responsible for their own actions as a consequence of living in a free society. Generally speaking, libertarians dislike government programs that are intended to help people avoid the consequences of their poor decisions. Be that as it may, I believe that Dr. Perry makes a very good point here. It’s very difficult to expect individuals to make better decisions in the future when there are few options available. With little or no social skills, little or no job skills, little or no support from family, friends, or the community, its very difficult for most individuals to resist re-offending. For those who are addicted to illicit drugs, trying to stay out of trouble is all that much more difficult.

As difficult as it may be for most of us to imagine, several of the ex-cons featured in the film did not find the prospect of returning to prison as much of a deterrent to making bad choices. Karen Miller, Drug and Alcohol Counselor for Community Resources And Self Help (CRASH) who herself is 11 years sober and broke the recidivism cycle said that if nothing else, she saw going back to jail as “Three hots and a cot.” Another said he felt safer behind bars than on the street. The truth of the matter is that the prison system is a government program as well complete with housing, healthcare, and 3 square meals for each inmate each day.

The government program championed by the experts in the film which was a result of California Senate Bill 618 provides non-violent offenders a multi-agency approach with the goal of helping them acquire job training, treatment, and most importantly, hope for their futures. Proponents argue that this isn’t a hand out but a hand up. Each person who goes through these programs are held accountable by their councilors, their peers, and themselves. Each has to take initiative and earn their completion certificates before they reenter society.

The premise of the film is in its title: “It’s More Expensive to do Nothing.” Obviously, doing “something” also has a cost associated with it, so what does their alternative program cost and has the program shown measurable results? According to the film, the program costs California taxpayers about $5,000 per inmate per year with a 20% failure rate. Considering the size of California’s prison population, this seems like a great deal of money. But compared with the costs associated with the more traditional incarceration approach costing $75,000 per inmate, per year with a 75% failure rate, the alternative program seems like quite a bargain.

Despite the program’s success, these programs are in danger of losing funding. My question is why? While I know that California is financially a hot mess, it seems to me that if these programs are as successful as those in the film claims, even the law and order types in positions of power would do everything possible to keep this program going.

This leads me to my first of two criticisms of the film. Where are the people who represent the counterpoint? Though I am very sympathetic to the case More Expensive makes, hearing the other side’s arguments could further illuminate the debate. Even Michael Moore interviews individuals who disagree with him in his crockumentaries!

My second criticism is the failure to deal directly with the elephant in the room: the war on (some) drugs. While those interviewed in the film acknowledge that drug policy has lead to increased incarceration, has proven futile, and has contributed mightily to the recidivism problem they are trying to address, I don’t recall any mention from anyone raising the prospect of decriminalization or legalization of drugs. Portugal is a real life case study in how decriminalization there has led to less crime and fewer people suffering from drug addiction. Those who opposed decriminalization in Portugal warned of all the same dooms day consequences that drug warriors say would happen here but so far has not materialized. Bringing Portugal into the discussion may have given the film another interesting dimension.

My guess is that, provided that the producers of the film agree with the idea of decriminalization or legalization, perhaps raising this argument would turn off people who might otherwise on board with their approach. Or maybe ending the war on (some) drugs in America anytime soon is so unlikely in their minds that they want to work within the political reality we currently find ourselves. Convincing policy makers to consider remediation over punishment is quite a challenge in itself in a culture that affectionately refers to Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio “the toughest sheriff in America” despite a long history of misconduct and civil rights abuses.

All criticisms aside, It’s More Expensive is a very important and very informative film that brings attention to an issue that doesn’t usually receive very much play in the media. The voices of a more common sense corrections policy deserve to be heard and It’s More Expensive to do Nothing amplifies these voices. It’s now up to us to listen and avoid the costly mistake of doing nothing to stop this vicious cycle.

Aren’t You Glad To Be A Gamma?

I had a really interesting philosophical discussion with Brad Warbiany, our curator at The Liberty Papers, over a Facebook status I wrote. I had just re-listened to the CBS Radio Workshop rendition of Brave New World and had commented that it seemed like a far more livable situation than 1984.

Warbiany added that California, if Prop. 19 passes and allows the modern equivalent of soma to be freely ingested, the state really will look like Brave New World. With the state already self-organized into a caste system (Listen to someone from Northern California talk about Southern California or someone from Berkeley talk about Sacramento some time), abortion and every sort of contraceptive widely available and the domination of a vapid mass culture (seen at San Diego Comic Con or Wonder Con in San Francisco) taking precedence over civic involvement for Californians, the Golden State really resembles Huxley’s “negative utopia.”

Warbiany also handed me this great cartoon:
Orwell v. Huxley

On Twitter, alot of progressive and libertarian leaning activists tend to advocate alot for issues of freedom and emancipation in countries like Iran or China. In a way, situations in so obviously repressive countries like those are much easier for the activist. They fit into the Orwell dynamic and the villains and heroes are very clear. In his opposition to the death penalty, our own Stephen Littau does take on the American equivalent to state repression. Along with questionable foreign policy and drug policy, however, those are really the only avenues for passionate American political activism.

Beyond such clear issues of state force, however, one runs into a brick wall when faced with the mass culture, dullness and vapidity of consumer society. It seems that in this society, the majority of more normal people (myself and most people reading this strongly excepted) do not become Jeffersonians but instead “turn on, tune in and cop out,” as Gil Scott Heron once said. How does one become an activist in a society in which people freely subjugate, segregate and limit themselves?

I have a funny story that relates to this, that I didn’t even remember until I read what Brad said. While living in Alameda, California, I lost my phone. A teenage girl, around college age most likely, found it and called my mom, who e-mailed me about it. When I got the phone back, I was really grateful but had no money on hand. The only possession I had literally was a copy of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. I offered it to her.

She literally responded, “No thanks. I don’t read.”

I know. Alameda is not a low income area where reading should be rare, either. There are several bookstores in the area, along with hip restaurants, record stores and everything else you expect in cosmopolitan society. It even has an incredible vintage movie theatre that I rank as the best in Northern California, next to Oakland’s Grand Lake Theatre. This girl was obviously more involved in other factors of modern life, all of which I can safely assume are of less consequence intellectually than the work of Huxley.

It’s especially ironic given that there is a passage in Brave New World in which infants are given books while bombarded with screeching, loud noises, in order to dissuade them from being too intellectual when they reach adulthood. With video games, television, the internet and iPhones, that seems unnecessary as modern people have been incentivized out of intellectualism.

That girl did go to extra trouble to give me my phone back, with no advantage to her, however. That means she had a decency and sense of altruism that her lack of reading hadn’t impeded. Having grown up around the hyper-educated and being on that road myself, I can also attest that we’re not the nicest group of people. Perhaps then we really are on the road to progress.

Advanced Screenings of “Conviction” Coming to a Theater Near You

The movie “Conviction,” starring Hillary Swank and Sam Rockwell will have advanced screenings of the film beginning next week in most major U.S. cities. I’ve already received my free movie pass, you can get yours here (if there are any passes available in your city).

The Innocence Project has more details about the true story of Kenny Waters and his sister Betty Anne Waters’ determination to put herself through law school to find a way to prove her brother did not commit the crime.

Quote of the Day: No, Cops Do Not Have Any Expectation of Privacy Edition

Anthony Graber, the man who was charged for violating Maryland’s wiretapping law for recording on his motorcycle helmet cam and posting a video to YouTube of an undercover cop who pulled a gun on him during a traffic stop will not spend the next 16 years of his life in prison. Hartford County Circuit Judge Emory A. Pitt Jr. dismissed the charges explained (correctly) that the police do not have an expectation of privacy while on duty and in public.

“Those of us who are public officials and are entrusted with the power of the state are ultimately accountable to the public. When we exercise that power in public fora, we should not expect our actions to be shielded from public observation. ‘Sed quis custodiet ipsos cutodes’ (“Who watches the watchmen?”).” – Judge Emory A. Pitt Jr.

Just a gentle reminder to public servants that they work for us and are accountable to us, not the other way around.

Hat Tip: Hammer of Truth

Related: Cato Presents:Cops on Camera

Nolan Exposes McCain’s Antipathy for Civil Liberties in Arizona Senate Debate

David Nolan, co-founder of the Libertarian Party and author of “The World’s Smallest Political Quiz” (to which the result is plotted on the “Nolan Chart”) is running against none other than the most recent Republican presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain for his senate seat. KTVK-3TV hosted a debate last Sunday which included Sen. McCain along with challengers Rodney Glassman (D), Jerry Joslyn (G), and David Nolan (L). Believe it or not, all candidates were given equal time to debate the issues; something that is usually missing from the debates I’m accustomed to watching.

Despite the skills of those challenging Sen. McCain – particularly the two 3rd party candidates, the latest Real Clear Politics Average Poll shows McCain with a comfortable 17.4 point lead over his closest challenger, Rodney Glassman. Critics of 3rd parties look at poll results like this and wonder “what’s the point” of allowing 3rd party candidates to participate when their chances of winning are so miniscule.

IMHO, I believe that both Nolan and Joslyn did a fine job demonstrating why 3rd party candidates should be included by raising issues, proposing solutions, and exposing the shortcomings of the two party system and the candidates themselves to voters and concerned citizens.

In the 3rd part of this debate (below), Nolan brought up a McCain sponsored bill that is most likely not on the radar of very many people: S. 3081, the “Enemy Belligerent Interrogation, Detention, and Prosecution Act of 2010.”

(Beginning at -6:14 in part 3 of the debate)

Nolan: “One of the reasons I got into this race is that right now, at this very moment Sen. McCain is a sponsor – I think the lead sponsor of Senate Bill 3081 […] a bill which would authorize the arrest and indefinite detention of American citizens without trial and without recourse. This is one of the most dangerous, evil, un-American bills that’s ever been proposed in congress and nobody who would sponsor such a bill should be sitting in a seat in the United States Senate.”

And what was Sen. McCain’s response to the charge by Nolan of sponsoring such a “dangerous, evil, un-American” bill?

McCain: “Well again, I hope that our viewers won’t judge me by the remarks just made [by Nolan], they may be a little bit biased.”

Nolan raised the issue again in his closing remarks. Sen. McCain did not respond.

Okay, fair enough. Perhaps Mr. Nolan is biased. He is trying to take his job after all. Fortunately for now at least, the average person with an internet connection can freely search and find the bill and learn of its contents. Let’s take a look and see how “biased” Mr. Nolan was and determine whether or not Arizona’s senior senator should be “judged” by the bill he is currently sponsoring.

SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.

This Act may be cited as the ‘Enemy Belligerent Interrogation, Detention, and Prosecution Act of 2010’.

SEC. 2. PLACEMENT OF SUSPECTED UNPRIVILEGED ENEMY BELLIGERENTS IN MILITARY CUSTODY.

(a) Military Custody Requirement- Whenever within the United States, its territories, and possessions, or outside the territorial limits of the United States, an individual is captured or otherwise comes into the custody or under the effective control of the United States who is suspected of engaging in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners through an act of terrorism, or by other means in violation of the laws of war, or of purposely and materially supporting such hostilities, and who may be an unprivileged enemy belligerent, the individual shall be placed in military custody for purposes of initial interrogation and determination of status in accordance with the provisions of this Act.

(b) Reasonable Delay for Intelligence Activities- An individual who may be an unprivileged enemy belligerent and who is initially captured or otherwise comes into the custody or under the effective control of the United States by an intelligence agency of the United States may be held, interrogated, or transported by the intelligence agency and placed into military custody for purposes of this Act if retained by the United States within a reasonable time after the capture or coming into the custody or effective control by the intelligence agency, giving due consideration to operational needs and requirements to avoid compromise or disclosure of an intelligence mission or intelligence sources or methods.

“Suspected unprivileged enemy belligerent” ? No, that doesn’t sound Orwellian at all. Now let me highlight Sec. 3b3 and let you, the reader decide if any of this strikes you as “dangerous,” “evil,” or even “un-American.”

(3) INAPPLICABILITY OF CERTAIN STATEMENT AND RIGHTS- A individual who is suspected of being an unprivileged enemy belligerent shall not, during interrogation under this subsection, be provided the statement required by Miranda v. Arizona (384 U.S. 436 (1966)) or otherwise be informed of any rights that the individual may or may not have to counsel or to remain silent consistent with Miranda v. Arizona.

Talk about double speak! Such individuals are not “criminal suspects” who in our criminal justice system normally considers “innocent until proven guilty” who have Constitutionally protected rights but “suspected enemy belligerents” who are apparently assumed guilty until a high ranking official in the executive branch, or the president himself determines otherwise.

Sorry, I’m getting a little ahead of myself. I haven’t even got to the most disturbing part of the bill yet – Section 5:

SEC. 5. DETENTION WITHOUT TRIAL OF UNPRIVILEGED ENEMY BELLIGERENTS.

An individual, including a citizen of the United States, determined to be an unprivileged enemy belligerent under section 3(c)(2) in a manner which satisfies Article 5 of the Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War may be detained without criminal charges and without trial for the duration of hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners in which the individual has engaged, or which the individual has purposely and materially supported, consistent with the law of war and any authorization for the use of military force provided by Congress pertaining to such hostilities.

So here we are in 2010, Sen. McCain et al advocating giving American citizens POW status under Article 5 of the Geneva Convention as they may be “enemy belligerents” in an ill-defined and open-ended “war on terror.” The provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act which were originally supposed to be temporary but now as a practical matter, a permanent fixture of federal law, apparently don’t go far enough to dismantle what is left of the Bill of Rights.

One thing I found interesting in this debate was not only Sen. McCain’s response (or lack thereof) but also the deafening silence of his Democrat challenger who could have easily picked this issue up and ran with it if he shares Nolan’s civil liberties concerns. Could it be that Mr. Glassman would also support this bill if he were elected to replace Sen. McCain? If so, I wouldn’t be at all surprised considering that President Obama who is a member of the same political party as Glassman actually believes he can assassinate Americans without due process of any kind. Both the Obama and Bush administrations have even gone as far to say that if or when the president makes a “state’s secrets” claim, no court can even consider the legality of such cases. There’s little doubt in my mind that President Obama would sign S. 3081 into law as this would only enhance his power.

Maybe for now on we should stop referring to the first ten amendments as “The Bill of Rights” and call them “The Bill of Privileges.” This would at least be honest because rights cannot be taken away and therefore can never be “inapplicable.”

Constitution Day Open Thread: Top 3 Amendments You Would Make

Today marks the 223rd anniversary of the U.S. Constitution, allegedly the supreme law of the land. The framers of the Constitution recognized that over time changes would need to be made through an amendment process. In the intervening 223 years, this document has been amended only 27 times.

This brings me to the question I want to pose to readers: what top 3 amendments would you make if you could and why?

Here are my top 3 in no particular order:

1. Rebalancing the Scales of Justice Amendment: The 4th 6th Amendment’s guarantee for the accused to have a court appointed [see comments below] lawyer is a wonderful idea but incomplete. Sure, the accused can be represented by a public defender but does not have nearly the resources available as the prosecution. My proposed amendment would go further than the 4th 6th Amendment and state that the accused would be guaranteed the same resources in his or her defense as the prosecution. For every tax dollar spent to prosecute a dollar would be made available for the defense (whether or not the accused uses a court appointed attorney). This amendment would also guarantee compensation for the wrongfully accused, hold prosecutors criminally and civilly responsible for withholding exculpatory evidence from the jury, and clearly state that a compelling claim of “actual innocence” (due to newly discovered evidence or technological breakthroughs) would be reason enough for a new trial for the previously convicted.

2. Term Limits Amendment: A single 6 year term for president, 2 terms for senators (keep the current 6 year term), 6 terms for representatives (keep the current 2 year term). These terms would be limited for consecutive terms only; if a president wants to make another run, s/he could do so after sitting out a term while senators and representatives would have to sit out a full 12 years (and make them deal with the consequences of their laws as private citizens for awhile) or run for a different office.

3. Accident of Birth Amendment: This would revise Article II, Section 1 removing the requirement that the president must be a natural born citizen and changing the requirement to match that of a U.S. senator. While this requirement might have made sense 223 years ago when the nation was getting started, we are now to a point to where we can do away with it. I don’t like the idea of disqualifying an individual for something s/he had absolutely no control over. Also, this would force the birthers to think about something else other than Obama’s birth certificate : )

Now it’s your turn.

Jack Conway’s Unfair Attack on Rand Paul

I’m not a Rand Paul fan, not a Kentuckian and am not going to endorse him or give money to his campaign. Given that, all of the above is true of his Democratic opponent Jack Conway as well. His disingenuous advertisement attacking Paul for an alleged laissez faire approach to law enforcement is absurd and actually makes Paul look like a much more attractive candidate:

As has been made fairly clear by my posts and also by my colleague Stephen Littau, law enforcement in this country has gone out of control into zones of paramilitary tactics that are frightening.

Littau posted a Cato Institute video that showed a police arrest of a motorcyclist by an armed police officer showing no badge who looked on all accounts as if he were conducting a robbery.

Over at the Agitator, Radley Balko reports on the murder of Michael Sipes, seventeen, by police after responding to a noise complaint. As the drug war continues to escalate in Mexico, a smaller escalation appears to have occurred at home, with arrests up and disturbing lethal attacks on homes, including many where dogs have been killed. In 2007, drug arrests for marijuana possession alone totaled 775,138! If a Senator Paul will introduce legislation that would eliminate non-violent arrests for “crimes” like marijuana possession, more power to him.

I can not express enough how much I disagree with Paul on the Civil Rights Act and, given being told by a Kentuckian that racism was benefitting Paul in his senate race, it makes me distrust him highly. Given that, if Paul does think non-violent crimes should be at least a lower priority, that makes me give him a second look. The last thing we need is the “cops know best” approach that Jack Conway seems to be endorsing.

Cato Presents: Cops on Camera

As cameras have become more available to individuals and government alike, viral videos of cops behaving badly have become quite pervasive on the internet. This short video by The Cato Institute provides a few recent examples of this relatively new phenomenon and explains why recording the actions of police and government officials for all the world to see is good for liberty. Its government that should be watched and its government that should fear the people, not the other way around.

UPDATE: Despite Possible Political Implications, Gov. Strickland Stops Kevin Keith’s Execution; Commutes Sentence to Life

Bob Driehaus writing for The New York Times reports:

CINCINNATI — A death row inmate convicted of murdering a child and two adults was spared the death penalty Thursday by Gov. Ted Strickland of Ohio, who said there were possible problems with the evidence.

A diverse group of Republicans and Democrats, attorneys general and federal and state judges and prosecutors had rallied around the case of the inmate, Kevin Keith, 46, after his lawyers uncovered evidence they say casts doubt on his guilt.

In commuting the death sentence, Mr. Strickland, a Democrat, said that he believed it was still likely that Mr. Keith committed the murders, but that he was troubled by the likelihood that evidence uncovered since his conviction would not be presented to a court before the scheduled Sept. 15 execution.

“That would be unfortunate,” Mr. Strickland said in a statement. “This case is clearly one in which a full, fair analysis of all of the unanswered questions should be considered by a court. Under these circumstances, I cannot allow Mr. Keith to be executed.”

Gov. Ted Strickland should be applauded for doing the right thing and preventing Kevin Keith’s execution. Strickland, who is as of this posting trailing in his race for re-election against his Republican challenger John Kasich by roughly 10 points, had to know that stopping an execution of someone convicted of a particularly heinous act is a very risky proposition politically. George W. Bush is the only governor in history to commute a death row sentence in an election year and go on to win re-election. Kasich, on the other hand, has the luxury of not having to comment one way or the other (and so far his campaign hasn’t).

Neither the parole board nor SCOTUS were willing to consider the “unanswered questions” about Kevin Keith’s guilt. Keith’s life was quite literally in Gov. Strickland’s hands. And even though Gov. Strickland still believes that Keith is likely guilty of these murders, he decided to err on the side of life – life in prison but life none the less.

Keith’s legal team, though thrilled that their client’s life was spared, are not going to be completely satisfied until these questions are presented in a new trial in hopes of proving Keith’s innocence.

The article continues:

“The same compelling reasons that support Governor Strickland’s actions today,” said one of his lawyers, Rachel Troutman, “warrant a new, fair trial for Mr. Keith, including the existence of newly discovered evidence, the revelation of evidence withheld by the state, and the development of new science behind eyewitness identification, all of which point to Mr. Keith’s innocence.”

There is no excuse for the state to withhold evidence that doesn’t support the state’s case. It seems that all too often prosecutors focus too much on “winning” their cases at the expense of justice. Justice not only denied for the accused but also for the victims and their families.

There’s also no excuse for the John Kasich campaign’s silence in this case. Kasich is running to replace the sitting governor of a death penalty state. Kasich owes it to Ohio voters to explain why his opponent, the sitting governor made the right or wrong decision in this case. It’s not really enough for a candidate for governor to answer a generic question about whether s/he supports the death penalty or not when real death penalty cases with real and difficult questions exist in a state that executes the second highest number of people in the nation.

All legal issues and politics aside, the commuting of Kevin Keith’s death sentence to life is very good and welcome news.

Related Post:

Even Death Penalty Supporters Urge Ohio Gov. Strickland to Spare Kevin Keith

Even Death Penalty Supporters Urge Ohio Gov. Strickland to Spare Kevin Keith

Its one thing when anti-death penalty activists petition a governor to pardon or commute a sentence of an individual scheduled for execution but quite another when death penalty supporters agree. Kevin Keith is scheduled to be executed by the state of Ohio on September 15th for the 1994 murders of 2 adults and 1 child; a crime he has maintained he did not commit. Despite exculpatory evidence which points away from Keith and despite Gov. Ted Strickland’s (D) own public comments where he said he found “certain aspects” of the case “troubling,” the parole board voted 8-0 in favor of executing Keith.

Fortunately, the parole board’s decision is non-binding; Gov. Strickland or perhaps SCOTUS can still do the right thing and halt the execution until the more ‘troubling’ aspects of this case can be fairly reconsidered.

According to this article in The Guardian, among those who are urging Gov. Strickland to halt the execution are more than 30 former judges and prosecutors including former Ohio Attorney General and death penalty supporter Jim Petro (R) and former Ohio Supreme Court Justice Herbert Brown.

Jim Petro in a letter to Gov. Strickland:

“I am gravely concerned that the state of Ohio may be on the verge of executing an innocent person”

Justice Herbert Brown in another letter:

“There is a mass of exculpatory evidence, suppressed evidence, faulty eyewitness identification and forensic reports that support legitimate claims of innocence”

Innocence Network President and Clinical Professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School Keith A. Findley, while likely biased against the death penalty also wrote to persuade the governor:

Like so many of the wrongful conviction cases, tunnel vision by police, prosecutors, and even courts appears to have played a central role in Mr. Keith’s case and his ultimate conviction.

[…]

The evidence of these pernicious effects of tunnel vision, coupled with the compelling new evidence in Mr. Keith’s case, suggests that Ohio might be on the verge of executing an innocent man […]

Keith’s defense team, in a statement following the parole board’s decision points out that Gov. Strickland signed a bill into law which prohibited some of the very techniques investigators used against their client. Unfortunately for Keith, the banning of these faulty procedures came too late.

Yes, the case of Kevin Keith is indeed troubling. Maybe if a few thousand more can petition Gov. Strickland, he will be even more troubled to the point to where he will end this madness (click here to sign the petition).

In other troubling death penalty news, a federal judge has denied Troy Davis’ innocence claim despite 7 of 9 eyewitnesses recanting their testimonies against him.

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

Ernie Suggs of The Atlanta Constitution reports:

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

The article continues:

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

“That culture needs to change,” she said.

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

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

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

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

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

Hat Tip: The Agitator (who else?)

Related:

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

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