Category Archives: Crime and Punishment

How ‘Affirmative Consent’ Laws Threaten Due Process

A few weeks ago, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law the nation’s first “affirmative consent” law. When it was proposed back in June, I said the proponents were control freaks. The law essentially says that consent must be given, affirmatively and actively, for each act of a sexual encounter. In other words “yes means yes.” It sounds reasonable enough doesn’t it?

The law has already spread with lawmakers proposing similiar laws across the country. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo implimented the policy at the SUNY system of universities across New York with plans to incorporate it into state law. Lawmakers in Illinois, New Hampshire, and New Jersey have plans to introduce similiar legislation across the country.

While the lawmakers proposing the bills are all Democrats, the laws have found support in unlikely corners, social conservatives and even some libertarians. Townhall.com writer Conn Carroll supports the laws because he wants to discourage the “hookup culture.” Libertarian blogger Kelli Gulite argues that the laws clear up the “ambiguity of the existing consent standards.”

However, while the affirmative consent laws are a well-intentioned attempt to address a problem (rape), they ultimately do more harm than good, especially where civil liberties are concerned. These laws will result in (mostly) young men either being expelled from universities and/or charged with a crime they did not commit.

Here’s some reasons why affirmative consent laws are not the way to go:

1) Sets us on the road to “precrime”. One of the lawmakers proposing these laws for their state, N.H. State Rep. Renny Cushing state this “We need to change the dialogue and we need to start talking about prevention rather than have a legal concern about whether or not someone was capable of giving their consent.”

I’ve heard that before somewhere:

These laws will no more prevent rape than laws against hate speech will prevent murder.

2) It eliminates the presumption of innocence. The laws state that someone is guilty of rape if there was no yes. This will force the defendant to have to prove that there was a yes. That forces the burden of proof on the defendant, not the state and the university. The only logical way for a potential defendant to protect themselves from a rape allegation is to record the sexual encounter or some kind of proof that the encounter was explicitly consentual.

In other words, we’re right back to the problem these laws were trying to prevent “he said vs she said.” Under the reasonable doubt standard, that’s clearly not enough evidence on its own to force a conviction. However, in a campus proceding or a civil lawsuit, there is no reasonable doubt but only preponderance of evidence.

These laws codify the process of the campus-based procedings which have been criticized as essentially kangaroo courts that threaten the rights of the accused.

3) It will lead to the prosecution of boorish behavior and bad sex as rape. In her defense of these laws, Gulite wrote:

The best way to show why affirmative consent is a better standard than previous standards is through an example. Two students agree to have vaginal intercourse, but without warning or asking permission, the male student begins to have anal intercourse. Of course, the female could say no immediately after taking a few seconds to register what happened and the male could oblige. However, the sexual assault has already occurred.

Under the affirmative consent standard, the victim has recourse. Without it, she does not. (emphasis hers)

Perhaps I’m a caveman, but I fail to see a case for disciplining, suspending, or expelling the young man; let alone having him arrested and subjected to the legal process for essentially an act of boorish behavior. This particular example looks like something that should be best handled between the two of them without involving the university or the authorities.

If this woman has recourse under this example under affirmative consent, what about bad sex in general? Or if a woman regrets a sexual encounter the next day? We know false rape accusations happen, even if we don’t know what the exact percentage is. I fear this standard will just increase the number of them.

The road to hell, or the loss of liberties, is often paved with good intentions. The affirmative consent standards are an excellent example of this. We should resist the urge to “just do something” to address sexual assualt at colleges. We should also resist using the government to impose our own personal morality. All those will do is just lead to erosion of more liberties.

 

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

Armed Customer Kills Armed Robber; Family of Robber May File Lawsuit

In January of 2012, two armed thugs entered a Waffle House in Chesnee, SC. One thing these thugs didn’t account for: the possibility that one or more of the customers might be carrying a concealed handgun. One customer by the name of Justin Harrison saw his opening to act and fired several shots at one of the thugs Dante Williams, DRT.* The other thug, unfortunately, escaped with his life (he’s now the taxpayers’ problem for the next 30 years).  

Tamika McSwain, cousin of Dante Williams, is upset that Harrison “took the law into his own hands”** and that charges were not filed against Harrison for doing so. Due to this perceived miscarriage of justice, McSwain says the family might file a lawsuit. McSwain also contends that more training should be required before someone earns their CWP. Harrison’s CWP instructor David Blanton, however; disagrees.

“Not only was he defending his own life, which the law says he can do [***] but there were other people in the restaurant,” Blanton said.

Harrison, in defending his own actions said “They got the gun, he [Williams] picked it up. He could have said no.”

And that’s the bottom damn line, Tamika: your dirt bag cousin could have said no. Your cousin made a very bad choice and he paid with his life.

Let me further say, I really don’t give a rat’s ass how “sharp” or “goofy” or how much he “loved to dance” or that you think he was “a respectable boy.” On that night at least, he was a thug. A thug who deserved to die. People like your thug cousin are the reason why we need to have the right to carry weapons in public places. I wish people like your cousin didn’t exist at all. In a world without people like your cousin, we could beat all the guns in the world into plow shears. But as long as we do have people in this world like your cousin, we will need guns and people willing to use them to defend the rest of us.

*Dead Right There

**This phrase drives me crazy. The law is always “in our own hands” particularly in a threatening situation like this one.

***Isn’t that so nice of the law to allow individuals to protect their own lives!

One Out of 25 Prisoners on Death Row is Innocent

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

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

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

Pete Yost for the Associated Press reports:

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

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

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

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

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

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

LAPD Officers Fire Shots at Innocent People; Taxpayers Punished

Remember the LAPD shooting incident that occurred during their manhunt for Christopher Dorner just over one year ago? The one in which eight LAPD officers fired 103 shots into a vehicle that kinda sorta looked like the one Dorner was believed to be driving but turned out to be two women delivering newspapers without making any threatening moves to justify using deadly force whatsoever?

Though fortunately, both women survived, these eight cops would surely be charged criminally or at the very least never be allowed to work for law enforcement ever again…right? Maybe, maybe not (I have read conflicting reports). Some may be terminated while others may be retrained.

But the very idea that these cops should ever be allowed to have a concealed carry weapons permit (CCW) let alone patrol the streets as police officers is absurd and irresponsible. As outrageous as this determination is, there was actually an effort to clear the officers of any wrongdoing (These cops were dealing with a very stressful situation, after all). Thankfully, Chief Charlie Beck told the Police Commission that the officers should be found in violation of LAPD policy (I should hope this would violate LAPD policy!) at the very least.

The victims of this shooting/attempted murder will be compensated at the tune of $4.2 million plus an additional $40,000 to replace the vehicle at taxpayer expense. Certainly this is the very least the City of Los Angeles could do.

Any time one of these events happen, I can’t help but wonder, what would happen to a normal person who behaved this way? What would be the reaction if eight individuals sans the government issued costumes fired shots into a vehicle because they were feeling threatened by someone and resulted in the exact same outcome?

I think it is very safe to say that all eight would be doing hard time at San Quentin and would be paying damages to the women with their own money. It’s also safe to say that none of the 8 would ever be allowed to own a firearm in the future or allowed to vote if they lived long enough to get out of prison.

And rightfully so.

The government issued costumes should not protect individuals from an irresponsible, criminal act such as this. But unless and until we hold local governments and local law enforcement accountable, these criminal acts will continue and we will continue to foot the bill.

Reason’s Mike Riggs Interviews Radley Balko on Police Militarization

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

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

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

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