Category Archives: Crime and Punishment

Your Government At Work

News from the War on Crime from Lake Elsinore, California:

A volunteer waitress and a widowed great-grandmother who tends bar at the Lake Elsinore Elks Lodge are due in court later this month after pleading not guilty to misdemeanor charges of operating an illegal gambling operation.

Margaret Hamblin, 73, and 39-year-old Cari Gardner, who donates her time as a waitress at the lodge, face up to one year in jail and a $5,000 fine for allegedly running a $50 football pool at the facility, the Press-Enterprise reported.

The charges stem from a Nov. 20 investigation by state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control agents into an anonymous tip that lodge members bet on NFL games.

Behind the bar, the armed agents found an envelope with $5 from each of the 10 members taking part in the pool. The person who came closest to guessing the combined score of the Jacksonville Jaguars and the New York Giants was to pocket the contents, according to the Press-Enterprise. “It was just regular ‘Monday Night Football,’ ” said Hamblin, who has tended bar for 40 years, six of them at the lodge. “We were sitting at the bar, and the gang wanted to do something,” she said, according to the newspaper.

Timothy Clark, who heads the department’s Riverside district, which issued the citations, said football pools “are a violation of the law, and we will take whatever we feel is appropriate action to ensure compliance by our licensees,” the newspaper reported.

Coming next week, a crackdown on that band of bingo players at St. Paul’s Roman Catholic Church.

H/T: The Agitator

Balko On The Johnston Case

Radley Balko of The Agitator brings up some interesting points on the Kathryn Johnston case. As Jason Pye pointed out yesterday, there are still a lot of ways that the punishments that are likely warranted and the lessons that need to be learned might not come to fruition. Balko explains it quite well:

There are some concerns, here, though. First, Johnston’s family is upset because the DA’s charges may upend the federal investigation. Local crime enforcement is generally preferable to federal enforcement. But civil rights cases (via the 14th Amendment) are a bit different. Johnston’s family may have a legitimate gripe. If the failures that led to her death are as thorough and system-wide as they appear to be, political pressure, cronyism, and conflict-of-interest may prevent the DA’s office from conducting a complete investigation.

Second, and somewhat related, it’s important that these charges don’t allow public officials in Atlanta to dismiss Johnston’s death as the result of a few bad apple cops. There were systemic failures, here.

Atlanta officials need to look at the system that allowed these narcotics officers to think they could get away with making up an informant, then attempting to cover it up. A cop’s not going to try something like that in a system that has the proper oversight and accountability. Officer Tesler, for example, had previously lied about an automobile accident he was involved in, but got off with barely a slap on the wrist. It’s imperative that a police officer be trustworthy. As the Johnston case shows, his word — on an affidavit for a search warrant, for example — can literally mean life or death. Why was he not fired? Why was he allowed to continue work on narcotics cases?

More broadly, the entire country needs to have a conversation about drug policing. The informant system is too ripe for abuse. Not because all police officers are dishonest, of course. Nor are even most of them. But the confidentiality we grant to drug informers — judges and prosecutors sometimes don’t even know who they are — allows for the few cops who do take shortcuts to get away with it. Anyone think this is the first time there’s been a phantom informant in Atlanta? Hell, many of the same narcotics cops conducted a similarly botched raid on the same block just a year earlier.

Kathryn Johnston, and the people of Atlanta, deserve a full and fair investigation of this case. It’s unclear whether the DA will have the inclination or the ability to provide that in a way that impartial federal investigators could.

But beyond that point, are the procedures the police used in Atlanta good procedures? Do they achieve their objective in a effective way, without a lot of collateral damage? I, and most observers, would say no. This case shows a nearly top-to-bottom negligence, and it’s being passed off like it’s simply a few rogue bad apples.

The use of paramilitary-style raids to fight an unwinnable War on (Some) Drugs is the root problem. The actions of these cops are just a tragic symptom. Let’s cure the disease, not just treat the symptoms.

More on Police Culture

In yet another clear sign that the Drug War’s most prominent success has been the corruption of police culture in this country, we have this story in Milwaukee.

The Milwaukee Police Department is accused of taking possession of a Mercedes-Benz convertible from a drug-addicted local businessman in return for agreeing not to prosecute him for cocaine possession.

So, in Milwaukee rich folks can trade an expensive car for having criminal charges dropped? That hardly sounds like Rule of Law to me. Wisconsin law does not provide for forfeiture of vehicles in cases of simple possession. Even if it did, normally forfeiture laws and criminal charges are separate issues and you can’t just forfeit a vehicle, or other property, to get the criminal charges dropped. It turns out that wasn’t all the police decided was appropriate for this guy.

Maistelman [ed: the Beck family’s attorney] also cited the family’s belief that police contributed to Beck’s death by threatening to disclose his drug activity.

“At the time of Jordan’s arrest he was in a custody battle with his wife for his minor children. Subsequent to his arrest Jordan and his family were bombarded with threats by your office and or the Milwaukee Police Department that unless he gave his car up, then the authorities would contact his wife’s attorney and ‘rat him out’ about his drug offense.”

Maistelman also wrote that a member of Beck’s family had witnessed “harassing, intimidating and coercive telephone calls” and that authorities also threatened that if he didn’t give up the car, “they would tell certain drug dealers that Jordan and his family were informants, when in fact they were not.”

Remember, as you are reading this, that Mr. Beck was a drug user, not a dealer. He was facing charges for possession, not dealing. He was not a criminal, he was a drug addict. But, he had something the police coveted. An expensive car, worth $100,000, give or take.

We have taught our police departments that taking property if someone is a drug user is okay. They are simply doing something that we have condoned. We have given them power, and they have abused it, as was predictable.

h/t: Radley Balko

More Mandatory Minimums Madness: The “Sexual Predator” Edition

Cross posted at Fearless Philosophy for Free Minds

I have written in the past about the insanity of mandatory minimum sentencing laws on at least two occasions (here, and here). In my previous posts, the minimum sentencing guidelines had to do with the war on drugs. In this latest outrage however, this mandatory minimum sentence has to do with “aggravated child molesting.”

In theory, mandatory minimum sentencing for certain crimes seems like a great idea. The problem with such a “one size fits all” approach is it gives judges absolutely no discretion when it comes to particular cases. No matter how well written or intentioned a law may be, there are always going to be cases where the application of the law is simply unjust. The case of Genarlow Wilson is a perfect example of what I mean.

From The New York Times article “Georgia Man Fights Conviction as Molester”

[Genarlow Wilson] was sentenced to 10 years in prison without parole for having consensual oral sex with a 15-year-old girl at a New Year’s Eve party, an offense that constituted aggravated child molesting, even though Mr. Wilson himself was only 17.

[?]

Disturbed by Mr. Wilson’s conviction, the Legislature changed the law in March to ensure that most sex between teenagers be treated as a misdemeanor. But the State Supreme Court said legislators had chosen not to make the law retroactive.

[?]

Even more confounding, at the time of Mr. Wilson?s offense, a so-called “Romeo and Juliet” exception had already been made for sexual intercourse between teenagers. “Had Genarlow had intercourse with this girl, had he gotten her pregnant, he could only have been charged with a misdemeanor and punished up to 12 months,”? said Brenda Joy Bernstein, Mr. Wilson’s lawyer.

So let me get this straight: Genarlow Wilson is 17 and engages in oral sex with a girl who is 2 years younger than he is. At the age of 15, the girl is not at the legal age of consent in Georgia. However, had the two had “consensual” sex instead of oral sex, Wilson would have been charged with a misdemeanor offense carrying a maximum sentence 1 year but because they didn’t go all the way, Wilson is facing an 11 year sentence and will not be eligible for parole until after he has served 10 years. OR if Wilson chooses, he can have his sentence reduced to 5 to 7 years with a possibility of parole if he agrees to register as a sex offender.

So why won’t Wilson take the deal? According to the aforementioned article, Wilson is quoted as saying the following:

“Even after serving time in prison, I would have to register as a sex offender wherever I lived and if I applied for a job for the rest of my life, all for participating in a consensual sex act with a girl just two years younger than me,” he told a reporter for Atlanta magazine last year, adding that he would not even be able to move back in with his mother because he has an 8-year-old sister. “It’s a lifelong sentence in itself. I am not a child molester.”

There is no question that Wilson used poor judgment in engaging in oral sex with a girl who was under the age of consent. But he is quite right in making a distinction between a child molester and a couple of horny teenagers. When I think of the term “child molester” I tend to think of an adult (usually middle-aged) having inappropriate contact with a prepubescent child. These are the real sexual predators who should be put away possibly forever.

It seems to me that there needs to be a serious discussion about where exactly the line should be drawn. Clearly, children should be safe from predators but at what point is a child an adolescent of an age where he or she can be held responsible for his or her choices? I believe there should be some sort of sliding scale taking into consideration the ages of the parties involved. Is an 18 year old having sex or sexual contact with 17 year old molestation, regardless of the age of consent? I think not! What about a 30 year old with a 17 year old? I tend to think so!

There seems to be no clear answers; what might seem reasonable to me might not seem reasonable to you. When a “zero tolerance” policy in the form of mandatory minimum sentences is in play, there can be no thoughtful discussions in the jury room. It’s all or nothing.

Genarlow Wilson has served nearly 2 years for this offense. Does he really need to serve another 8 to teach him a lesson? Alternatively, should he be required to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life? The answer to both of these questions depend on whether or not one believes that Genarlow Wilson is a threat to children based on his actions as A 17 YEAR OLD WITH A GIRL WHO WAS ONLY 2 YEARS YOUNGER THAN HIM. If you ask me, he has already done enough time.

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