crime and punishment

...now browsing by category

 

Fifth Dimension Feds

Thursday, March 6th, 2014

I like the Fifth Amendment.

I took it myself in 2007 when Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson was witch-hunting with his grand jury. My attorney advised that I had more to fear from innocently misstating something and being vindictively charged with perjury than from the ridiculous indictments the AG would file against the “Oklahoma 3” — and then dismiss.

The Fifth Amendment protects the individual from government fishing expeditions, from browbeating by big, bad prosecutors — which includes congressional committees acting as such.

I don’t want to diminish our Fifth Amendment rights in any way, for any citizen.

Even when Citizen Lois Lerner asserts her Fifth Amendment privilege while the acting director of the IRS’s Exempt Organizations Division. And yes, even in yesterday’s repeat performance — having since retired with a pension — she still avoids congressional questions about official actions that appear to violate fundamental civil rights.

The House committee may charge Lerner with contempt (I already do). Admittedly, without her testimony, we may never know the full extent of the official campaign against certain political groups.

But we do know enough to take action.

Free and democratic participation in society requires a better system. Each non-profit group that forms must file a tax return, so there is transparency and oversight. The time has come to shut down the IRS Exempt Organizations Division approval process for non-profit groups and end the current prior restraint on participating in public policy.

We don’t need the Internal Revenue Service to stand as a censor bureaucratically or politically approving or dawdling to decide whether certain groups are permitted to organize.

A free society cannot tolerate it.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Let Jeff Mizanskey Go

Monday, February 3rd, 2014

Commuting unjust sentences is the least that should be done for convicted non-criminals like Jeff Mizanskey, guilty of peaceful offenses in the War on Drugs. The man’s heinous crime? Abetting a friend’s purchase of marijuana. For this, Mizanskey was sentenced to life without parole — more than 20 years ago.

Because Mizanskey had been caught with pot before, prosecutors designated him a “prior and persistent offender,” and sought the most draconian penalty possible. For not doing anything to anybody.

Repeated appeals of his sentence have availed him naught.

His son Chris and his attorney Tony Nenninger have been asking Missouri Governor Jay Nixon for clemency. In his letter to the governor, Nenninger observes that his client seems to be alone in Missouri in serving a life sentence “for non-violent cannabis-only offenses.”

Nenninger’s appeal for donations is accessible via the website of Show-Me Cannabis, an organization that fights to legalize marijuana in Missouri and elsewhere, and which has been helping to publicize the cause. Show-Me Cannibis explains on its justice-for-Jeff page: “Many prisoners make these applications, and it is rare that a case gets enough of a governor’s attention to be seriously considered. This is why it’s so important you speak out!”

Since I disagree with 1,111 out of every 1,112 Obama policies, perhaps I should note here that one good thing the president has been doing, recently, is using his power more often to commute outrageous sentences. It’s a start.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Rights Violations Close to Home

Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

Connor Boyack, founder of Utah’s Libertas Institute, has earned a reputation combating the dangerous no-knock raids characteristic of the War on Drugs/People. The point of these raids is not to defuse a violent situation, but to hunt for drugs or arrest a slumbering, peaceful home-dweller. Sometimes people die as a result.

Now Boyack is fighting to reverse a stealthier assault on Utahans — the latest legislative weakening of protections against wrongful seizure of property passed in 2000 by citizen initiative.

The changes, put over as a minor “recodification” of civil forfeiture law, make it almost impossible for an innocent victim of a property grab by police to recover legal costs. For one thing, compensation is now optional. For another, any compensation awarded is now limited to a mere fifth of the value of the property taken. Yet the cost of litigating such takings is often much greater than the property value.

Boyack hopes to persuade Utah officials who do care about individual liberty to pay more attention to close-to-home hazards.

“One thing I noticed at the Tenth Amendment Center is that while liberty-minded Utah legislators could join arms to [oppose] the federal government, they weren’t nearly as skeptical of the government here in Utah,” he says, quoted in a profile by Rise of the Warrior Cop author Radley Balko.

Boyack champions greater consistency. After all, when your rights are violated, the injustice and the harm are the same whether the perpetrator is local, state or federal.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

IRS Returns Money It Stole

Wednesday, January 1st, 2014

A year after the IRS seized their bank account, Terry Dehko and his daughter have gotten their money back, thanks to a lawsuit they undertook with the help of the valiant Institute for Justice.

The IRS had looked at how the Dehkoses deposited revenues from their Fraser, Michigan store and decided, without further inquiry, that they were illegally “structuring” the deposits so that their bank would not have to submit currency transaction reports.

The reporting threshold is $10,000; most of the Dehkoses’ deposits were indeed less than $10,000. However, $10,000 is also the maximum loss that their insurance policy would cover in the event of theft! How hard would it have been to simply ask the reason for the deposit pattern?

Nor did the folks at the IRS ever show evidence of tax evasion or other illegality.

The Dehkoses have their money back. But they’ve lost a year. And lost any profits they might have earned by investing those unavailable funds, as well as any profits they might have earned by spending the time on their business that they instead spent trying to get their money back. Of course, the IRS will not be required to compensate the Dehkos for either psychic pain or lost opportunities.

There’s plenty more wrong with the agency’s conduct than is suggested by this case. At the least, though, it should be illegal to seize bank balances absent any showing of wrongdoing. And IRS officers who perpetrate such arbitrary seizures should be punished.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Freedom for All Not a Free-for-all

Thursday, December 26th, 2013

“Colorado’s ski resorts and mountain towns are bracing for an influx of tourists,” writes Trevor Hughes in USA Today, “seeking a now-legal Rocky Mountain high.”

Recreational marijuana legalization worries some “police and ski area operators,” Hughes explains. Marijuana tours have been set up by some enterprising folks, and the locals worry “that tourists who don’t understand the rules will be sparking up on the slopes.”

Or in their cars.

Or on the sidewalks.

One sheriff clarified: “We do have this misperception . . . where people have smoked in public, been charged, and were under the perception that it’s a free-for-all.”

An over-reaction to what appears to be an end to the war on drugs? A lack of awareness that all sorts of things get regulated at the local level?

Or perhaps a few people don’t really understand the nature of liberty.

Liberty — freedom for all — isn’t a free-for-all!

That is, the freedom that we all can have isn’t a “do anything you want/anywhere you want/any time you want” deal. The freedom we can all have is a freedom from initiated force, from intrusive coercion, from interference with our persons and our property.

“Free speech” doesn’t mean you can barge into my home and shout in my face. “Freedom of association” doesn’t mean the Skeptic Society can hold a conference in a Christian Science Reading Room, or the Klan can march through the campus of Howard University. “Free Exercise of Religion” doesn’t mean you will be allowed to hold a candlelight vigil in a fireworks factory.

There’s a logic to liberty. Most Americans get that. Even most tourists.

This worry should should vanish like a puff of smoke.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Can’t Complain

Monday, November 25th, 2013

During the Soviet era, there was a joke going around about how Soviet citizens expressed their feelings about life under Communist rule.

Whatever a citizen is asked about, he shrugs and says, “I can’t complain.” Finally the exasperated interviewer asks, “Well, is there anything about life in the Soviet Union that you do dislike?” Of course the answer is “I CAN’T COMPLAIN!!!”

In certain societies, persons who complain too pointedly or publicly are subject to arrest and imprisonment, if not worse. Luckily, being arrested for complaining, especially in a civil, peaceful, non-rights-violating way, would never happen in the U.S., right?

Don’t tell it to Jim Howe, the Tennessee parent arrested by a splenetic officer, Avery Aytes (“Officer Absolute Obedience” as Cory Doctorow dubs him), for calmly articulating disagreement with a new school policy on how his kids were to be picked up from school. The policy created traffic jams, so Howe walked to the school to get his kids. When he continues to calmly express his viewpoint despite being told to zip it, Aytes slaps on the cuffs.

The crime: talking.

County Sheriff Butch Burgess says he doesn’t even need to look at the starkly unambiguous video of the incident to know that the arrest was justified, Aytes was just doing his job. This means that all arrests by law enforcement officers are per se justified because they are arrests by law enforcement officers. Which is a prescription for cowed submission to tyranny.

That’s not common sense.

I’m Paul Jacob.

A Bill for Services Rendered

Friday, November 8th, 2013

The satirical dystopian film Brazil does not — in case you haven’t seen it — have much of anything to do with Brazil, the country. But it does have something to do with Deming, New Mexico.

This week’s War on Drugs horror story takes place in Deming, and echoes the “comic,” gallows-humor motif of Terry Gilliam’s 1985 classic. In the movie, armed minions of the futuristic superstate raid your house, kill you, bag you, tag you, and then bill your family for the “service.”

In Deming, an officer stopped a motorist for rolling through a Stop sign. For some reason (so far not explained) the motorist was asked to exit his car, and, the officer claims, exhibited “clenched buttocks” — as if hiding drugs in his rectum.

So, the story goes (and it’s a frighteningly long story), a warrant to search the motorist was obtained, and he was taken to a hospital where multiple anal probes, an x-ray, two enemas in front of multiple witnesses, and a colonoscopy yielded no evidence of drugs.

And then the suspect — “patient,” in medical terms, though the man consented to no services — was billed. You know, for the x-ray, the colonoscopy, the enemas, and the anal probes.

Of course the victim is suing, and if the reportage is correct, that all this really happened, I hope he wins millions. The behavior of the police, the judge, and some medical personnel is inexcusable.

But it fits right in with the dystopian future America has made for itself. The War on Drugs is bringing us — has brought us? — tyranny we’d expect only from the darkest of black comedies.

Yes, it can happen here.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.