Posts Tagged ‘crime and punishment’

Criminalization of politics: one data point

The urge to criminalize the other guy’s politics and advocacy seems to be running especially strong these days. If you doubt it, here’s another data point: a Latino advocacy group called, following Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s controversial comments critical of immigration, called for arresting Trump. Not only did this not stir any great outcry, but rival Democratic presidential candidate Bernard Sanders has now hired’s executive director to lead his Latino outreach.

One reason our elections and public debates are intensely fought is that they carry high stakes. Their stakes will be higher yet if the price of coming out on the losing side in an election or debate is to face potential prosecution.

Collateral damage done by Bloomberg gun-check laws

David Kopel writes that “background check” laws pushed by the Bloomberg anti-gun campaign in states like Colorado and Washington have weird effects, whether intended is not entirely clear, on such topics as safe storage of firearms, the sharing of firearms during informal target shooting, and the legality of handgun possession by 18-21 year olds. This might be a sub-instance of a related problem noted by Glenn Reynolds at USA Today: “Gun-control laws have a tendency of turning into criminals peaceable citizens whom the state has no reason to have on its radar.”

Federal law enforcement roundup

  • Manufacturing while foreign: Holman Jenkins compares Department of Justice’s handling of General Motors case with those of Toyota and Takata [WSJ, paywall]
  • “Electronic surveillance by the Drug Enforcement Administration has tripled over the past 20 years, and much of that increase has involved bypassing the federal courts.” [Brad Heath, USA Today via Balko]
  • Sen. Hatch: criminal justice reform needs to include reform on issue of mens rea/criminal intent [John Malcolm, Daily Signal]
  • Clinton administration tended to embed its anti-gun gestures in its then-popular carceral-state enactments [Jesse Walker on the 12-year lull in anti-gun legislation and whether it’s ending]
  • New DoJ policy on corporate criminal prosecutions risks scapegoating [Thaya Knight, Cato] Despite transient surge early in Obama years, federal white-collar crime prosecutions have now fallen to 20-year low [TRAC Reports]
  • A legal remedy should federal law enforcers falsely malign you in a press release? Dream on [Scott Greenfield]
  • If you oppose high U.S. incarceration rate, but wish more corporate executives went to prison, check your premises [Matt Kaiser, Above the Law]

“Take a Valium, Lose Your Kid, Go to Jail”

During pregnancy “occasional, small doses of diazepam (the generic name for Valium) are considered safe… But one morning a few weeks later, when Shehi was back at her job in a nursing home and the baby was with a sitter, investigators from the Etowah County [Alabama] Sheriff’s Office showed up at the front desk with a warrant. She had been charged with ‘knowingly, recklessly, or intentionally’ causing her baby to be exposed to controlled substances in the womb — a felony punishable in her case by up to 10 years in prison. The investigators led her to an unmarked car, handcuffed her and took her to jail.” [Nina Martin, ProPublica]

P.S. Expanded into a longer post at Cato at Liberty.

Crime and punishment roundup

  • More dangerous today than in past to be a cop in America? Available evidence suggests the opposite [Radley Balko, more]
  • New York Times covers shaken-baby syndrome with look back at Louise Woodward trial [Poynter; Boston Globe on shaken baby syndrome in May; earlier]
  • Study from National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) on gaps in indigent defense misses chance to highlight voucher/choice remedies [Adam Bates, Cato]
  • The far reach of Sarbanes-Oxley: “You Can Be Prosecuted for Clearing Your Browser History” [Juliana DeVries, The Nation]
  • “Has the ‘Responsible Corporate Officer’ doctrine run amok?” [Bainbridge, earlier on Quality Egg/U.S. v. DeCoster case and mens rea]
  • Federal judge, in April: U.S. Attorney Bharara’s publicity tactics against Sheldon Silver strayed close to line [ruling via Ira Stoll]
  • Suspending drivers licenses over unpaid tickets can push poor motorists into downward spiral [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel via Balko]

“Hillary: ‘I Am Going To Make Some Employers Go to Jail'”

“I’m going to make sure that some employers go to jail for wage theft and all the other abuses that they engage in,” said unpaid-intern-using presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton at a Labor Day rally in Illinois. [Tom S. Elliott, National Review] The elastic epithet “wage theft” has been used to describe employer practices ranging from permitting employees to send work-related email after hours to failing to anticipate claims that employees who applied for and happily worked at fixed-salary jobs should instead have been classified as hourly and paid overtime.

Crime and punishment roundup

  • “Regulatory Crimes and the Mistake of Law Defense” [Paul Larkin, Heritage]
  • Victims of sex offender registry laws, cont’d [Lenore Skenazy]
  • James Forman, Jr.: case against mass incarceration can stand on its own without flawed Jim Crow analogy [Boston Review and N.Y.U. Law Review, 2011-12]
  • “For-profit immigration jails, where the inmates — convicted of nothing — work for less than peanuts.” [@dangillmor on Los Angeles Times]
  • “The New Science of Sentencing: Should prison sentences be based on crimes that haven’t been committed yet?” [Marshall Project on statistically derived risk assessments in sentencing]
  • Group of 600 New England United Methodist churches issues resolution calling for an end to Drug War [Alex Tabarrok, who was also profiled the other day]
  • Prison guard in Florida speaks up about witnessing abuse of inmate, and pays a price [disturbing content, Miami Herald]

An observation on the $135,000 cake refusal

Has anyone noted that the “Ferguson syndrome” of ruinously escalating fines for petty violations [covered widely in the liberal press, and here previously], and Oregon’s ordering of a couple to pay $135,000 for not complying with a request to bake a cake (being covered at AP, widely in the conservative press, and here previously, with related], might actually amount in part to the same issue?

P.S. On Twitter, colleague Jason Kuznicki and I discuss the issue a little further. He writes: “Can’t say I agree. Punitive fines are really hidden taxes. The bakery issue is about punishing crimethink.” I respond: “But with sensible damages calculation (i.e. circa zero) the bakery action would lose much of its power to intimidate. Also, there’s debate: are oppressive local fines ‘just’ a revenue abuse (typically our side’s view) or a wider #NewJimCrow? Or to put it yet another way: once you allow oppressive fines, don’t be surprised if they are used to oppress.”

143 Texas bikers in jail

Some of the 143 jailed bikers no doubt played a guilty role in a spectacular motorcycle club shootout that left nine dead at the Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco. Some say they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time, including a 30 year old volunteer firefighter who says he has no criminal record and tried to hide during the violence. In either event, no one important seems to care, although some defense-lawyer and civil-liberties types grouse about an “unprecedented…wholesale roundup of people” for “being at the scene of a crime” under a principle of “Let’s arrest them all and sort it out later.” Bail for many has been set at a prohibitive $1 million apiece, and no formal charges have been brought. “Under Texas law, a grand jury has 90 days to indict those in custody before they are entitled to reduced bonds.” Police say they consider the matter to be one of organized crime and that an investigation is ongoing. [Molly Hennessy-Fiske, L.A. Times] More: Scott Greenfield. Update: Texas Tribune (bail process crawls forward, more commentators raising questions about process).