Time mag asked arch-leftwinger Barbara Ehrenreich about the best single way to reduce income inequality. I’d never have dreamed that David Henderson would agree with the answer she gave — or that I would too. More here on Ehrenreich’s views on the “criminalization of poverty” (which, not surprisingly, head off in directions very different from mine once you’re past the initial area of agreement).
One reader points out that laws against behaviors like driving with broken headlights or lapsed insurance are of universal benefit and improve road safety. But I don’t think Ehrenreich’s point (or Henderson’s or mine) amounts to “let’s legalize driving with broken headlights.” Not so long ago, many petty offenses of traffic and street life were illegal but the consequences of violation were much less harsh. The other day I got a transponder toll in the mail amounting to maybe $10, which would jump to $150+ if I didn’t get in a payment within 20 days; being your basic organized middle-class person, I dashed off a check that same day. Add one complicating factor — say I was a person whose mail was forwarded to me from another address — and it would have been a closer thing.
Why has government chosen to escalate once-petty fines over the past couple of generations? 1) It wants revenue and likes the idea of making agencies self-financing or better; 2) it listens more closely to its own agencies than to the populace; 3) when middle class policymakers (as they nearly always are) consider the issue, they think of what level of fine it would take to deter someone like themselves and worry less about whether fines at that level might capsize the little guy or small business (I hear often about how this framework of punitive small fines is a key deterrent to trying to run a small business with a couple of delivery trucks and maybe an urban commercial building or two to run up inspection and property fines.)
The reformist consumer finance literature, to which Elizabeth Warren was a big contributor as an academic, and with which Ehrenreich is no doubt well acquainted, decries $30 late fees and 20 percent interest rates as a business plan by which credit card companies can turn small debts into big ones at the expense of persons without middle-class money habits and skills. Which raises the question: why spend so much time belaboring the banks if government’s own policy on late fees, bounced checks, etc. is going to be so much less merciful? (& welcome Radley Balko readers)
P.S. An example? South Carolina man says he didn’t realize you needed to pay for a soda refill at VA hospital canteen. Contemplated consequences: $525 fine, federal criminal conviction, unable to return to workplace. (Update: following national publicity, let off with warning).
Court order muzzles gun advocate after his arrest [ACLU of Missouri]:
To express his opinion that Officer [Jerry] Bledsoe was using his position to harass him for exercising his Second Amendment rights, [Jordan] Klaffer posted recordings of the May 1 encounter on YouTube and Facebook. And, on Instagram, he posted a picture of Bledsoe alongside a photo of Saddam Hussein, with the caption “Striking Resemblance.”
Officer Bledsoe retaliated by obtaining a court order that prevented Mr. Klaffer from posting videos, pictures, and text data criticizing Officer Bledsoe on the Internet. “A government order prohibiting criticism of government is the worst kind of censorship,” explains Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri.
Meanwhile: Virginia state trooper sues police activist in small claims court over his actions and statements following a traffic stop of his car in which she participated, the videos of which wound up on YouTube.
Kemal Yazar’s wife called police out of concern for her husband, who had begun behaving erratically and speaking delusionally. Following a struggle of some sort, police shot the unarmed father of three to death. Now one of the deputies at the scene, “who according to an investigator’s report, suffered ‘superficial wounds’ during the incident” (though he now reports more serious injuries), has sued the family, accusing them of “negligence and recklessness” for not warning emergency operators that Mr. Yazar might be a serious threat. “Oddly, the deputy didn’t sue Kemal’s wife, who placed the call, but her mother, Carmina Figueroa, whose name was on the home insurance policy.” As we noted in an item last year, also from Texas: “Under the ‘firefighter’s rule,’ which has eroded in some jurisdictions in recent years, emergency rescuers generally cannot sue private parties whose negligence is allegedly to blame for the hazards to which they are responding.” [Lisa Falkenburg, Houston Chronicle]
I’ve got a write-up at Cato at Liberty about the federal government’s massive, SWAT-like occupation of the rural Indiana property of Don Miller, a celebrated 91-year-old local collector who has traveled the globe and whose impressive collection of world and Indian artifacts “was featured in a four part series in the Rushville Republican.” Under various treaties and federal laws, mostly dating to relatively recent times, the federal government now deems ownership of many antiquities and Native American artifacts to be unlawful even if collectors acquired them in good faith before laws changed. [WISH (TV), Indianapolis Star, The Blaze.] More: coverage in two more outlets with a flavor very different from each other, Shelby County News (FBI source stresses Miller’s cooperativeness and suggests federal actions were wtih his consent or even at his behest) and National Public Radio (“seized,” “confiscated”)
Related: Richard Epstein at Hoover on Obama Administration plans to prohibit selling your family’s vintage piano or moving it across a state line. And aside from ivory chess sets, the nascent War on Antiques might take a toll of replica firearms [Washington Times]
Durham police paid undisclosed “conviction bonuses” to informants in drug cases, a practice both prosecutors and defense lawyers say comes as a surprise to them [IndyWeek]
After 17 months the federal government has released heavily redacted information in response to a FOIA request, shedding new light on the probe into the systematic abuses committed by Sheriff Joseph Arpaio and allied county D.A. Andrew Thomas. We’ve been covering them for years. [Arizona Republic, auto-plays]
Now this is bound to end well: Mississippi lawmakers vote to give Attorney General Jim Hood, a frequent mentionee in this space, his own strike forces [Radley Balko, AP]
“A police officer branded a ‘laughing stock’ for using a truncheon to smash a pensioner’s car window was awarded more than £400,000 compensation from his former force on Wednesday.” Mike Baillon, 42, says colleagues at Gwent Police teased and hazed him after a YouTube video went viral showing him battering a 74-year-old driver’s Range Rover, amounting to “constructive dismissal.” [Telegraph]
“An Oklahoma state senator has filed a bill to allow law enforcement officers to issue electronic citations for traffic, misdemeanor and municipal ordinance violations.” Sen. Al McAffrey, himself a former police officer, says approaching motorists’ cars is one of the more dangerous parts of patrol officers’ job. So why not let them just skip it, even if that also means skipping the opportunity for motorists to be notified of their legal jeopardy at once, see their accusers, have a chance to explain themselves, and so forth? “If they don’t have to approach vehicles during traffic stops to give people tickets but can simply email traffic violation citations directly to the district court clerk then they’re less likely to get into a dangerous altercation, the lawmaker said.” McAffrey’s S.B. 1872 would also attach a new $5 processing fee to the tickets, of which a portion would be shared with the ticketing officer’s department. [Insurance Journal, KOCO](& welcome Above the Law, Scott Greenfield readers)
Australia: “Lawyer argues Kevin Spratt may have been screaming in ‘joy’ while being tasered by police: A lawyer for two police officers says the court cannot rule out the possibility that a man was screaming with joy when he was being repeatedly tasered at the Perth Watch House more than five years ago.” [ABC] One never knows what will work in these cases: a jury in Orange County, Calif. recently acquitted two officers in the death of homeless schizophrenic Kelly Thomas, though it is not clear whether they accepted the suggestion of a defense lawyer that Thomas beat himself to death in police custody.
Reuters on the phenomenon of police harassment of local political opponents (earlier here, here, etc.) By no means are the reports limited to California:
There also have been allegations of intimidation by police in Cranston, Rhode Island.
On Jan. 9, Cranston Mayor Allan Fung announced that state police will take over an investigation into a flurry of parking tickets issued in the wards of two council members. The pair claim the tickets were issued as retribution after they voted against a new contract for police that would have given them a pay raise….
Major Robert Ryan, a spokesman for the Cranston Police Department, said: “The matter is under investigation, and pursuant to law enforcement’s bill of rights, no-one is going to comment on this.”
As readers may recall, those high-sounding “law enforcement bill of rights” gimmicks serve mostly to entrench law enforcement personnel against consequences or accountability for misbehavior, and thus have less than nothing to do with the Constitution’s actual Bill of Rights. More: Radley Balko.
Legislature’s back in session and no citizen’s liberties are safe:
- SB 65 (Benson) would require gas station dealers to maintain operational video cameras and retain footage for 45 days [Maryland Legislative Watch]
- HB 20 (GOP Del. Cluster) would require all public schools to hire cops [Gazette, MLW]
- SB 28 (Frosh) would lower burden of proof for final domestic protective orders from “clear and convincing” to “preponderance of the evidence” [MLW, ABA] One problem with that is that orders already tag family members as presumed abusers in the absence of real evidence, are routinely used as a “tactical leverage device” in divorces, and trip up unwary targets with serious criminal penalties for trying to do things like see their kids;
- Driving while suspected of gun ownership: what unarmed Florida motorist went through at hands of Maryland law enforcement [Tampa Bay Online] 2014 session in Annapolis can hardly be worse for gun rights than 2013, so it stands to reason it’ll be better [Hendershot's]
- State begins very aggressive experiment in hospital cost controls: “I am glad there is an experiment, but I’m also glad I live in Virginia.” [Tyler Cowen]
- Scenes from inside the failed Maryland Obamacare exchange [Baltimore Sun] Lt. Gov.: now’s not the time to audit or investigate the failed launch because that’d just distract us from it [WBAL]
- Corridors run pink as Montgomery County school cafeterias battle scourge of strawberry milk [Brian Griffiths, Baltimore Sun]
- Plus: A left-right alliance on surveillance and privacy in the legislature [my new Cato at Liberty post]
- How did Maryland same-sex marriage advocates win last year against seemingly long odds? [Stephen Richer, Purple Elephant Republicans citing Carrie Evans, Cardozo JLG; thanks to @ToddEberly as well as Carrie and Stephen for kind words]
We termed the lawyers’ arguments “creative,” but a jury apparently found something to be persuasive about them: it acquitted the two police officers in the beating death of homeless schizophrenic Kelly Thomas, and prosecutors are planning to drop charges against a third officer. [Los Angeles Times]