Sunday, January 18, 2015

local law enforcement agencies lose the cash cow

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is causing problems for Nebraska's Douglas County Sheriff Tim Dunning. According to an Omaha World-Herald article,
[Sheriff Dunning] was blindsided and upset over U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to bar local and state police from using federal law to seize cash, cars and other property without proving that a crime occurred.
Holder’s action represents the most sweeping check on police power to confiscate personal property since the seizures began three decades ago as part of the war on drugs.
Confiscate personal property? Yes. Just like it sounds. Law enforcement can confiscate your property--your home, your business, your money, all without even so much as charging you with a crime. To get your property returned to you, you have to prove your property was not involved in the commission of a crime...even if you haven't been charged with a crime.
Douglas County Sheriff Tim Dunning said Friday that he fears Holder’s directive will lead to fewer forfeitures and fewer federal drug prosecutions, and to drug traffickers doing less time in state prison than they would in federal facilities. 
Fewer forfeitures means less money for the sheriff's department. Through a Department of Justice program called Equitable Sharing, a local law enforcement agency shares the loot with a federal agency. The local agency gets 80%.

Without the Equitable Sharing program, Dunning's department gets only 50% of the loot. Not only does the local law enforcement agency get a smaller share, Nebraska law makes it more difficult to confiscate property.
 It is much more difficult to seize money and property under Nebraska law, which requires law enforcement to have proof beyond a reasonable doubt of a crime compared with only a preponderance of evidence under federal law, Dunning said.
Being a highway robber is hard work.
“This benefits nobody but drug dealers,” Dunning said. “Federal law is a tremendously bigger hammer. I don’t see what hammer we are going to have over these people now.”
These people. Nice touch, Sheriff. These people have been easy targets for you.

The World-Herald says that $3 billion in cash and property has been seized in the United States in the last six years. That is a big hammer. 

Has that hammer been effective? Illegal drugs are still easily available. 

What happens without that hammer? Illegal drugs are still easily available.

UPDATE:
Both Radley Balko and Jacob Sullum have pointed out that civil asset forfeitures will continue. Sheriff Dunning must be relieved. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

"$60 meth bust led to shooting of officer"

This is what happens when law enforcement uses unnecessary force: Police making a meth bust shot an undercover cop. The injured cop was shot several times and is still in critical care.

Meth is a dangerous drug, I hear, but I would hazard a guess that no one needs to be shot several times because of $60 worth of meth.
“We’re getting some push back because (the investigation) was for $60 of meth,” said Albuquerque police officer Tanner Tixier, a spokesman. “But that’s how these investigations work. You start with $20, $40, $60 buys. You can’t just go out and buy five pounds of meth.”
Sure, I suppose that could make sense if you ignore the fact that making those $20, $40, $60 buys--and the buys for tens of thousands of dollars--hasn't stopped the availability of meth.

If a large bust manages to slow down the meth trade in a city, the price for meth rises, making it more profitable to produce.

Is that the goal?

People get hurt and killed in the midst of chaos. When it isn't cops shooting cops, it is cops shooting innocent peoplecops shooting dogs or cops burning toddlers.

Is that the goal?

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

civil disobedience

Michelle Alexander, in The New Jim Crow,  suggests that if all defendants declined plea agreements and opted for trial, the criminal justice system would grind to a halt under the weight of all those trials. Prosecutors would be overwhelmed by the work needed to prove their cases beyond reasonable doubt.  
Imagine what would happen if all sex offenders refused to register.
One after another, offenders would be charged with failure to register and packed off to prisons that are already overcrowded. That's the part of the scenario that would be hard to live with. On the other hand, since the registry makes it difficult for sex offenders to find employment, many of them do have time on their hands.
A few years of conscientous objectors, courts wheezing under the load of FTR cases, voters being hit with the expense of building new prisons...maybe this would deal the fatal blow to the registry.
Maybe not.
The part I can guarantee is that the incidence of sex offenses would not increase.

fear-mongers at work

The headline: Teen Reported Missing After Meeting Man Online Found Safe.
This is certainly an attention-grabbing headline. The implication is clear: a middle-schooler was abducted by a dirty old man hanging out online to find girls like her. Outrage!
It turns out the the teen is a 19-year-old woman. The headline writer chose to ignore that fact and word things to play on fears of online predators, all without knowing whether the "online man" had anything to do with her going missing or not.
Note that the story does not mention the age of the man.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

who believes polygraphs are reliable?

I cannot tell a lie...or can I?

The federal government seems to think I cannot tell a lie during a polygraph examination without being caught in my lie. Joseph Stromberg at Vox.com tells us:
The FBI gives a polygraph test to every single person who's considered for a job there. When the DEA, CIA, and other agencies are taken into account, about 70,000 people a year submit to polygraphs while seeking security clearances and jobs with the federal government.
Obviously, we don't want liars working in law enforcement, so rooting out liars before we hire them is a good idea.
Polygraphs are also regularly used by law enforcement when interrogating suspects. In some places, they're used to monitor the activities of sex offenders on probation, and some judges have recently permitted plea bargains that hinge on the results of defendants' polygraph tests.
Liars everywhere. Is a polygraph a good way to root them out?

As it turns out, no, it isn't. Polygraphs are not admissible as evidence in court and employers (federal government excepted) are banned from using polygraphs on employees.

And yet, the federal government and law enforcement rely heavily on polygraphs.Why is that?
One possibility is the belief that they're useful as a prop — part of what Saxe calls the "theater" of interrogation. "If the examiner does the theater well, and tricks the subject into believing that his or her lies can de detected, they might confess," he says.
 Related is the belief that polygraphs might be useful as a deterrent: if a sex offender believes he or she is going to be regularly subjected to accurate lie detection tests, committing a crime suddenly looks like a guarantee of heading back to prison. For both of these uses, it doesn't matter whether the test actually works or not, just that it's perceived as effective.
If it is interrogation theater, law enforcement may not really believe that polygraphs expose liars in any reliable way.

In fact, they are so sure that polygraphs are unreliable that they try to shut down people who teach how to control the outcome of a polygraph. If a polygraph could reliably identify lies, there would be no worries about someone teaching those countermeasures.

Instead, they worry.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Pennsylvania juvenile sex offenders no longer on registry

Good news for juvenile sex offenders in Pennsylania: 
Pennsylvania's highest court ruled on Monday against lifetime registration for juvenile sex offenders, saying the law was unconstitutional because it did not give them the ability to challenge a presumption they would likely reoffend.
Adult offenders are also incorrectly presumed likely to reoffend, of course, but let's celebrate the victory for juveniles!
"We agree with the juveniles that (the law)'s registration requirements improperly brand all juvenile offenders' reputations with an indelible mark of a dangerous recidivist, even though the irrebuttable presumption linking adjudication of specified offenses with a high likelihood of recidivating is not 'universally true,'" Justice Max Baer wrote for the majority. 
Baer reviewed research showing much lower rates of recidivism for juvenile sex offenders, compared to adults, and concluded that "the vast majority of juvenile offenders are unlikely to recidivate."
This is encouraging news because if the court can see that juveniles are unlikely to commit new sex offenses, surely they can see the same about adults if and when a similar case is brought on behalf of adult offenders.

This case was brought on behalf of the juveniles so the court didn't consider adult offenders.
In a lone dissent, Justice Corry Stevens said the Legislature saw the need to require the registration, and the constitution does not require the justices to substitute their judgment for that of lawmakers.
The state Supreme Court is required to substitute their judgment for that of lawmakers if the lawmakers' judgment led to an unconstitutional law.
 "The adjudicated delinquent sex offender's 'right to reputation' under such circumstances should not have precedence over a rape victim's anguish that may well last a lifetime," Stevens wrote.
The decision is not about whose anguish takes precedence. The decision is about whether this particular law is constitutional.

Hurray for the justices who saw clearly the injustice in registration laws!

Monday, December 29, 2014

punishing those who recognize that they need help

It has often been said on this blog that looking at images of child pornography is not the same as molesting a child and that those convicted of child porn possession are sentenced in court as if they have molested someone. Another point made here is that mandatory reporting laws prevent someone from getting the help he needs to stop looking at child porn.

California psychotherapist Leslie Bell agrees.
Beginning next month, however, I will be hampered in my ability to hear the full range of my patients’ desires and to assure them that they can discuss these feelings without fear. Under an amendment to California’s Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act, psychotherapists and psychiatrists will be required to report to the authorities any patient who “downloads, streams, or accesses images of any person under the age of 18 engaged in an act of obscene sexual conduct.” In the same way that I am required to break confidentiality to report child abuse, I will be mandated to report consumption of child pornography.
Many other states already require therapists to report to law enforcement those who come to them for help to stop using child porn. Did California look at those other states and find that mandatory reporting reduced the incidence of sexual abuse of children? No, because that is not what those laws do.
On closer inspection, however, the law falls short on three fronts: First, it will not protect children from either the production or distribution of child pornography, which is its intent. Second, it violates therapist-patient confidentiality and decreases the likelihood that people will get the psychological help they need to stop accessing child pornography; if the goal is to undercut production by reducing demand, the law will likely have the opposite effect. 
This is all common sense, something found in short supply when legislators are trying to make a law--any law--to look as if they are doing something important.

Reporting people for looking at illegal images does nothing to reduce the incidence of sexual abuse of children and does nothing to stop someone recording that abuse. If it did, we would have seen a correlation by now.

No matter how many are arrested, the supply of child porn images is not diminished even the tiniest bit. Throw a guy in prison for looking at illegal images and the illegal images remain available.

Throw a guy in prison for looking at illegal images and there is no effect on another person's temptation to molest a child.

You know what could affect that temptation? The help of a good therapist.

Mandatory reporting laws make it much less likely someone will ask for help to control his impulses.

The third front on which mandatory reporting laws falls short? Bell says,
...it conflates desire with action.
Yes.
As a psychotherapist, I am not required to report any other illegal activity that a patient may report to me, including drug abuse, drinking while driving, stealing, sexual assault, assault or even a murder that has been committed. This has allowed psychotherapists and psychiatrists to help patients discontinue illegal or potentially harmful behaviors. And it has enabled patients to speak freely about their thoughts, feelings and desires without fear of exposure. Thoughts and feelings are not equivalent to actions. One of the desired outcomes of psychotherapy is that patients will understand precisely this distinction. [My emphasis.]
Looking at illegal images is not the same as doing what is recorded in those images. We do not assume that someone looking at legal adult porn will cross the line to sexual assault and yet that assumption is routinely made about someone who looks at child porn.

Mandatory reporting laws are less about helping to prevent crime or about protecting children than they are about punishing people who ask for help.