Category: There Oughtta Be a Law

Bonus Afternoon Lazy Post of Links

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

Stuff you should read that I don’t have time to write more about . . . .

Morning Links

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011

Sunday Links

Sunday, August 28th, 2011

Morning Links

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011
  • Touching video of two Louisiana men who became friends in prison, were both exonerated by DNA testing, now reuniting as free men.
  • Related: Federal judge under fire for letting habeas petitions linger for years. One inmate died while waiting. The same judge was removed from another case after an appeals court questioned his impartiality.
  • New Jersey cop assaults man recording him.
  • National debt jumps $4 trillion under Obama.
  • Mother Jones has assembled a database of U.S. terrorism informants and trials of suspected terrorists.
  • Missouri teacher says new law banning online contact with students means she can’t communicate online with her own kids.
  • Obama administration encourages health care providers to organize, then sues them for doing so.
  • New Gallup poll: Hypothetical matchup puts unelectable Ron Paul within two points of Barack Obama.
  • More problems for the Fullerton, California, police department.

(CORRECTION: Both Media Matters and Cato’s Dan Mitchell say the CBS article linked above gets it wrong: The 2009 fiscal year was set by the Bush administration, not Obama.)

Rules Are Rules

Thursday, August 18th, 2011

Got them authoritarian local gub’mint blues:

A woman fighting a terminal form of bone cancer is trying to raise money to help pay bills with a few weekend garage sales, but the city of Salem says she’s breaking the law and is shutting her down.

Jan Cline had no idea, but the city of Salem has a clear law that states a person can only have three yard sales a year.

Cline has been selling her stuff in the backyard for a few weekends and said she thought she’d be fine by keeping the sale out of everyone’s way.

“It’s a struggle,” Cline says. “It’s a struggle for me because I’m very independent, used to taking care of myself.”

She’s run businesses and supported herself for years but this summer she was diagnosed with bone cancer.

“It’s a bone marrow cancer that eats through the bones and causes holes in the bones so that just by walking I can break a bone,” she says.

In one day she lost her independence, her ability to work and earn an income that could pay for all those medical bills.

So she decided to sell what she owned. The sale was bringing in several hundred dollars each weekend until one neighbor complained and she got a visit from the city.

“He said, ‘I’m sorry. Rules are rules.’”

Sunday Links

Sunday, August 7th, 2011

Morning Links

Thursday, August 4th, 2011

Morning Links

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

Friday Links

Friday, July 29th, 2011

More on Caylee’s Law

Monday, July 25th, 2011

Good dissection of the Tennessee version of the law from the Nashville Scene:

Such slapdash legislating is no way to build a sensible legal structure, says Terry Maroney, a criminal law professor at Vanderbilt University whose areas of expertise include the role of emotion in law. She says that, while she understands the instinct behind this and similar movements, it’s not a tendency she supports.

“I think the problem with this kind of approach to criminal law is that it’s shortsighted,” she says. “It takes something about a particular case, takes it out of context, and then builds this new legal rule around it and patches it onto the pre-existing legal framework.”

Ketron didn’t respond to a request for comment. In a recent Tennessean op-ed, he summoned the public frustration to prove a point no one is arguing: When it comes to reporting a child missing, time is of the essence.

To those who doubt the prudence of “Caylee’s Law,” that’s precisely the problem: What attentive parent would intentionally wait to report their child missing? And on the flip side, would a negligent parent — or one with murderous intent — be deterred by the threat of a Class E felony?

“It’s never a good idea to build rules around the exceptions,” Maroney says. “In the vast majority of cases, parents are going to report their children missing. What upsets people about the Casey Anthony case is that she didn’t for so long, but that’s extraordinarily aberrant.”

Morning Links

Friday, July 22nd, 2011

Prosecutors and Grieving Parents

Monday, July 18th, 2011

When I’ve pointed out some hypothetical situations where an innocent parent or caretaker could be unjustly charged with the death of a child—cases where a parent may be guilty of poor decisions or bad parenting, but hasn’t broken any laws—the response is usually that prosecutors would never a grieving parent or caretaker under those scenarios. If you’re a regular reader of this site, you’re probably already darkly chuckling at the naivete of that assumption. There already seems to be a rush to find criminal culpability when a child dies. This ProPublica investigation, which coincidentally came out just before the Casey Anthony verdict, documents a number of child death cases in which law enforcement officials have pressed for and won criminal convictions when the evidence strongly indicated that the death was an accident.

Enter the Marietta, Georgia, case of 30-year-old Raquel Nelson, which has been bandied about in the comments section the last few days. Last April, Nelson was crossing a street with her three children when her 4-year-old was struck and killed by a car. She was crossing at an intersection, but was apparently not in a designated crosswalk. The driver who killed her had been drinking, taking painkillers, and was blind in one eye. He also has two prior hit-and-run convictions. Nelson and her daughter were also struck and injured. Residents of Nelson’s apartment building have complained to the city about the intersection. The nearest crosswalk is a half mile away.

If we have as little to fear from overly aggressive prosecutors as supporters of Caylee’s Law claim, we could expect the prosecutor in this case to show some discretion and mercy for Nelson, right? Yes, she admits to jaywalking. Yes, she erred, and subjected her kids to unnecessary risk. But she just lost her son. It’s hard to fathom a more punishing, heartbreaking sentence. Moreover, the underlying “crime” here was a misdemeanor, one most of us commit every day. So mercy, right?

Of course not. Nelson was charged with second-degree vehicular homicide. Which is insane. She was convicted last week. When she’s sentenced later this month, she could spend more time in jail than the man who struck and killed her son. The prosecutor will say he was just enforcing the law. The jury will say they were just applying it. Both are excuses to duck responsibility (prosecutors can decline to bring charges, juries can nullify). But if both are true, then the time to prevent unjust the unjust application of well-intentioned laws is to anticipate those applications while the laws are being written and proposed. That means interpreting the most ridiculous, merciless, farfetched possible applications of the law, then assuming that somewhere, some prosecutor will attempt to apply the law in exactly those ways.

This morning, I debated Caylee’s Law on Oregon Public Radio with the legislator proposing the law in that state. He said prosecutors need another “tool in their toolbox” to go after bad parents like Casey Anthony. At the same time, he also acknowledge tha cases where the law would be necessary were probably extremely rare. (Challenge to supporters of this law: Find me three other cases where a parent failed to report a missing child for days on end, was widely suspected of killing that child, but was acquitted of murder charges in court.) But just because legislators intend for the law to be used in very limited circumstances doesn’t mean prosecutors won’t attempt to use the law more frequently.

Prosecutors don’t need more “tools” in these cases. They have plenty. They need more discretion. And empathy. And a more complete understanding of justice.

Morning Links

Monday, July 18th, 2011

Saturday Links

Saturday, July 16th, 2011

Morning Links

Friday, July 15th, 2011
  • Comparing corporate vs. state funding of the arts.
  • I was hoping someone would throw some cold water on The Filter Bubble. My former colleague Jesse Walker does here.
  • In which the Internet answers your important questions, and offers you a dress emblazoned with Steve Buscemi’s face.
  • This seems like a slight overreaction, doesn’t it? I mean, haven’t there been about a thousand beer commercials in which men are portrayed as infantile morons? And (some of) those are funny, too.
  • Hey, the Fourth Amendment is all but dead. Let’s see if we can’t get to work on the Fifth Amendment, too.
  • Smart editorial from a Florida paper cautions against Caylee’s Law. And it’s not just smart because it quotes me. It’s smart because it agrees with me! Here’s another dissent from the mob from a former Bronx prosecutor. (Last link via Mark Draughn.)
  • Speaking of which, I was on the CBC last night to discuss the law. You can watch here. I come on at about the 8:15 mark.
  • The perils of one-size-fits-all regulation: ” . . . so basically I’m responsible for periodically surprising myself with a random drug test.”