February 1994 - Volume 13, Issue 2

Mandatory Jail Sentences - A bad idea?

Recently, we have seen politicians and the media take up the chant to get tough on violent criminals and then suggest laws to put three time losers in jail for life.

A great idea in theory but terrible when mandated without thought. The current Omnibus crime bill lists 44 different crimes which would count toward the "three times and you are out" penalty.

Well, let's save us all some money and just eliminate the real bad, violent offenders after three times! But we really need to think about the type of crimes which would qualify!

Violent Crime vs. Moral Crime

Two years ago, 'Opinion suggested that the entire criminal justice system was a failure. Nothing has happened to change my mind about the system especially after the Waco affair or the shooting in Idaho by the ATF. We urged then that society look at the differences between violent crime and moral laws and begin to consider the costs to society as a whole which resulted from the application of moral laws.

When did thinking go out of style?

Two cases which serve as examples of a criminal justice system clearly out of control.

Does it make sense to lock up a fifty-eight year old father who has paid over $250,000 in child support payments and lawyer fees during the last seven years for contempt of court for non-payment of child support? After losing his job in December 92, he is now $22,000 behind in payments. Despite his house being up for foreclosure, he is arrested during the one week a year (Christmas) when he has custody of the children. The father had a commission job offer but the wife insisted on a salaried position. Perhaps, the remarks of the bailiff in this case sums it up --

"his ex-wife has really got him by the balls and this judge always sides with the wife, he'd be better off leaving the country rather than having to put up with his ex-wife and her attorney."

Or what about the seventeen year old girl on her first date who was in a car which was stopped for a broken tail light. Her nineteen year old boy friend was found to be carrying four ounces of crack cocaine in his jacket. Despite no previous arrests, the girl was sentenced to jail for 10 years. Her boy friend plea bargained and was out in two months despite fourteen previous arrests. In my view, something smells! While I might question the girl's judgment in choosing her friends, I really question a criminal justice system which allows such a travesty of justice to take place.

Is Justice Blind or are Legislators unable to see?

Does it make sense to sentence first time drug offenders to prison for 5 - 10 years with no possibility of parole when rapists were getting out in 4 months, murderers in less than 14 months, and juveniles that commit multiple violent acts are being handed back to their parents without any incarceration or punishment?

Florida is not Germany or is it?

According to some law enforcement estimates, 60% of all inmates are there for drug offenses. In Florida, they have incarcerated a higher percentage of their population than any other nation and/or government on the face of the earth in history. This is a "gentler and kinder government!"

Back to Basics - the Common Law

Perhaps, it is time to really begin to look at the laws on the books and get back to basics. Our constitution makes provision for only three types of laws -- Common, Equity and Admiralty.

Under common law, if nothing was broken, or no one was injured other than themselves, there was no crime!

If we legalized marijuana and most illegal drugs, gambling, prostitution, etc., the crime rate would go down. The federal government could manufacture and distribute our so-called illegal drugs and use the proceeds to reduce the national debt. In one swipe of the pen, President Clinton could reduce both crime and the national debt!

Now with the Brady bill as evidence of getting tough on crime, here comes President Clinton and the Omnibus Crime bill to trample further on people's rights.

The Constitution states that you can not be deprived of your property without due process. Tell that to the Branch Davidians who are now on trial for murder. Not only were they deprived of their property but also most were deprived of their lives. And to make a mockery of the whole process, the leaders of the ATF and FBI lied about the raid and various details about the original subpoena. However, the prosecution still wants to avenge the deaths of four ATF agents who intruded upon a church's property.

If this trial goes against the government, I wonder if the federal prosecutors will have the gall to try the defendants on charges of "Civil Rights" violations against the ATF agents.

Separation of Church and State

The Constitution also comments about the separation of church and state. In most countries, the property of a church is supposed to provide sanctuary. During World War II, neither Germany nor Italy dared to invade the Vatican and generally allowed their emissaries to travel throughout the Axis sphere of influence without significant impediments. But apparently, in the U.S.A., the "home of the free," a different interpretation exists. I wonder where the line should be drawn between separation of church and state.

Perhaps, the definition of a church has changed in the U.S. With the removal of prayer from schools and lawsuits over the celebration of Christmas and the use of taxpayer's funds to put up Christmas decorations, maybe it is no surprise that any Church is beleaguered these days. Not only are local governments attempting to gain tax revenues from church facilities but the very perception that a church might want to provide for its own defense brings federal, state and local authorities in to investigate the so-called "cult." However, the authorities and news media are very careful not to define what constitutes a cult.

If we don't stand up and defend the Branch Davidians against arbitrary government actions, don't cry when the government authorities come after the Jewish Defense League, the Methodist Men, or the Knights of Columbus in the future for some alleged activity.

Remember the precept of common law --

You are free to do anything you please, as long as you do not infringe on the life, liberty, or property of someone else. You have a unalienable right to make a fool of yourself provided you do not infringe on the life, liberty, or property of someone else.

While I do not agree with many of the Branch Davidian's beliefs nor have I studied them closely, I will defend until my death, their right to those beliefs without interference from governmental authorities as long as they do not violate the Common Law which is the basis of the Constitution of the United States of America.

Are We Living Under the Constitution?

During the past several years, I have become more worried about the direction of our jurisprudence system and the movement towards control implicit in almost all phases of our life. Recently, I asked several high-school students about their understanding of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Needless to say, I would have failed all of them. The most basic law of our nation has not been read by over 80% of our high school students. Is it any wonder that they don't know what the founders meant when they said that this was a government "of the people, by the people, and for the people."

Jefferson was writing about the taxpayers of his day. The Boston Tea Party which provided the flash point for the revolution from England was caused because of "taxation without representation." Perhaps, our local, state and federal legislatures would do well to remember that concept.

Due Process - A Cornerstone of our Constitution

One of the cornerstones of our constitution that sets it apart from almost every other legal document was that citizens were presumed "innocent until proven guilty" and that "property could not be seized without due process." Once tried, you were not subject to "double jeopardy." But now, Civil Rights laws violate that principle.

The basic guarantees in our Constitution and Bill of Rights are under attack!

Today, perhaps, more so than ever if our history, those basic precepts are being challenged by the news media, and politicians.

Despite a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court against arbitrary seizures late last year, thousands of U.S. visitors (the majority of whom are probably honest, hard-working people) have had their cash and traveler's checks confiscated by our zealous Customs agents whose job performance is based upon the amount of cash seized. The funds seized are not even turned over to the Treasury Department but are added to the budgets of the departments involved.

And we thought Mexico was corrupt! I wonder who is responsible for accounting for the DEA's seizures. The police department in a small Texas town is suddenly missing 100 pounds of pure cocaine from its evidence room and nobody knows anything and there is no sign of forced entry. Yet, we have the gall to say that Mexico and Latin America are corrupt nations.

Nevertheless, our Supreme Court has now extended the application of the RICO laws to violations of free speech involving abortion clinics. Now protest has become "racketeering." I wonder what is next!

The RICO laws must be overturned. Here again, the original purpose has been turned into a device far beyond the original scope of the law because of expediency. There are not many citizens and/or corporations in this country who can stand up to the violation of their rights guaranteed under the Constitution and the Bill of Rights if the RICO laws are allowed to stand.

The news media has turned the Kerrigan-Harding affair into a farce! I believe that grand jury hearings are supposed to be secret and not leaked to the press. When is the Oregon Attorney General going to seek indictments of the prosecuting attorney for handing out the minutes of the grand jury to the press? Where are the ethical standards of the various law enforcement agencies who are conducting an on-going investigation when they comment on results of interrogations?

But then, maybe CBS is behind the whole plot! What a novel way to hype the Olympics!

But then - - 'Tis Only My Opinion!

Fred Richards
February 1994

This issue of 'Tis Only My Opinion was copyrighted by Adrich Corporation in February 1994.

It is intended to provoke thinking, then dialogue among its readers. Quotation with attribution is encouraged.

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