Posts tagged ‘Radley Balko’

The Fruits of Over-Zealous Prosecution

Radley Balko has a roundup of stories of overdue freedom for the improperly incarcerated.  Its good to see this happening, though I must say I still have some mixed feelings about the Innocence Project after their staggeringly bad judgment of putting Janet Reno, Queen of Abusive Prosecution, on their board.

The Consumers are Saved!

I could probably start a blog just featuring ridiculous government licensing practices.  As I have written before, licensing generally has little to do with the consumer, and more to do with protecting current incumbents from competition.  Via Radley Balko, this is one of the uglier examples I have seen of late:

Mary Jo Pletz was really, really good at eBay. But now the former
stay-at-home mother and gonzo Internet retailer fears a maximum $10
million fine for selling 10,000 toys, antiques, videos, sports
memorabilia, books, tools and infant clothes on eBay without an
auctioneer's license.

An official from the Department of State knocked on Pletz's
white-brick ranch here north of Allentown in late December 2006 and
said her Internet business, D&J Virtual Consignment, was being
investigated for violating state laws....

The 33-year-old opened her Internet business in 2004 so she could
stay home with her 6-month-old daughter, Julia, who was diagnosed with
a hypothalamic hamartoma brain tumor.

She cooperated when told it was illegal and works at dental offices
in Allentown, Bethlehem and Lehighton as a hygienist to help pay the
bills at home. Julia, whose health stabilized on medication, is
enrolled in day care. Pletz also has a son, Douglas, 7.

But the state has not dropped prosecution. It sent Pletz a complaint in
April and an amended complaint in December. The complaint says she
could be fined $1,000 for each violation of the state law. The April
complaint noted 10,000 sales. Pletz and her attorney, Joseph V. Sebelin
Jr. of Palmerton, did the math - $10 million in possible fines. The
second complaint does not list a number....

Because of the complaint, Pletz worries the state also could revoke
her dental hygienist's license, which she earned by attending community
college for seven years at night.

"I really wish that they will walk away from that one and prosecute
somebody else," said State Rep. Michael Sturla (D., Lancaster), who is
chairman of the House Professional Licensure Committee. "There is every
reason in the world that if she is found guilty, she should be
exonerated," he said.

This latter is the most outrageous of all, and it is a line taken by a number of public officials -- that the concept of prosecuting people who are selling things on eBay is just fine, but they should not have started with someone who has less sympathetic.  Maybe Exxon has an eBay arm.

Sturla has proposed the bill to create the electronic auctioneer's
license. The license would require the Internet seller to buy a $5,000
bond for about $40 a year. This would protect consumers, he said.

Bull.  This would protect competitors.  eBay has numerous controls in place to identify problem sellers.

D&J Virtual Consignment had 11,000 feedback comments on eBay
and 14 were negative, Pletz said, giving her a 99.9 percent
satisfaction rating.

I can say from experience that for some reason they must teach this in
government school -- when in doubt, make service businesses get a

This is not unique - Ohio tried to do the same thing.  But why is a person who sells on eBay an auctioneer at all?  Isn't eBay the auctioneer?  If I turn my stuff over to Christies to auction off, setting a reserve price in advance and having them take a sales commission, how is that any different than putting the same stuff on eBay.  In Ms. Pletz case, eBay is earning the auction commission.  She is just taking a retail margin.

Due Process? Not When There Is Money in it for US

One of the worst violations of due process on the books today is law enforcement's ability to seize cash and assets from people only suspected to be drug dealers, with no due process whatsoever.  In fact, the only process involved is that, once seized, the private citizen from which the assets were taken must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the money or assets are legitimately theirs, rather than the other way around.  This was a great case in point.

Along the same lines, the city of Washington DC has decided that all that due process stuff is getting in the way of their harvesting the maximum amount of cash from drivers:

In an attempt to stem the loss of revenue from motorists contesting
parking tickets, cities are effectively eliminating the traditional due
process rights of motorists to defend themselves at an impartial
hearing. By the end of next year, Washington, DC's Department of Motor
Vehicles (DMV) will not allow anyone who believes he unfairly received
a citation to have his day in an administrative hearing.

will complete the phase-out of in-person adjudication of parking
tickets in favor of mail-in and e-mail adjudication by December 2008,"
the Fiscal Year 2008 DMV plan states.

The move is intended to allow automated street sweeper parking ticket machines
to boost the number of infractions cited well beyond the 1.6 million
currently handed out by meter maids. As one-third of those who contest
citations in the city are successful, the hearings cut significantly into the $100 million in revenue tickets generate each year.

the DMV's plan, motorists will only be able to object to a ticket by
email or letter where city employees can ignore or reject letters in
bulk without affected motorists having any realistic recourse.

Thanks to Radley Balko, who also found this little gem:

In Boston and other cities in Massachusetts,
motorists cannot challenge a $100 parking ticket in court without first
paying a $275 court fee. If found innocent, the motorist does not
receive a refund of the $275.

Newspaper Executives Arrested

In an update to my story from yesterday, Phoenix New Times
founders and executives Jim Larkin and Michael Lacey were
arrested last night by Sheriff Joe Arpaio
for revealing the details of a
subpoena.  The subpoena, which sought personal information on all Phoenix
New Times web site visitors, was part of a grand jury case which looks
suspiciously like retribution and intimidation by Arpaio for past negative stories
about him in their newspaper.

Radley Balko also has an update and reminded me of this classic Phoenix New Times article about Sheriff Joe.


Congressmen doing What Congressmen Do

Not surprising, but certainly sickening:

They [the PMA GROUP]  sank $1,333,074 into the campaigns last year of 3
Democratic members of the House defense appropriations subcommittee and
walked away with $100.5 million in defense earmarks for PMA clients,
Roll Call reported.

That means for every buck they spent, their clients got back $75.39. In less than 1 year.

The 3 Democratic rent-to-own congressmen are John
Murtha, Jim Moran and Peter Visclosky. These antiwar Democrats see
nothing wrong with steering military money to PMA clients.

And why not? PMA money made up 20% of Murtha's war
chest, 18% of the Moran money and 33% of the Visclosky dough. For 2008,
PMA already has steered $542,500 to the 3 amigos.

Related thoughts from Radley Balko:

So I guess once you're elected to Congress, you're immune from drunk driving laws; you can stash the evidence that you've committed a crime in your office, because investigators aren't allowed to search it; if you kill someone because you've got a lead foot and blew a stop sign, the taxpayers will cover your financial liability; and, we learn today, you can commit whatever Internet-related crimes you please, because the police aren't allowed to search your computer.   

Meanwhile, the same  Congress that has immunized itself from much of the law is also responsible for the ever-expanding federal criminal code, which we can thank for our shamefully enormous and still-soaring prison population, which is by far and away the largest in the world. 

have lawmakers who feel they're above the law. And who at the same time
are criminalizing anything and everything they find tacky, repugnant,
or immoral.

Sex, Lies, and Videotape

I hesitated to even post this link, because if you haven't been following the Rack & Roll / Manassas Park story for a while, it is so rich and convoluted that it's almost impossible to catch up.  Like starting to watch the Sopranos in the sixth season.  But Radley Balko has a long update.

Here is the short answer.  A group of folks in Manassas Park, VA, both in and out of the town government, want to take the land where the Rack & Roll pool club and bar sits for a lucrative off-track betting establishment.  As part of that effort, they have worked to deny the owner his liquor license and his business license.  The town has also harassed the club with numerous over-the-top raids, including a full-on 60-man SWAT raid.  The town has in the past tried to portray the club as a haven for drug dealing, in part by having police pay the club's bouncer to allow and/or encourage drug deals on the property and then tip police to them.

The owner has been standing up for himself, and has taken to video-taping the premises at all times and recording interviews with employees and customers.  A lot of the back story is here, start at the bottom.

In this most recent update, the owner addresses the other major charge being used to pull his licenses -- that he allowed lewd behavior on site, specifically girls flashing their boobs on the dance floor.  He has impressive evidence that he threw out anyone he caught doing so, and instructed his other employees to do the same.  In fact, the flashing seems to have occurred when the owner was not present, and was led and encouraged and photographed by the club's DJ.  Ironically, the DJ is the Manassas Park vice-mayor.  So the town is trying to shut the club down for activities opposed by the club's owner but encouraged by the town's own official.  Bizarre.  Now the town finds itself the proud owner of a file of soft-core child pornography, in the form of pictures from the club taken by their vice-Mayor of topless girls, several of whom may have been under-age  (apparently VA law allows under-age patrons as long as they are not served alcohol).

Anti-Trust is Anti-Consumer

This is part 158 or so of a series of posts on how anti-trust law is often portrayed as being pro-consumer, but whose effect in practice is usually just to politically powerful competitors rather than consumers.

I have written a couple of posts on the National Association of Broadcasters hypocritical opposition to the Sirius-XM satellite merger. Radley Balko takes on this same topic:

So when XM and Sirius announced a highly-publicized merger this
year, everything changed for the NAB. Clearly, the two startups it so
feared for so long were floundering. And with no other licensed
satellite providers around, the NAB's position on the merger became
clear: What's bad for satellite is good for the NAB. So the NAB would
oppose an XM-Sirius alliance.

Problem is, the only colorable
argument against the merger is that it would create a monopoly for
satellite radio. XM and Sirius cleverly (and probably accurately)
headed that objection off by noting that satellite radio competes with
a variety of technologies for the listener's ear. This put the NAB in
an awkward position. The lobby would have to argue that despite its
15-year effort to derail satellite radio, satellite radio was not a
competitor. Of course, the harder the NAB fights and the more money the
NAB spends to promote this message, the clearer it becomes that the NAB
fears the competition posed by an XM-Sirius alliance. In effect, the
more the NAB fights the merger, the more it undermines its own argument
against it.

But the NAB has a lot of clout, since it controls most of the media.  Here, for example, is the Boston Globe whoring for the NAB without mentioning that their parent company is a member of the NAB.

Bugs Bunny, Libertarian Hero

Bugs Bunny was never one to knuckle under to arbitrary power.  I always like the episode when he protects his home from a freeway development, and eventually the freeway ends up going around his home, which has been turned into a pillar of concrete.  I am reminded of all this by this picture from Radley Balko of a woman who would not sell out to developers in China.


This is Weird

This is a weird case, via Radley Balko:  A court issues a search warrant for a bullet, correctly stating the specific location to be searched and the reasons the bullet is needed.  No problem so far, but unfortunately, the bullet is inside someone and must be surgically removed.

In the middle of Joshua Bush's forehead, two inches above his eyes,
lies the evidence that prosecutors say could send the teenager to
prison for attempted murder: a 9 mm bullet, lodged just under the skin.

say it will prove that Bush, 17, tried to kill the owner of a used-car
lot after a robbery in July. And they have obtained a search warrant to
extract the slug.

But Bush and his lawyer are fighting the
removal, in a legal and medical oddity that raises questions about
patient privacy and how far the government can go to solve crimes
without running afoul of the constitutional protection against
unreasonable searches and seizures.

They go on to mention this problem:

Police then obtained a second search warrant and scheduled the
operation for last week at the University of Texas Medical Branch
hospital in Galveston. It was postponed again, however, after the
hospital decided not to participate for reasons it would not discuss.

Prosecutors said they continue to look for a doctor or hospital willing to remove the bullet.

Duh.  No private doctor or hospital is going to do this procedure.  Whoever removes this bullet is 100% guaranteed to get named on at least one lawsuit seconds after the procedure.  Even if they win the suit, the cost of defending themselves will outweigh anything they might get paid for the procedure.

Cui Bono?

Richard Paey lost his appeal, and so will likely spend the next 25 years in jail for self-medicating pain relievers.  All parties, both prosecution and defense, agreed the painkillers were solely for his use and no drug distribution was involved.  Of course, its for his own good.... somehow or other.

For most of this country's history, prison was for people being punished for hurting others.  Their incarceration protected the rest of society from them.  Today, though, we are increasingly filling the prisons with people whose actions affected only themselves.  In particular, thousands languish in jail for petty drug possession charges, crimes that if they hurt anyone, hurt only themselves.  (Drug war proponents argue that few go to jail for marijuana use.  Sortof.  Actually, only a small percentage of marijuana possession arrests go to jail,  but there are three quarters of a million marijuana arrests every year.  A small percentage of a big number is still a big number)

I am reminded of the old George Carlin joke "do you know the worst thing that can happen to a kid that smokes marijuana?  He can go to jail!"  I find this wholly parallel to Mr. Paey's situation.  The Florida legislature thinks Mr. Paey is ruining his life by using too many painkillers for his, uh, pain.  So their solution is to .. ruin his life even worse, by throwing him in the prison for the rest of his useful life.  Good plan.  Next up: lobotomies for people who still insist on smoking.

This is one of those tough cases made to make judges look bad.  The Florida legislature bent over backwards to make sure that judges had absolutely no discretion in reducing the sentences of people like Mr. Paey.  And the judges acknowledged they were beaten, and would have to let Mr. Paey's sentence stand.  Where are those activist judges when you need them?  Well, there was one in the dissent:

With no competent proof that [Paey] intended to do anything other
than put the drugs into his own body for relief from his persistent and
excruciating pain, the State chose to prosecute him and treat him as a
trafficker in illegal drugs. Instead of recognizing the real problem
and the real behaviors that led to his real crimes and holding him
appropriately accountable, the State decided to bring out the artillery
designed to bring down the drug cartels....

The sentence in this
case for a lone act"”the mere possession of unlawfully obtained medicine
for personal use"”is illogical, absurd, unjust, and unconstitutional...

suggest that it is cruel for a man with an undisputed medical need for
a substantial amount of daily medication management to go to prison for
twenty-five years for using self-help means to obtain and amply supply
himself with the medicine he needed. I suggest it is cruel for
government to treat a man whose motivation to offend sprang from urgent
medical problems the same as it would treat a drug smuggler motivated
to obtain personal wealth and power at the expense of the misery
his enterprise brings to others. I suggest that it is unusual,
illogical, and unjust that Mr. Paey could conceivably go to prison for
a longer stretch for peacefully but unlawfully  purchasing 100
oxycodone pills from a pharmacist than had he robbed the pharmacist at
knife point, stolen fifty oxycodone pills which he intended to sell to
children waiting outside, and then stabbed the pharmacist.

Update:  Radley Balko has more stories about ridiculous drug sentencing.  He also has comments on Paey's case:

I'd add only a few of things to Jacob's post
on Richard Paey's horrible story below.  First, Paey's 25-year sentence
stems from two troubling decisions on the part of the prosecutor.
Prosecutor McCabe threw the book at Paey because,  (1) he refused to
admit he's an addict (and he wasn't, any more than a diabetic is
"addicted" to insulin), and (2) because he'd done nothing wrong, he insisted on his constitutional right to a jury trial.  The latter is an absurdity that often creeps up in a modern criminal justice system so rife with plea bargaining.  Charge stacking"and overcharging, combined with the possibility that you could even get extra time even for the charges you're acquitted of, mean that insisting on exercising your right to a trial is usually going to cost you. 

Second, as I noted a few months ago,
when police apprehended this paraplegic, frail man -- along with his
wife and two kids -- they brought the SWAT team in full paramilitary

And third, why after Paey talked with New York Times columnist John Tierney
did prison officials moved him to a higher-security prison, several
hours from his family?  Paey says it's because a guard complained
about  what he said to Tierney, and was punished.  If that isn't true,
it'd be interesting to hear the official explanation for
suspiciously-time decision to move Paey to a higher-security facility.

Dumb Laws

Radley Balko seems to be going state by state, listing recent stupid legislation.  Keep scrolling.  Some examples:

  • Introduced by Sen. Jerry P. Rhoads on January 6,
    2006, to designate the portrait of Daniel Boone entitled "Gateway to
    the West," by Kentucky native David Wright, as the official portrait of
    Daniel Boone.
  • Introduced by Rep. Mitchel B Denham, Jr on January
    3, 2006, to exempt from sales and use tax straw, wood shavings, and
    sawdust used in agricultural or equine pursuits.  (this is from Kentucky, which happens to be the state that required me to have a license to retail eggs).
  • Remote control toy boats may soon be required to
    obey the same speed limits as lifesize watercraft. Bonus points to the
    lawmaker who introduced this one for invoking "the children" in urging
    its enactment.
  • Rep. Richard Morris of Seabrook wants to require elementary schools to teach proverbs.