A Monday call for Justice

As I read the news this morning I noticed two stories near each other that although about different topics seemed to be calling for the same thing, justice.

There seems to be a constant tug-of-war happening within our society pitting the need for more police power against the need to preserve the rights of the citizens. To call this tug of war a delicate dance would be like calling a bull in a china shop a remodeling experience, while both may be true to some extent, neither captures the lopsided nature of the situation.

The firt editorial, Editorial: Strong forfeiture safeguards needed makes the case for reforms on the State’s forfeiture laws.

Changes are also needed to restore the power balance between authorities and individuals. It’s too far tilted toward police right now. Lawmakers are weighing several bills, but reforms won’t be adequate unless they include these key elements:

•Property should be forfeited only if there’s a conviction. This would not stop authorities from seizing property, as some law enforcement representatives claim. It would protect innocent people suspected of wrongdoing, yet still deprive criminals of ill-gotten booty.

•Forfeiture funds should go into the state general fund, which would break the financial incentive for police to seize property to help their agencies, though it would also reduce their funding somewhat. (Gross sales of forfeited goods or cash totaled $3.8 million in Minnesota in 2008, down 21.4 percent from 2007.) Some law enforcement representatives’ objections to this are disingenuous. They argue that these funds are absolutely critical to police operations, but at the same time insist that this is not an incentive to seize valuable property. It doesn’t add up.

With recent abuses of these laws brought to light many stories have surfaced about innocent parties losing property due to the extreme nature of the forfeiture process and the high costs of fighting the system, few are willing or able to spend thousands of dollars fighting to get a few hundred or a few thousand dollars back.

The second story is something I have also written about and that is the use of cell phone tracking and historical usage without a warrant. In the article by Steve Chapman: If you carry a cell phone, you can’t hide he notes it “raises issues about privacy and unchecked government surveillance”

That gadget, you see, is called a cell phone. For years, the cops may have been using it to keep close tabs on you without your knowledge, even if you have done nothing wrong.

They don’t have to get a search warrant — which would limit them to situations where they can show some reason to think you’re breaking the law. All they have to do is tell a judge that the information is relevant to a criminal investigation and send a request to your service provider.

He then puts this into some historical context

Privacy protections can become meaningless if we don’t adapt them to new inventions. Today, we take it for granted that the FBI can’t listen to our phone conversations without a search warrant. But in 1928, the Supreme Court said the Fourth Amendment did not apply to anyone “who installs in his house a telephone instrument with connecting wires … to project his voice to those quite outside.”

Not until 1967 did the court correct that blunder. It ruled that “the Fourth Amendment protects people, not places,” including those things a person “seeks to preserve as private, even in an area accessible to the public.”

Maybe it still does. Or maybe not.

It seems to me that average law abiding people have been growing weary of the recent trend to treat em all like criminals, take their stuff, lock’em up, and let God sort’em out attitude that seems to permeate the criminal justice system.

These law enforcement lobbyists and representatives are better off listening to the public’s concerns and working with them rather than using the same old tired fear mongering fallacy that crime will run rampant if the public doesn’t fold to their demands.

Normal law abiding citizens have learned to fear those that are supposed to protect them and it’s time our elected officials realize this is more than just a bad case of the Mondays.

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