Wednesday, August 30, 2006

A few thoughts on John Karr

Alright, so we know that this guy was a nut, and that he had nothing to do with killing Jon Benet Ramsey, and clearly that the media circus surrounding his arrest and extradition was among the lower moments in an low profession (at least the tabloid media, which is what most of the media turns into when confronted with something like this - lord knows they don't want to be left behind by the tabloids as happened in the past).

But, I'm somewhat interested in a couple of legal issues that happened here, the rush to judgment, and the false confessions.

On the rush to judgment front, that is clearly what happened here, if not by the DA (who kept expressing reservations as she flew him business class from Thailand), certainly from the rest of society, which had pronounced him freak, and therefore guilty once they got their hands on him. This is not quite like Richard Jewel (the alleged, presumed, and then proven otherwise Atlanta Olympic Bomber in 1996), where the case languished, suspicions increasing, and everyone who knew him pronouncing that he was just the type of person you'd expect to bomb the park ("he's a nice guy, keeps quiet, to himself, not too social...."). Before he was completely exonerated, he'd been the subject of so many smear articles and descriptions that he'll forever be associated with that bombing, even though, by all accounts, he was a hero (how fickle heroism is). More importantly, had that been a less visible case, with less scrutiny by law enforcement, he'd probably be rotting away in jail right now, the police being comfortable that he looks guilty enough, and there's no need to do more work that his lawyers would only use to manufacture reasonable doubt and get a guilty man off.

Karr's case doesn't rise to that level, mostly because, unlike Jewel, he said he was involved, and because the case was resolved so quickly and emphatically by DNA evidence showing he wasn't involved.

But, this leads to the other issue, false confessions. I can assure you that had there been no DNA evidence at all in this case, Karr would've gone to trial and been convicted largely on the basis of his statements admitting his involvement. What would the DA have said? "Why, of course he did it, he admitted it. Who would admit to doing something they didn't do?" Well, obviously a lot of people do that, for various reasons. In a large amount of the death row cases where the defendants were exonerated due to DNA proof that they were innocent, the defendants had "confessed," and their confessions had been admitted against them in trial, with devastating results. Some are browbeaten into confessing to things they didn't do, others like to brag (usually they're not as nuts as Karr appears to be, in that he was so self-aggrandize that he wanted to be associated with this case and was willing to go to jail just to have that association.

That being said, bragging about things that you have only marginal involvement in and trying to give yourself more credit than you deserve is about as common as any other form of bragging (honest or dishonest). This is why many gang members, who consider it a badge of honor to waste a few rivals with a single burst, may brag about some involvement in that shooting to their friends, even when they had nothing to do with it. And as a result, many of those statements, true or untrue, are used against them at trial with the same devastating effect. Of course the DA argues at trial that "he must be telling the truth" (and frequently he is), but they will often say at the same time that any exonerating statements should be ignored (he must be telling a lie if he denies involvement - notice the nice Catch 22?). The real problem is when those statements are used in lieu of actual evidence, and the DA relies on these often unreliable statements, coerced, bragging, self-aggrandizing, or whatever, when they don't have any actual evidence.

It didn't fly in the Karr case. It should be viewed with greater suspicion in all other cases as well. Show me the actual evidence, not just some overhyped statements that may or may not be true.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The President is NOT above the law!!! - NSA program struck down

I want a terrorist to his this country as much as the next guy, which is to say, not at all. I also want our country to have something important to preserve - freedom, lawful institutions, law and order, democracy, silly little things like that. For the past 6 years those concepts have given way to doing away with the evildoers. I'm glad to say that freedom and democracy took a large step forward today with Federal Judges opinion striking down the NSA's warrantless wiretapping program as an unconstitutional search, and in general, an unconstitutional seizure of power by the Presidency over the other co-equal branches of government. The article's here. Talking Points Memo's Muckraker has some choice quotes here.

Really good stuff. Freedom, democracy, due process and the American way has reasserted itself.

Friday, August 11, 2006

New Ruling in Secrecy case takes us closer to tyranny

I hate being like Chicken Little, constantly claming that the sky is falling. In previous posts I have likened some of our country's attributes to things going on in China, suggesting that we are heading in their directly while we urge them to head into ours (and while they actually do head in our direction).

The latest thing to come out is really chilling. A couple of lobbyists with AIPAC (the pro-Israel lobby in DC) are charged with espionage when they disseminated classified information that they came across. The manner in which these specific people came across the information isn't as important as the judge's ruling in allowing them to stand trial is. He said that one need not have a security clearance, nor have any particular duty to the government if one receives classified information. If you pass it along, or disseminate it in any manner that intends to harm the US OR help another country (even a friend, I guess, and even if it doesn't intend to harm the US), then you can be found guilty under the Espionage Act.

This means that every journalist who writes about about evil acts that the US is doing may be held under the Espionage Act. This, of course, is what some conservatives like Bill Bennett and Rep. Peter King (R NY) have been pushing for a little while, since our embarrassing actions have come to light. They don't have a problem with the actions, just them coming to light, and they've pushed to have the press put in jail as a result.

China and Russia today put people in jail for embarrassing the government under the theory of Espionage. In fact, every totalitarian government in history has tried to imprison those who critisize and embarrass them, all under the guise of espionage or damaging the country. in Russia, they put scientists away for disseminating scientific and environmental reports in a way that shows some of the terrible things that the Russian government does. In China, they put journalists away who talk about government's abuse of authority and corruption. And now, in the US, under the fig leaf of "legal authority" by using a compliant and unquestioning judiciary, we will put away journalists who do the same.

Remember the Taguba report, that exposed the atrocious behaviour of our soldiers at Abu Ghraib? The reporter who broke that story could be in jail, under the theory that it harmed the US (how about the fact that it helped the US, by helping us improve our behaviour?). It could go further, scientists who expose the administration's lies and machinations on things like Global Warming, evolution, drug approval processes or any other number of whistleblowers who regularly keep us informed of this (and other) administration's evil ways.

Think I'm paranoid? Even Contributing Editor Jonathon Adler wrote similiarly in the National Review Online, using more examples directed to his audience (he talks about people who wrote critisizing the Clinton administration who would've possibly been susceptible to prosecution under the Act under the theory now advanced).

And this is the point, people in government often become more obsessed with their remaining in office than in the better good of the country (can there really be any debate about this at this point in our nation's history?). The notion that power corrupts, and that absolute power corrupts absolutely is not new either. You put those two things together, along with the power of the Espionage Act being applied corruptly, for political purposes, in order to stifle lawful and appropriate debate, and you have the markings of an unfree society.

This is something Americans of all political stripes should agree on.