Drug Checkpoint Outrage

I was shocked and outraged to see two “Drug Checkpoint Ahead” signs this evening along Highway 36 northbound ahead of the Church Ranch exit (in Westminster, Colorado). Even worse, the police had pulled over two vehicles along Highway 36, and another four vehicles along Church Ranch, and were in the process of searching those vehicles.

I do not know which police agency or agencies were involved in this frankly fascistic violation of the civil rights of the citizens. I called the “Administration” and “Desk Officer” lines of the Westminster Police Department but got a recording. (This was at 10:21 pm; I doubted that those at dispatch would be in a position to answer my questions on the subject.)

Apparently the police were pulling over cars totally at random; they did not pull me over (as they all seemed to be occupied searching others’ vehicles).

What is especially angering about this is that the police are spending MY tax dollars for the purpose of violating people’s rights.

Ironically, I witnessed this travesty as I returned from Liberty In the Books, where we had just reviewed an extraordinary set of lectures by Ludwig von Mises on the importance of limiting government to the protection of rights. In those lectures Mises criticizes America’s first “experiment” with Prohibition; I will conclude with his commentary:

[T]he notion that a capitalist form of government can prevent people from hurting themselves by controlling their consumption is false. The idea of government as a paternal authority, as a guardian for everybody, is the idea of those who favor socialism. In the United States some years ago, the government tried what was called “a noble experiment.” This noble experiment was a law making it illegal to buy or sell intoxicating beverages. It is certainly true that many people drink too much brandy and whiskey, and that they may hurt themselves by doing so. . . . This raises a question which goes far beyond economic discussion: it shows what freedom really means. . . .

[O]nce you have admitted [that government should stop people from drinking too much], other people will say: Is the body everything? Is not the mind of man much more important? Is not the mind of man the real human endowment, the real human quality? If you give the government the right to determine the consumption of the human body, to determine whether one should smoke or not smoke, drink or not drink, there is no good reply you can give to people who say: “More important than the body is the mind and the soul, and man hurts himself much more by reading bad books, by listening to bad music and looking at bad movies. Therefore it is the duty of the government to prevent people from committing these faults.”

Nanny Statist Sullivan Arrested for Consensual Crimes

Pat Sullivan, who as Arapahoe County Sheriff from 1984 to 2002 busted drug dealers and prostitutes, himself was recently arrested for attempting to trade meth for sex.

As CBS summarizes, “Today, he’s accused of offering methamphetamine in exchange for sex from a male acquaintance, and he’s locked up in the jail that bears his name, the Patrick Sullivan Jr. Detention Facility.”

Sullivan was a hard-core drug warrior. CBS continues, “In 2007 and 2008, Sullivan actively participated in state and local meth task forces, created to help the state deal with the drug problem.”

I mentioned the story to Jacob Sullum over at Reason, and Sullum looked up more details on Sullivan’s drug-warrior past. Sullum reviews a Denver Post story about how current drug warriors set up Sullivan with paid informants and surveillance. (As I mentioned on Twitter, ordinarily those who surveil consenting adults trading drugs for sex are justly regarded as perverted stalkers.) Sullum writes:

This sort of sleazy setup is an egregious waste of law enforcement resources, and it is manifestly unjust to threaten someone with six years in prison for attempting a peaceful, entirely consensual transaction with another adult. But that is par for the course in the war on drugs, a cause Sullivan enthusiastically served for many years. He led opposition to a 1998 medical marijuana initiative and calledasset forfeiture “an incredible tool” in the battle againt meth.

Thankfully, because of asset-forfeiture reforms that I helped to promote, the cops are less likely to steal Sullivan’s house or car over the alleged drugs.

But Sullivan was not merely a drug warrior, he also enthusiastically busted people for prostitution. Consider this February 6, 1990 article by theDenver Post:

Gerald Perry of the Denver Broncos turned himself in yesterday to begin serving a 15-day jail sentence for soliciting a prostitute. …

Sheriff Pat Sullivan said the offense that Perry was convicted of occurred in the portion of Aurora that is in Adams County. Perry was sentenced by an Aurora municipal judge to the Arapahoe County Jail, but in the order written by the court clerk, the Adams County Jail was specified….

He said the Broncos left tackle will be confined in the jail’s 12-cell medical unit except for meals and recreation periods.

“Someone of his stature and reputation would be disruptive” if placed in the facility’s general population, said Sullivan. …

The sheriff said that with time off for good behavior, Perry could walk out of the jail Feb. 14. “He gets six days of good time, as long as he’s good,” Sullivan said.

Reading that in light of Sullivan’s own recent arrest is downright creepy.

But Sullivan’s Nanny Statism did not extend only to drugs and prostitution, with which he was allegedly involved, but also to gambling. Consider this March 24, 1990 article by John Sanko in the Rocky Mountain News:

Gov. Roy Romer says he doesn’t want Colorado cities turned into miniature versions of Las Vegas or Atlantic City, where casino gambling is the name of the game. …

“I don’t think this is healthy, I don’t think it’s wise and I don’t think it’s needed,” Romer said of plans to bring casino-style gambling to eight small towns and allow electronic poker in others.

“It would put us on a slippery slope that we would not recover from and we would become a full-scale gambling state.”

Lawmakers who support the gambling plan scoffed, but Romer got no argument from Fort Collins District Attorney Stuart VanMeveren.

“It brings in prostitution , it brings in a lot of transients, it brings in a lot of other social problems,” VanMeveren said.

Speaking for the state’s law officers, Arapahoe County Sheriff Pat Sullivan said serious problems cropped up in the past just with fund-raising “casino nights” for charities.

We wouldn’t want low-life drug-dealing prostitutes doing something like raising money for charity through casino nights!

So as sheriff Sullivan fought drug use, prostitution, and gambling — the Nanny State trifecta — and he also advocated controls on civilian gun ownership. In an email today, Dudley Brown of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners wrote:

One of the reasons I am so opposed to the government being involved in your Second Amendment rights is that it takes the power away from you and puts it in their hands.

In the hands of people like the former Republican Sheriff of Arapahoe County, Patrick Sullivan.

Sullivan made a habit of helping out groups like the Brady Campaign when it came to preventing law-abiding citizens from exercising their Second Amendment rights.

He even testified before Congress for Handgun Control in favor of the Brady bill, and in the State Capitol against any concealed carry reform.

During his 18-year tenure as Arapahoe County Sheriff, Sullivan was a poster boy for big government…

But not only was Sullivan a major Nanny Statist, he was also a tax-and-spender. Vincent Carroll reviews for the Denver Post:

[Sullivan] agreed to participate in a political advertisement in 1992 against the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights in which he pointed to a section of the amendment that he said “cuts cops and puts criminals back on the street.”

That claim was a lurid falsehood — which voters apparently sensed because they approved TABOR that year by a comfortable margin.

Given how little Sullivan cared for others’ freedoms, it’s a little hard to feel too sorry for him now that he has been arrested for consensual crimes.

And yet we must also remember all the violence Sullivan stopped as a peace officer, and all the innocent people he helped protect from harm.

Lovers of liberty must point out the basic injustice of Sullivan’s arrest, even though it’s the sort of police action Sullivan himself once endorsed.

Time to Reform Jury Duty?

Surprisingly, some people actually appear not to want to serve on a jury. I would like to serve, but I can’t manage to get seated on a jury. I’ve been called for jury duty twice. The first time I was dismissed before I even saw the inside of a courtroom. Today I traveled to Jefferson County’s “Taj Mahal,” where twenty-five of us got released by the judge because, in his words, “We’re not actually having a jury trial today” in the case for which I was called.

My experiences illustrate why jury duty in Colorado should be reformed. After I review some modest reforms, I’ll consider some broader possible changes.

I awoke at the 6:30 in the morning and left my house a few minutes after seven. After missing the Colfax exit off I-70, I circled around and made it into the building at quarter till eight. Check-in was uneventful, though I thought it quite ridiculous that I had to hand over my wallet at security. After we potential jurors waiting around in uncomfortable seats (the problem was low, flexible backs), a judge and then a staffer explained the general process, then showed a video with Ed Sardella further explaining jury duty. The staffer mentioned that, of the several cases scheduled for the day, it was possible that some or all of them could reach a plea agreement.

By 9:50, we were still sitting around. (I read from Sam Harris’s latest book on my iTouch.) Finally at 10:22 a different staffer called my name along with 24 others and asked us to move into the hall. Somebody expressed surprise that it took 25 of us to fill a six-person jury. Judge Bradley Burback was pleasant enough, and he expressed regret that the prosecutor had not yet arrived. Finally a young fellow (I assume from the prosecutor’s office) entered the court room and asked to speak with the judge, who soon assumed an expression that seemed to indicate, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” After telling us there wasn’t going to be any jury trial in this case, he released us at 10:35. So figure the entire event took around four hours of my day, plus gas and vehicle wear.

That’s a price I would gladly bear — if it actually made any difference. The problem is that my time was completely wasted, as was the time of most of those called for jury duty today.

My suggestions for modest reforms are as follows:

First, reach plea agreements the day before trial, and reduce the number of jurors called in accordingly.

Second, call us in no earlier than needed. I see no point of sitting around for two hours. Why not set the check-in time to 9:30 or ten? And make the video available online.

Third, only call in the number of jurors actually needed. (I realize that to some extent this is a guessing game, but the policy now seems to be to call in as many potential jurors as even conceivably needed, then add a large cushion. I’d be interested to know what fraction of those called in actually end up sitting on a jury.)

Fourth, limit the number of dismissals to a reasonable number. I recognize that we don’t want people on a jury who personally know a party in the case, nor do we want KKK members or the like. But those sorts of dismissals constitute a tiny portion of the jury pool. The fact that lawyers can pick and choose the most manipulable jurors from a large pool has led journalist Vin Suprynowicz to define “voir dire” as jury stacking. You simply don’t need 25 people to fill a six-member jury.

Now for my more far-reaching reforms. The first has to do with compensation. If you work for somebody else, Colorado law forces the employer to pay their employee $50 per day for up to three days. (See Statute 13-71-126. Actually, nobody at the court house bothered to mention the detail about the $50 limit.) If you work for yourself, a staffer informed us, the court will provide compensation only in extreme circumstances, as arbitrarily decided by a judge. That’s totally unfair. If jury duty is a responsibility of each individual citizen, then why should employers have to pick up the costs? One of the staffers actually made a point to say that, if potential jurors were released early, the court would not contact their employers, so jurors were welcome to take the rest of the day off. I don’t think it’s the court’s businesses to interfere with employment contracts, perhaps except to mandate unpenalized time off for jury duty. (I don’t even think that’s needed, because any employer who hassled an employee about jury duty would get picketed, and I’d participate.)

It does make sense to me, however, to compensate people for hardship, such as for otherwise-unnecessary child care or mileage for the unemployed. Jury duty shouldn’t put a person in financial hardship.

But I don’t think the state has any business compensating jurors for their time or forcing employers to do so. If it’s a fundamental responsibility of citizenship, then the individual juror should bear those costs. I would be open to arguments for compensation, say, if a trial extends beyond a week or so, given that a tiny fraction of trials can grow exceedingly long. Right now, under 13-71-129, the state compensates jurors (a measly) $50 per day for every day of service after the third day.

I save my most far-reaching and tentative reform for last. Giving the state the power to force people to perform any duty makes me extremely nervous. Does involuntary servitude become morally permissible if restricted to jury duty for a day or a trial? (I notice that Congressman Mike Coffman is trying to end the military draft, an admirable aim.)

Here’s what the statutes say about enforcement: “13-71-123. Enforcement of juror duties. The court shall take whatever action may be appropriate to enforce the provisions of this article. Upon a finding that a juror will not appear to perform or complete juror service or in response to the court’s order, the court may take such action as is likely to compel the juror to appear.”

The key word there is “compel.” Obviously the statute is quite broad.

Yet juries constitute a key protection of our basic liberties. The Bill of Rights guarantees “the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed.” True, sometimes juries can be capricious, biased, and emotional. But, on the whole, I’d far rather trust my liberties to a jury of my peers rather than to an appointed representative of the state. Locking somebody in a cage constitutes an extreme restriction of that person’s basic freedom of action, and that should be done only after a person is legally convicted by a jury.

So what is the proper way to balance these two apparently competing values? I tentatively propose that people be allowed to ditch jury duty, in writing, and thereby surrender all rights to trial by jury in the future. Under this policy, everyone retains the right to trial by jury, but that right entails participation in the jury system. If you can’t be bothered to serve on a jury, fine: but don’t expect the rest of us to sit on your jury should you stand accused. Of course, for this to work, a person would have to be offered a legitimate opportunity to serve on a jury and then officially decline the summons, having been notified of the consequences.

But this proposal makes me nervous. It could be abused; if standards slipped a jury summons lost in the mail might be construed as nonperformance. Moreover, somebody could claim not to have understood the consequences.

Another possibility is to allow people to buy their way out of jury duty, say with a $100 fine. But this would skew the jury pool to lower-income participants, which disrupts the ideal of a random cross-section of the defendant’s community.

I do not expect the mandated jury service to be altered anytime soon, nor is the matter pressing given all the other obvious and severe violations of our rights. It is an interesting issue in that it involves an unusual tension between liberties and mandates. Even absent reform, I can’t imagine why anyone would try to avoid jury service. My only irritation is that I have not actually been able to serve on a jury.


Amy commented May 22, 2011 at 12:14 PM
The idea of being able to opt out and then relinquish your right to have a jury in the future is an interesting one. And I agree that if the option of a fine was given, a fine that was too low would mean only the lowest income people would sit on a jury. More to think about…

Susan commented December 16, 2011 at 9:59 PM
I work for a dentist he does not pay for time lost in jury duty;also he can not schedule patients w/ me if he does not know till the night before that I will be there, so I lose 2 months pay(lenght of jury duty in KY). When I asked judge to be excused,he said he was “tired of financial hardship claims, he needed jurors”,(by the way, one of the financial hardship excuses he did give was to one of my patients who is a multimillionaire farmer, it is winter here here in Ky, not much for the farmers to do. So yes, having jurors is important, but having to borrow money to pay my monthly bills because of the nature of my job stinks. By the way,I am not poor but definately not rich, I work hard but in todays economy not many people can go 2 months without thier usual salary. Slavery was outlawed by the 13 amendment yet the court can hold you in servitude,at the wimsy of a judge.

Family DNA Matching Risks Police Abuses

Earlier this year, I criticized a new law that allows police to take DNA samples from people they arrest for a felony, absent any criminal conviction. As the Denver Post summarized, “The bill was amended to allow police to take DNA tests upon arrest but for the sample not to be processed unless a person is charged. The sample will be destroyed if no charges are filed.”

As I noted, the law will “encourage police and prosecutors to arrest and charge people just to get a look at their DNA.”

Now that Denver police have advanced a program to match crime-scene DNA to samples on record, it is no longer a question of whether the law will be abused, but when.

Michael Roberts writes for Westword, “Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey… [has] been working with colleagues in the Denver Police Department’s crime lab, among others, to prove the efficacy of a method able to connect DNA not in law-enforcement databases to samples from family members…”

Morrissey told Roberts, “We’re running [a sample] against the DNA of somebody else whose sample we obtained legally.”

Except that obtaining somebody else’s DNA legally is now trivially easy. You just come up with some plausible complaint against a person and arrest him. Voila — a legal DNA sample.

So let’s say the police suspect Joe Blow of committing some crime, but they can’t easily find Joe Blow. But they know where to find Sam Blow, Joe’s brother. If only we could figure out if the DNA we found belongs to Joe! All we need to do is get a look at Sam’s DNA. And if Sam isn’t feeling so cooperative…

I do not doubt that taking DNA samples from everybody in the population would help solve more crimes. Hell, we could get a database going with every single person’s fingerprint, DNA, eye scan, special markings, and so on. We could also install every newborn with a barcode and GPS tracker. Update: CNN also carried the story on the DNA tests. Defense attorney Stephen Mercer told CNN, “If they want to drive down the street and do no-knock searches of homes, they would catch bad guys. But at what cost to our society?”

Or, we could retain our liberties. “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated…”

November 25 update: “Panel: British police arrest people just for DNA samples.” Coming soon to a Colorado city near you?

Rape as Punishment

I watched the film Deja Vu (starring Denzel Washington), and it’s a pretty good action/drama based on a science-fiction device of time travel. I have two minor complaints about the story. First, it contains gratuitous and baffling references to religion. Second, it contains the following line, spoken by Washington’s character to the central villain:

“You better have some KY; you’re going to need it.”

This is a not-so-subtle reference to prison rape. Where did we get to the point in our culture where rape is seen as a satisfying and socially accepted form of punishment? (Actually, the villain of the movie is so horrible that he would probably be protected from rape by maximum security, but the line references a common occurrence in America’s prisons.)

Some day, some clever lawyer is going to figure out that rape (or even the high probability thereof) constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. Not only might that lawyer force major reforms in America’s prisons, but he might bring a multi-billion dollar lawsuit on behalf of the victims.

Is it not an obvious point that rape is bad and that it should not be used as a form of punishment? Or should we also bring back torture, mutilation, and lion pits?