Thursday, January 11, 2007
The Earth is the State's, and the Fullness Thereof
Armed revenue farmers harvest a crop at a DUI checkpoint.
When George W. Bush signed the death warrant for the habeas corpus guarantee last October, he was consummating a process that has been underway for decades in our law enforcement and "justice" system.
Bush's destruction of habeas corpus, which took place when he signed the Military Commissions Act (better described as the Death of the Republic Act of 2006), is kindred to other developments in which the Regime – both the central government and its state and local franchises – acts on the assumption that the earth is the State's, and the fullness thereof, and that its domain includes ownership rights over all of us.
The most important function of the habeas corpus guarantee -- the “Great Writ” that serves as the foundation of the Anglo-Saxon concept of liberty under law – is to protect individuals from summary imprisonment at the ruler's whim: Within a specified time of arrest, the State must “present the body” of the suspect and justify the detention to a judge.
This is an indispensable guarantee of individual liberty. It is also, in a very real sense, the most important guarantee of property rights, since control over one's person is the fundamental property rights issue. Classic libertarians extol the concept of self-ownership; a Christian libertarian perspective would define the question as one of self-stewardship under God's sovereignty.
In either case, the State does not own the individual. That, in my view, is the whole point of habeas corpus.
Totalitarian regimes are built on the assumption that the State owns its subjects.
A corollary of that premise is that anything can be taken from the subjects as the State's supervisors see fit.
Here's a very suitable recent illustration of those assumptions in action.
The Santa Fe City Council has enacted “a tough, anti-drunken-driving ordinance that would empower city police to seize vehicles driven by repeat offenders and sell them at auction," reports the Free New Mexican. “The ordinance would allow police to sell the vehicles of those arrested on a third or subsequent drunken-driving charge if they already have two convictions. Likewise, those caught drinking and driving on a license suspended for driving while intoxicated might have their vehicle forfeited and sold immediately.”
That is to say, the property would be forfeited and sold upon arrest, not following conviction. This ordinance appears to be patterned after one imposed on New York City in 1999.
City Councilor Patti Bushee describes this confiscation-without-conviction measure as “the ultimate hammer. It's not like they had an innocent slip-up. These are people who're just not doing the right thing and have a real problem.”
That description comes from a political official, so it's safe to assume that it's a lie. It is certainly a misrepresentation, since as the Free New Mexican points out, the ordinance wouldn't require for authorities to wait “for offenders to accumulate multiple convictions to enact municipal sanctions. Upon a first arrest -- before conviction in a court of law -- suspected drunken drivers could have their vehicles immobilized for up to six months unless they agree to install an ignition-interlock device.
As with every measure enacted by the criminal syndicate called government, an engine of corrupt enrichment lurks behind the facade of humanitarian necessity:
“The Police Department is requesting $119,250 to start the program and believes it can realize revenues of up to $150,000 during the first six months of operations. Funds from the program, above its operating costs, would go into DWI education and drunken-driving prevention efforts, said City Councilor Karen Heldmeyer, chairwoman of the city Finance Committee.”
Given that the revenue estimates are already in, and parasite constituencies are already lining up at the trough, assurances from City Attorney Frank Katz that “suspects would be given the right to an administrative hearing promptly following their arrest to contest whether the police had a probable cause to arrest them and take their vehicle” are just so much verbal flatulence. Odds are pretty good that the “administrative hearing” would be conducted by a municipal functionary, rather than a judge.
Katz insists that conviction isn't necessary to justify seizure and sale of an automobile from a suspected recidivist drunk driver; mere “probable cause” is sufficient: "It's enough to throw them in jail; it's enough to take their car."
Here's where Katz's cute analogy breaks down:
A criminal suspect can indeed be thrown in jail based on probable cause – but habeas corpus requires that the State justify that incarceration, and before the sentence is carried out, the State has to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Under Santa Fe's seize-it-and-sell-it ordinance, an innocent driver's automobile can be stolen and pawned by the police, and the proceeds spent by the city on – oh, I don't know, something worthwhile like an office beer bust -- long before a trial.
One small victory: With the help of the Institute for Justice, Carol Thomas of Millville, New Jersey, was able to get back her 1990 Ford Thunderbird after it had been stolen by the local police under the pretext of "civil asset forfeiture."
While not meaning to minimize the seriousness of drunk driving – an often lethal act of irresponsibility that should be severely punished when it results in crimes against persons or property – the anti-DUI campaign is a malignant racket.
Financial writer Christopher Solomon points out: “In several states ... your license may be suspended for 90 days simply upon your arrest for DUI, regardless of whether you end up being convicted.” For many people, loss of a driver's license can mean immediate unemployment.
To understand just how the DUI enforcement system has been engineered to extort guilty pleas – and, of course, revenue – from the innocent, consider the case of Stan Willcutt, an unassuming construction worker from Lee's Summit, Kansas.
In his early 40s, Willcutt is a walking collection of chronic injuries received from a long career in construction. His back, for example, is so infirm that a good sneeze can throw it out. This is what happened to Willcutt on April 7 of last year, as he was driving home from a doctor's appointment. The sneeze, and the resulting back pain, caused Willcutt momentarily to lose control of his car. His vehicle clipped a highway median, puncturing the front-left tire.
As Willcutt changed his tire, the Lee's Summit Police materialized, telling him they'd received reports of a drunk driver. Willcutt, who had a 20-year-old DUI conviction on his record, had given up all alcohol consumption.
When the officers demanded that he take a field sobriety test, Willcutt warned them that his injuries – dentures that caused him to slur his speech, two ankles left weak and unsteady from multiple breaks, and bad back – would make it difficult for him to pass the test. He complied, nonetheless, with predictable results.
(It should be pointed out that there are sound and compelling reasons to regard standard field sobriety tests as little more than a bizarre variety of compelled performance art.)
After his performance was deemed unsatisfactory, Willcutt requested a breathalyzer test, which measured his blood-alcohol content at 0.00 percent.
He was arrested anyway. Once in jail, he was required to provide a urine sample, which likewise produced a 0.00 percent reading for alcohol, amphetamines, barbituates, benzodiazepine, cannabinoids (Marijuana), cocaine, methadone, opiates, phencylidine and proxyphene.
Nonetheless, Rachel Brown, the vindictive, careerist shrike who serves as city prosecutor, went ahead and filed charges against Willcutt anyway – on the assumption that the complete lack of evidence against Willcutt didn't validate his innocence.
“You have people driving under the influence [of substances] that don't show up on the initial panel,” Brown insisted, maintaining that the judgment of the arresting officers was more important than the scientific evidence.
If Brown's reaction strikes you as kindred to the bizarre rationales used by the Bush junta and its supporters to justify the Iraq war despite the absence of Saddam's fearsome WMD arsenal, you're very perceptive.
Within weeks, Willcutt – who had few financial resources to draw upon – had spent over $1,000 on legal counsel. After the case received local publicity, Brown grudgingly dropped the DUI charges, only to press careless and imprudent driving charges against the long-suffering construction worker.
“I'm frustrated and mad,” Willcutt told a local magazine. “I'm wondering why the town I grew up in is raking me over the coals.”
The answer to Willcutt's implied question – why is the government doing this to me? -- is quite simple: Because it can, since those running the State consider us to be its property.
at 2:57 PM