One of several grave crimes, such as murder, rape, or burglary, punishable by a more stringent sentence than that given for a misdemeanor.
Any of several crimes in early English law that were punishable by forfeiture of land or goods and by possible loss of life or a bodily part.
“What the hell is it now?” I exclaimed, my uncharacteristic lapse into vulgarity provoked by the sight of a police officer striding across our front lawn.
It was the afternoon of a day whose dawn I had welcomed while treating a migraine headache. Few things are more effective at inflicting that condition upon a head of a household than the combination of a young family with expanding needs, a steadily depleting bank account, mercilessly rising price inflation, and the approaching specter of Income Tax Day. And there's nothing quite so aggravating as waking up with a headache -- except perhaps a day that steadily deteriorates from there, as yesterday did for me.
By the time the police officer, without showing a warrant or judicial writ of any kind, had invaded our home, my day had already been disfigured by the breakdown of a major appliance and our antiquated mini-van. So my mood was thoroughly poisonous by the time I strode into our backyard to find out, as it were, what the hell it was now.
“We received a report that there is an abused or neglected animal at this address,” the she-police informed me in what she mistakenly believed to be an authoritative voice, pawing at Chief, our 6-month-old German Shepherd. Chief, who is a little on the skinny side but not otherwise in unusual condition, responded to this news by looking at me worshipfully and wagging his tail. My reaction wasn't nearly as cheerful.
“From whom did you receive this `report'?” I asked in firm but level tone.
“It was an anonymous call,” replied the officer, briskly changing the subject as if it were closed.
“How old is this dog?” she asked. “He appears to be about twenty pounds underweight.”
“Chief is about six months old,” I replied, mentally bookmarking the business about an anonymous “report.” “We got him about a month ago.”
Does this dog look emaciated to you? No, it's not Chief -- but the resemblance is amazing.
“What are you feeding him?” persisted the officer, who as far as I could tell had provided no justification for her presence in our backyard, let alone for her attempt to interrogate me and Korrin (who had joined me by this time).
“I've met you before,” the officer told Korrin, going on to mention that she had seen Korrin and our children with the dog at a local park less than a week earlier, and noticed that the dog seemed a little thin but was well-behaved and content. I bookmarked that fact as well, and tried to answer the question the officer asked before this digression.
“We've been giving him first year puppy chow,” I replied, not seeing how this information could be construed as self-incriminating.
“Ah, well he's grown out of that by now,” the officer declared, proceeding to tell me a specific brand of dog food she considers suitable, and offering the suggestion – no, actually a species of order – that we treat him with a de-worming medicine.
This was all very useful advice, of course, and would have been most welcome had it not been provided by an armed agent of the State who proceeded to threaten me with prison.
“You need to get some weight on that dog,” she said. “I'll have to write this up, because we did receive a report. And I'll have to check back in a few weeks. He seems to be all right; his coat looks fine, and I can tell from the way he acts that he hasn't been abused. But if he's still severely underweight when I come back, we're looking at an animal abuse and neglect charge which is a felony.”
“It is possible to charge me with a felony on the basis of an anonymous `report'?” I asked in a voice that could freeze magma. “Who, exactly, reported the supposed abuse of our dog?”
“I don't know,” the officer replied, as if this were a trivial point, which it isn't. “It was a Fruitland phone number” -- Fruitland being a small town about three miles away. “But since we received a report I was sent here, and now I'm the one who has to make the evaluation.”
“Actually, I have a right to confront my accuser,” I pointed out as politely as I could, which was more than the situation deserved. “And you didn't have probable cause. You pointed out that you saw Chief in the park a few days ago, and he appeared perfectly fine then. Which means that you received a spurious report, and your visit is the `fruit of a poisoned tree.'”
She reiterated her contention that it didn't matter how or why she was there, or what her earlier assessment of Chief's condition may have been.
At this point, Poe's Imp of the Perverse alighted on my shoulder and whispered a transgressive thought in my ear:
This officer is a bear-hug away from a hostage situation – or eternity.
True enough: She was a woman in her late 40s, maybe 5'4” and around 150 pounds. I'm a male in my early 40s who is 5'11” and about 280 pounds (vanity compels me to point out that I'm describing 280 pounds that can be forced through 150-straight Hindu pushups, which I did later in the day to de-toxify from the accumulated rage and frustration). She was armed with a Taser and a handgun. She was, however, within arm's reach. Had I been an actual felon, she would have been in mortal jeopardy.
She knew I wasn't a criminal. And she admitted, at the end of her visit, that there was nothing wrong with Chief that a de-worming and decent diet wouldn't fix. But she was compelled by what she was pleased to call the “law” to treat me as a potential felon, and leave me in a state akin to probation: She is scheduled to return May 1 to see if Chief has put on weight, at which time she would “close the case.”
Let it be said that this officer was not an unpleasant person. She was professional and reasonably friendly, as well as admirably candid. But the system she serves is utterly malignant.
We are discussing, let us not forget, my property. Chief does not belong to the City of Payette, the State of Idaho, or some ephemeral abstraction called “society.” He belongs to me: I bought him with money earned through my productive labor. Yet on the basis of what must be considered a spurious tip from an informant who is as malicious as he is anonymous, I confront the possibility of being tried for a felony for the purported abuse of my own property – the “abuse” in question being low canine bodyweight.
If convicted of a felony, I would lose the right to vote (until my “citizenship” is “restored”) and, more importantly, the "legal" right to armed self-defense – the latter being the most important distinction between a citizen and a slave.
Please indulge me while I illustrate how my situation would be much worse were I living in another community – say, Wilmington, Delaware, where police have been known to gun down innocent people, including a recently married Iraq veteran, for no discernible reason.
Last February, Delaware announced an initiative called “Operation FED-UP” (Federal Enforcement and Detention coupled with Urban Policing), which will be carried out by a joint local/state/federal task force (the sort of alliance from which proceeds no good thing). This venture in Wilmington grew out of a statewide undertaking called “Project Disarm.”
As of February 9, according to the official announcement from the U.S. Attorney for the State of Delaware, “all felons in possession of firearms arrested by Wilmington Police officers will immediately be transferred to the ATF and detained in federal custody pending an initial appearance before a federal magistrate.” Detention in federal custody will continue until a trial before a federal judge. “In effect, the United States Attorney's Office will serve as the local prosecutor for all felon-in-possession cases in Wilmington.”
I'm not acquainted with the laws governing animal cruelty in Delaware, but let's posit – and why not – that they are similar to those in Idaho. Were I a Wilmington resident accused and convicted of the supposedly felonious offense of having a skinny dog, and then found in possession of a firearm (no sane and moral person would ever relinquish the right to own one), upon arrest I would be taken into federal custody – and most likely end up serving hard time in a federal prison.
Yes, initiatives like “Operation FED-UP” supposedly target hard-core criminals. But they are always driven by statistics, and nothing pads an ambitious federal prosecutor's record quite like scooping up non-violent, law-abiding people who have run afoul of some arcane provision of what our rulers insist on calling the “law.”
Aggravating as my experience has been, it's likely to turn out relatively well. But it is a tangible illustration of how easily any resident of the embryonic garrison state in which we now live can have his freedom extinguished, despite doing absolutely nothing wrong.
Do you have a horror story about a run-in with some agent of the State? Sure -- we all do! Please visit The Right Source and share your experience on our message board. While you're there, check our Kevin Shannon's radio show, the Pro Libertate e-zine, and the daily Liberty Minute audio commentaries, too. And be sure to tell your friends!