Category Archive 'Selective Enforcement'

17 Aug 2011

Britain Disarmed, Crime Followed

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It is impossible imagine a better metonomic image of Britain disarmed.

The recent breakdown of civil society in British cities has been widely associated with welfare state entitlements and an all-encompassing liberal egalitarianism which insists on treating criminality as victimhood. A version of society Kipling predicted: “[T]he brave new world begins, when all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins.”

But it must also be noted that the left’s aversion to punishing crime has consistently featured a single notable exception, a passionate determination to make a conspicuous example of any law-abiding citizen competing against the state’s monopoly of force by daring to defend himself against crime and violence. In such cases, liberal authorities have consistently been out for blood.

Joyce Lee Malcolm, a professor at George Mason University has made the study of the British experiment a personal specialty, and reports in the Wall Street Journal on some of the atrocities produced by the contemporary administration of justice British-style and their results in multiplying crime.

Great Britain’s leniency began in the 1950s, with a policy that only under extraordinary circumstances would anyone under 17 be sent to prison. This was meant to rehabilitate young offenders. But the alternative to incarceration has been simply to warn them to behave, maybe require community service, and return them to the streets. There has been justifiable concern about causes of crime such as poverty and unemployment, but little admission that some individuals prefer theft to work and that deterrence must be taken seriously.

Victims of aggression who defend themselves or attempt to protect their property have been shown no such leniency. Burglars who injured themselves breaking into houses have successfully sued homeowners for damages. In February, police in Surrey told gardeners not to put wire mesh on the windows of their garden sheds as burglars might hurt themselves when they break in.

If a homeowner protecting himself and his family injures an intruder beyond what the law considers “reasonable,” he will be prosecuted for assault. Tony Martin, an English farmer, was sentenced to life in prison for killing one burglar and wounding another with a shotgun during the seventh break-in at his rural home in 1999. While his sentence was later reduced to five years, he was refused parole in 2003 because he was judged a danger to burglars.

In 2008, a robber armed with a knife attacked shopkeeper Tony Singh in West Lancashire. During the struggle the intruder was fatally stabbed with his own knife. Although the robber had a long record of violent assault, prosecutors were preparing to charge Mr. Singh with murder until public outrage stopped them.

Meanwhile, the cost of criminal justice has convinced British governments to shorten the sentences of adult criminals, even those guilty of violent crimes, and to release them when they have served half of their sentence. Police have been instructed by the British Home Office to let burglars and first-time offenders who confess to any of some 60 crimes—ranging from assault and arson to sex with an underage girl—off with a caution. That means no jail time, no fine, no community service, no court appearance.

In 2009, 70% of apprehended burglars avoided prison, according to British Ministry of Justice figures. The same year, 20,000 young offenders were electronically tagged and sent home, a 40% increase in the number of people tagged over three years.

All sorts of weapons useful for self-defense have been severely restricted or banned. A 1953 law, the “Prevention of Crime Act,” made any item someone carried for possible protection an “offensive weapon” and therefore illegal. Today there is also a list of devices the mere possession of which carries a 10-year sentence. Along with rocket launchers and machine guns, the list includes chemical sprays and any knife with a blade more than three inches long.

Handguns? Parliament banned their possession in 1997. As an example of the preposterous lengths to which zealous British authorities would enforce this law, consider the fate of Paul Clark, a former soldier. He was arrested in 2009 by Surrey police when he brought them a shotgun he found in his garden. For doing this personally—instead of asking the police to retrieve it—he received a five-year prison sentence. It took a public outcry to reduce the normal five-year sentence to 12 months, and then suspend it.

The ban on handguns did not stop actual crimes committed with handguns. Those crimes rose nearly 40%, according to a 2001 study by King’s College London’s Center for Defence Studies, and doubled by a decade later, according to government statistics reported in the London Telegraph in October 2009.

Knives? It’s illegal for anyone under age 18 to buy one, and using a knife for self-defense is unlawful. In 1991, American tourist Dina Letarte of Tempe, Ariz., used a penknife to protect herself from a violent attack by three men in a London subway. She was convicted of carrying an offensive weapon, fined, and given a two-year suspended sentence.

The result of policies that punish the innocent but fail to deter crime has been stark, even before the latest urban violence. The last decade has seen a doubling of gun crime. According to the latest annual report of the Home Office (2009), there was a 25% increase in crimes involving contact, such as assault and battery, over the previous year.

08 Oct 2009

FTC Ruling on Bloggers

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Walter Olson, at Overlawyered, responds to the new FTC guidelines on disclosure affecting bloggers.

Come to think of it, I usually link books mentioned using Amazon’s Associates program, but Amazon has not had a sale from one of those in a very long time, as best I can recall. Does that count as disclosing?

Publishers sometimes send me books in hopes I’ll review or at least mention them. I occasionally attend free advance screenings of new movies (typically law-related documentaries) that filmmakers hope I’ll write about. This site has an Amazon affiliate store which has from time to time provided me with commissions after readers click links and proceed to purchase items, though it’s been almost entirely inactive for years. I get invited to attend the odd institutional banquet whose hosts sometimes give away a free book or paperweight along with the hotel meal. I’ve been sent “cause” T-shirts and law firm/support service provider promotional kits over the years, pretty much a waste of effort since I don’t much care for wearing such T-shirts and am not exactly famed for posts that sing the praises of law firms or their service providers.

Under new Federal Trade Commission guidelines in the works for some time, I could apparently get in trouble for not disclosing these and similarly exciting things. In addition, the commission’s scrutiny will extend to areas less relevant to this site, such as targeted Google advertising and results-not-typical testimonials.

Robert Ambrogi at Legal Blog Watch finds it hard to see why the blogosphere has raised such a big fuss about these rules. After all, the rules (to be precise, “guidelines” backed by government lawyers with relevant enforcement powers) make clear that nondisclosure of a single minor freebie will not in itself suffice to trigger liability but instead will be counted “among several factors to be weighed” in evaluating the continuum of behavior by individuals engaging in social media (it seems the rules also apply to Twitter, Facebook, and guest appearances on talk shows, to name a few). FTC enforcers will engage in their own fact-specific, and inevitably subjective, balancing before deciding whether to press for fines or other penalties: in other words, instead of knowing whether you’re legally vulnerable or not, you get to guess.

Olson also quotes Ann Althouse, who identifies the crucial point here quite succinctly.

The most absurd part of it is the way the FTC is trying to make it okay by assuring us that they will be selective in deciding which writers on the internet to pursue. That is, they’ve deliberately made a grotesquely overbroad rule, enough to sweep so many of us into technical violations, but we’re supposed to feel soothed by the knowledge that government agents will decide who among us gets fined. No, no, no. Overbreath itself is a problem. And so is selective enforcement.

What do you suppose are the odds that Obama’s FTC is going to go after Kos for taking “consulting fees” (Kosola) from particular democrat candidates?


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