A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

Archive for the ‘Law and Disorder’ tag

We Have Spain’s Answer

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Last week Catalonia declared independence. I noted that what happens next will depend on Spain’s response. If Spain decided to ignore Catalonia, the country would realize its independence. If Spain decided to put the boot down on the Catalans’ throats, civil war could erupt. Now we know which direction Spain wants to go:

A Spanish judge has jailed two key members of the Catalan independence movement.

Jordi Sánchez and Jordi Cuixart, who lead prominent separatist groups, are being held without bail while they are under investigation for sedition.

I’m sure this is going to go over well with the Catalans. But I also suspect that Spain is eager to egg the Catalans into a violent response so it has an excuse to send its shock troops in to cleanse the region of any and all dissidents (and non-dissidents that happen to look at the shock troops in the wrong manner).

Once again we see the futility of democracy. If a group of people decide to vote for an option that isn’t approved by their rulers, their “voice” (which is what I’m told votes are) is stifled and, if necessary, the people who voted the wrong way are violently dealt with. There are few cases that I can think of where secession has been accomplished through a ballot box.

Written by Christopher Burg

October 17th, 2017 at 11:00 am

Counting People Killed by Law Enforcers isn’t Straight Forward

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How many people have been killed in the United States by law enforcers? That question is actually more complicated than it appears because there is a lot of questionable data being used to establish that number:

Over half of all police killings in 2015 were wrongly classified as not having been the result of interactions with officers, a new Harvard study based on Guardian data has found.

The finding is just the latest to show government databases seriously undercounting the number of people killed by police.

“Right now the data quality is bad and unacceptable,” said lead researcher Justin Feldman. “To effectively address the problem of law enforcement-related deaths, the public needs better data about who is being killed, where, and under what circumstances.”

Feldman used data from the Guardian’s 2015 investigation into police killings, The Counted, and compared it with data from the National Vital Statistics System (NVSS). That dataset, which is kept by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), was found to have misclassified 55.2% of all police killings, with the errors occurring disproportionately in low-income jurisdictions.

This revelation isn’t new nor should it be surprising. Statistics is often an exercise in creating the conclusion and fitting the data to that conclusion. If, for example, the government wanted to make its law enforcers appear to be less lethal, it could massage the number of people killed by its officers by coming up with a creative definition of law enforcement interaction. And government agencies can’t even claim a monopoly on this practice. It seems that most individuals and organizations use statistics to prove an already established conclusion instead of using statistics to establish a conclusion.

Now we have at least two sets of statistics on the number of people killed by law enforcers. Which set of numbers is correct? Who knows. The government has an obvious motivation to massage the numbers so it appears that fewer people are killed by law enforcers but Feldman may be motivated to massage the numbers so it appears that more people are killed by law enforcers. Most people will likely pick the set that proves their conclusion and call it a day. And do you know what? I can’t blame somebody for choosing that strategy because realistically both sets of statistics are probably misleading in some manner.

Written by Christopher Burg

October 17th, 2017 at 10:30 am

Updating the Propaganda

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The current administration, just like the previous administration, doesn’t like the fact that the plebs have the ability to keep secrets from it. When the previous administration pushed prohibit effective cryptography, it was met with a great deal of resistance. Hoping to avoid the same failure, the current administration is updating its propaganda. It’s not seeking to prohibit effective cryptography, it’s seeking to promote responsible cryptography:

A high-ranking Department of Justice official took aim at encryption of consumer products today, saying that encryption creates “law-free zones” and should be scaled back by Apple and other tech companies. Instead of encryption that can’t be broken, tech companies should implement “responsible encryption” that allows law enforcement to access data, he said.

“Warrant-proof encryption defeats the constitutional balance by elevating privacy above public safety,” Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said in a speech at the US Naval Academy today (transcript). “Encrypted communications that cannot be intercepted and locked devices that cannot be opened are law-free zones that permit criminals and terrorists to operate without detection by police and without accountability by judges and juries.”

Encrypted communications that cannot be intercepted and locked devices that cannot be opened are law-free zones? He just made effective cryptography sound even more awesome!

Once again this administration is telling the plebs that they have no right to privacy, which tends to go over about as well as a lead balloon with the plebs. Moreover, this recommendation is one way. Notice how under these proposals the plebs aren’t allowed to have any privacy from the government but the government gets to maintain its privacy from the plebs by having legal access to effective cryptography? If the United States government is supposed to be accountable to the people, then by the government’s logic the people should have a means of breaking the government’s encryption as well.

There are two facts about the United States of America. Anybody can sue anybody else for any reason and high ranking officials can make any demands they want. Just as many lawsuits get tossed out due to lack of merit, many demands from high ranking officials are technically impossible. “Responsible encryption,” to use the euphemism, is not technically possible. Encryption is either effective or ineffective. If there is an intentional weakness added to an encryption algorithm then it will be exploited by unintended actors, not just intended actors.

Written by Christopher Burg

October 13th, 2017 at 11:00 am

Something You Don’t See Everyday

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Here’s something you don’t see everyday:

A jury on Monday found a former Minneapolis police officer guilty of a felony for kicking a man in the face during a domestic violence call.

Christopher Reiter was found guilty of third-degree assault for severely injuring a domestic assault suspect in May 2016 while the suspect was on his hands and knees, causing a brain injury.

A law enforcer was actually found guilty for using excessive force. Talk about an isolated incident!

I’m not sure if this decision is the beginning of a change in the culture where law enforcers are no longer seen are heroes but as the regular, fallible human being they are. It seems like there has been a slow shift in that direction, especially with all of the videos of cops behaving badly becoming available. Then again, this decision could also be a fluke. The cynic in me says that this decision was a fluke while the optimist in me hopes that this is the beginning of a shift in the culture.

Written by Christopher Burg

October 11th, 2017 at 10:00 am

You Have a Right to an Attorney… Except When You Don’t

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When somebody is arrested they’re given a Miranda warning, which, in addition to a few other things, informs the arrested individual that they have a right to an attorney. However, an individual’s right to an attorney, like every other right, is subject to change whenever it suits the State:

With its case falling apart, the prosecution did something drastic: It asked presiding Judge Andrew Hague to dismiss Rodriguez’s public defender on the grounds that it would not seek jail time. This meant Rodriguez was no longer entitled to a lawyer.

Since the vast majority of misdemeanor cases in Miami-Dade County do not end with a conviction (or subsequent jail time) the prosecutor’s decision not to seek jail time was a minor concession. The public defender objected, arguing that Florida law required Judge Hague to determine whether her removal would disadvantage Mr. Rodriguez. The judge ignored this request and discharged the lawyer.

On April 27, 2016, Rodriguez had his day in court, representing himself. Things did not go well. Rodriguez unwittingly waived his right to a jury trial after Judge Hague failed to explain what was happening. The prosecution’s case rested entirely on the testimony of the arresting officers. But because Rodriguez did not know how to follow up with the public defender’s requests for discovery and depositions, he was unprepared to challenge the officers’ testimony. To make matters worse, Judge Hague repeatedly and loudly berated Rodriguez for not knowing how to ask questions like a lawyer.

This case can be added to the stupidly long list of cases that demonstrate that the court system isn’t about justice.

Being a defendant or a prosecutor in a courtroom requires arcane knowledge. It’s not enough to argue your point, you have to argue it using the proper incantations. Failing to do so will bring the wrath of the man in the muumuu on you. He will declare your statement inadmissible. This is why representation is critical. You need a guy on your side who possesses the arcane knowledge of the courtroom. Without him, most people will be steamrolled by the other side.

Written by Christopher Burg

October 4th, 2017 at 10:30 am

Like You and Me, Only Better

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You know how I periodically rant about law enforcers being above the law? The Star Tribune is running a multiple part series on Minneapolis law enforcers who have been convicted of criminal offenses but still hold their job:

They are among hundreds of sworn officers in Minnesota who were convicted of criminal offenses in the past two decades yet kept their state law enforcement licenses, according to public records examined by the Star Tribune. Dozens of them are still on the job with a badge, a gun and the public’s trust that they will uphold the law.

The cases reveal a state licensing system that is failing repeatedly to hold officers accountable for reckless, sometimes violent, conduct.

In Minnesota, doctors and lawyers can lose their professional licenses for conduct that is unethical or unprofessional — even if they never break a law. Yet law enforcement officers can stay on the job for years even when a judge or jury finds them guilty of criminal behavior.

As the article notes, people in many fields have their licenses taken for far less than being found guilty of a criminal offense. Furthermore, those individuals don’t even hold the same authority as a law enforcer. A doctor generally isn’t in a position to shoot or kidnap you and they certainly aren’t in a position to shoot your family pets.

Why are law enforcers given so much leeway? To answer that question, we need to point out the primary purpose of law enforcers. The primary purpose of law enforcers is not to serve and protect. They’re revenue generators for the State first and foremost. In order to encourage law enforcers to generate as much revenue as possible they are given a lot of privileges. Departments are often given a share of the loot their officers bring in. When a law enforcer is accused of wrongdoing they are given a paid vacation instead of being left unpaid during the duration of the investigation. Officers who commit an act of violence are usually treated more kindly than you or I would be under the same circumstances. It should come as no surprise that law enforcers are also allowed to continue generating revenue for the State even if they have been found guilty of the very crimes they are supposed to uphold.

Written by Christopher Burg

October 3rd, 2017 at 10:00 am

None of Your Business

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California may be the second state to allow denizens to list “X” as their gender on government documents. I first heard about this when a self-described libertarian posted it in outrage. This particular libertarian is socially conservative so I can’t say that I was surprised that he was upset about this. However, I appreciate this change and believe many other libertarians should:

Libertarians—even those just fine with the gender binary and their place in it—should celebrate the change. It allows people more choice about how to define themselves in a way that is noncoercive and decreases government control.

Should D.C. ever give residents the option to essentially delist their sex/gender from their driver’s license, I would do it. (At least, you know, the next time my license is up for renewal or if there was some sort of online option; I’m not crazy enough to subject myself to the Department of Motor Vehicles any more than necessary.) And I would hope anarchist, libertarian, and limited-government-supporting types of any sex or gender might do the same.

There is no good reason the state, its representatives, and the countless people tasked with checking IDs for one reason or another need to know every individual’s gender or sex.

Even socially conservative libertarians should be able to appreciate the ability to opt out of having information printed on government documentation. There’s no reason why government documents should list a gender. Ideally there wouldn’t be any government documents but if there are going to be such documents then they should contain, at most, a unique identifier and maybe a picture (only because so many services want to see a picture ID). When you’re pulled over, for example, for driving faster than the arbitrarily selected limit, the officer doesn’t need to know anything about you. They only need a unique identifier to give the person in charge of mailing the extortion fee so they can look up where to send the ticket.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 29th, 2017 at 11:00 am

Judges and Science

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With all the talk about the importance of science you would think debunked forensic science would receive more coverage. Forensic science can literally be a life or death matter in some states for some crimes. Unfortunately, the courts are setup in such a way that the validity of forensic techniques is not determined by researchers in the field but by men in magic muumuus:

Giannelli, who served on President Barack Obama’s now-disbanded National Commission on Forensic Science, looks at how six forensic fields for which there is little to no supporting scientific research (or in some cases, that scientific research has discredited) — bite-mark comparison, arson, microscopic hair analysis, firearms and toolmark analysis, fingerprint analysis, comparative bullet-lead analysis. These fields vary in scientific credibility and probative value from little to none (bite-mark comparison and bullet-lead analysis) to possibly valuable, though the extent of which is still unproven (fingerprint analysis).

[…]

But it’s quite a bit worse than that. The fact is, judges continue to allow practitioners of these other fields to testify even after the scientific community has discredited them, and even after DNA testing has exonerated people who were convicted, because practitioners from those fields told jurors that the defendant and only the defendant could have committed the crime. In the few fields where the courts have finally admitted that they got it wrong, for the most part there has been little effort to systematically review all of the cases that those mistakes may have affected. It has largely been left to defense attorneys and nonprofit legal groups to find those defendants and file claims on their behalf.

Of course, none of this should be surprising. We don’t ask judges to perform regression analyses. We don’t ask them to design sewer systems, hit fastballs or compose symphonies. We know they aren’t qualified to do any of those things. Judges are trained to perform legal analysis. No one goes to law school to become a scientist.

Judges should not be expected or even allowed to decide what types of forensic science are valid and what types are invalid. They lack the training and the background to determine such things. However, I’d hazard a guess that few in the legal system have any interest in putting qualified people in charge since that would likely reduce conviction rates and therefore cut into the State’s profits.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 29th, 2017 at 10:30 am

Communication Breakdown

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When you’re filming on location it’s wise to contact the local law enforcers to let them know. It’s also a smart idea to request an officer onsite during the filming. Why would I suggest voluntarily interacting with the police? Because, in the case of on location filming, it could avoid a situation like this:

Police in Indiana fired a gunshot at a man who they thought was a thief on Tuesday, but was actually just an actor playing one.

The incident occurred after Indiana State Police responded to the scene of a possible robbery at Backstep Brewing Co. in Crawfordsville, Indiana, according to Fox 8 Cleveland.

When actor Jim Duff exited the building, wearing a ski mask and holding a gun, police reportedly thought he was the suspect they were looking for.

My guess is that either the film crew didn’t alert the local law enforcers that they would be filming there or they did inform the local law enforcers but that information didn’t communicated down the chain. Having a local law enforcer present could have prevented this since when the other officers arrived at the scene a known individual could have informed them that the “robbery” was being shot for a movie.

There are no absolute rules in the universe. While I normally recommend against voluntarily interacting with law enforcers, there are circumstances where doing so may be the less bad option.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 29th, 2017 at 10:00 am

When Being Arrested is Enough to Land You in Prison

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A man is currently sitting in prison because he was arrested. Mind you, he wasn’t found guilty of anything but being arrested violated a condition of his parole so he’s not rotting in a cage again:

In March 2016, a year after Smith’s arrest, prosecutors dismissed the other charge against Smith — the drug crime — after the man who claimed the package of pot pleaded guilty, court records show.

“Your case is dismissed,” a judge told Smith, according to the transcript. “That’s the end of that, so, for you.”

The problem: Smith’s arrest was a violation of his parole. Such violations can send him back to prison. It doesn’t matter that the charges were dropped. And the ultimate arbiter of whether Smith violated his parole isn’t the judge or prosecutor, but the Tennessee Board of Parole. And that group of seven people, all appointed by the governor, has decided to keep Smith in prison.

Just another day in the freest country on Earth.

The whole point of parole (ideally, not in practice though) is to release individuals who haven’t demonstrated themselves to be dangerous on the condition that they behave themselves. However, including the stipulation that a parolee avoid being arrested takes control away from them because, as we all know, a law enforcer can arrest you for any damned reason they please. As the old saying goes, you might avoid the charge but you won’t avoid the ride.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 22nd, 2017 at 11:00 am