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Posts Tagged ‘Justice’

Normally this blog focuses on big issues such as the economic damage of government spending and the self-defeating foolishness of high tax rates.

Today, though, it’s time for another edition of “You Be the Judge.”

In this game, we look at stories and issues that require us to balance common sense, the principles of a free society, and justice.

Previous editions of this game include: Putting politicians on trial, vigilante justice, brutal tax collection tactics, child molestation, pay levels at government-owned firms, sharia law, healthcare, incest, speed traps, jury nullification, and vigilante justice (again).

Our latest example comes from Alaska, where someone with very questionable judgement was busted for floating down a river while consuming vast quantities of alcohol. Here’s some of the story from the Fairbanks Daily News.

A Juneau man faces a rare DUI charge for allegedly having a 0.313 breath-alcohol content as he floated through Fairbanks on an inflatable raft Sunday night. Alaska’s driving under the influence law applies to people operating motor vehicles, water craft and airplanes. …when Alaska State Troopers received a report of a “heavily intoxicated” man floating down the Chena River near the Parks Highway bridge at 6:40 p.m. Sunday, a wildlife trooper boat responded and arrested 32-year-old William Modene. …At 0.313, Modene’s breath-alcohol content was almost four times the legal limit for operating a vehicle, 0.08. …Under Alaska’s DUI law, operating a water craft means to “navigate a vessel used or capable of being used as a means of transportation on water for recreational or commercial purposes on all waters, fresh or salt, inland or coastal, inside the territorial limits or under the jurisdiction of the state.”

So here’s the issue we have to decide: Mr. Modene doesn’t sound like a model citizen, and he may be swimming in the shallow end of the gene pool, but the question on the table is whether the government should have arrested him for DUI?

From a legal perspective, is it accurate to say that he was “operating” a water craft or “navigating” a vessel?

I’m not an expert on such matters, but it seems to me that he was doing nothing more than floating down a river. There’s nothing in the story, for instance, to indicate he had a motor on his raft.

From what we know, Mr. Modene posed zero danger to other people. He was merely a drunk, minding his own business as he floated along.

My gut instinct is that this case should be tossed. The government would be in a much stronger position if it had charged him with “being drunk in public” or something like that. But even in that case, floating down a river may not meet the test of being “in public.”

There’s a separate issue, of course, about whether the government can and should intervene if someone is engaging in self-destructive behavior. If there’s a report that someone has just taken a bottle of sleeping pills, most of us presumably would agree that it would be okay for the government to break down his door and tote him to a hospital to have his stomach pumped.

But the self-destructive behavior has to pose an immediate danger. We’d hopefully all reject, for instance, the notion of some Bloomberg-esque ban on unhealthy food because people sometimes shorten their lives by overeating.

Since I probably average one beer a month, I’m not competent to make sweeping statements about alcohol, but it’s my understanding that a blood alcohol level of .4 is when people begin to die. Since Mr. Modene was already above .3, perhaps there’s some argument for police intervention.

But set that aside. Pretend you’re on the jury and you have to vote on whether Modene is guilty of DUI. What’s your verdict? And if you also want to weigh in on whether the government had a right to interfere with his raft trip, don’t be bashful.

For me, that second question is more challenging. That’s why I like sticking with simple questions of right vs. wrong, such as whether I side with Switzerland or France on the issue of whether fiscal sovereignty and financial privacy should be undermined to help high-tax nations impose their bad tax laws on an extraterritorial basis.

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I would not be a very good juror, particularly if a judge expected me to suspend my moral judgments and narrowly follow the law. And I say this even though I realize that a good legal system should be based on that principle.

I’ve cited some tough cases in previous posts, dealing with thorny topics such as brutal tax collection stories, Sharia law, healthcareincest, and vigilante justice.

Our latest you-be-the-judge story comes from Massachusetts, where a 57-year old man in a wheelchair is in legal trouble for slugging a 27-year old guy with a baseball bat because of allegations that he molested a little girl. Here are excerpts from a story in the Daily Mail.

A wheelchair-bound paraplegic grandfather could face up to 10 years in jail after using a baseball bat to hit a man he suspected of molesting his three-year-old granddaughter. Frank Hebert, 57, has been hit with a felony assault charge over the incident involving 27-year-old Joshua Hardy. …Computer salesman Mr Hebert said: ‘I’m not a hero, that’s for sure. I’d do it again tomorrow, knowing the consequence. …Mr Hebert, who was left confined to a wheelchair with only partial use of his arms after a car crash in Falmouth a decade ago, was summonsed to Edgartown District Court on March 25 and charged with assault and battery with a dangerous weapon. …Mr Hebert claims it was over Christmas that the child began asking her grandparents to protect her. He said that on February 22 his partner took her daughter and granddaughter, who were visiting, back to the mainland to talk to police, while he lured Hardy to his Mac PC Sales and Service shop in Vineyard Haven. According to the Boston Herald, Mr Hebert said ‘fear’ prompted him to bring a baseball bat and to call state police to back him up. Mr Hebert said he pointed the bat at Hardy and ordered him to stay seated until police arrived. He said he used the bat after Hardy stood up and laughed at him.

If the government insists on bringing this case to trial, how would you vote?

I almost certainly would practice jury nullification and vote “not guilty.” To be sure, I say this with some hesitation because we don’t know for sure if the guy who got slugged, Mr. Hardy, actually did molest the child. And we also don’t know whether he was seriously injured or just bruised. It might also affect my decision if I found out that Mr. Herbert hit Hardy one time or twenty times.

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With his usual bluntness, Professor Walter Williams of George Mason University explains why profiling is not always a sign of racism or sexism. And it certainly doesn’t necessarily indicate animus. His column explains that rational profiling can lead to injustice for law-abiding young black men, but he hits the nail on the head by stating that any resulting anger should be directed at young black male criminals who make other people (of all colors) more likely to profile. The same could be said about young Muslim men who object to extra attention at airports. For the 99 percent-plus that just want to peaceably travel, it must be very irritating to deal with suspicion. But they should be angry at the radical Islamists who have created legitimate apprehension. I don’t know if there are any policy lessons, but Walter’s column (as always) is worth reading.

Prostate cancer is nearly twice as common among black men as white men. It would…be a best practice for a physician to be attentive to — even risk false positive PSAs — prostate cancer among his black patients. What about physicians who order routine mammograms for their 40-year and older female patients but not their male patients? …Because of a correlation between race, sex and disease, the physician is using a cheap-to-observe characteristic, such as race or sex, as an estimate for a more costly-to-observe characteristic, the presence of a disease. The physician is practicing both race and sex profiling. Does that make the physician a racist or sexist? Should he be brought up on charges of racial discrimination because he’s guessing that his black patients are more likely to suffer from prostate cancer? Should sex discrimination or malpractice suits be brought against physicians who prescribe routine mammograms for their female patients but not their male patients? …Is an individual’s race or sex useful for guessing about other unseen characteristics? Suppose gambling becomes legal for an Olympic event such as the 100-meter sprint. I wouldn’t place a bet on an Asian or white runner. Why? Blacks who trace their ancestry to West Africa, including black Americans, hold more than 95 percent of the top times in sprinting. That’s not to say an Asian or white can never win but I know the correlations and I’m playing the odds. If women were permitted to be in the sprint event with men, I’d still put my money on a black male. Does that make me a sexist as well as a racist? …Ten years ago, a black D.C. commissioner warned cabbies, most of whom are black, against picking up dangerous-looking passengers. She described dangerous-looking as a “young black guy … with shirttail hanging down longer than his coat, baggy pants, unlaced tennis shoes.” She also warned cabbies to stay away from low-income black neighborhoods. Cabbies themselves have developed other profiling criteria. There is no sense of justice or decency that a law-abiding black person should suffer the indignity being passed up. At the same time, a taxicab driver has a right to earn a living without being robbed, assaulted and possibly murdered. One of the methods to avoid victimization is to refuse to pick up certain passengers in certain neighborhoods or passengers thought to be destined for certain neighborhoods. Again, a black person is justifiably angered when refused service but that anger should be directed toward the criminals who prey on cabbies. Not every choice based on race represents racism and if you think so, you risk misidentifying and confusing human behavior. The Rev. Jesse Jackson once said, “There is nothing more painful for me at this stage in my life than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about robbery — then look around and see somebody white and feel relieved.”

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