Tag Archives: laws

Jury Duty

It’s been awhile since I last had a summons for jury duty. I’ve only been called twice in my entire lifetime, once in Florida, and once in Colorado.

Both times, I was selected for the jury, and both times I was elected as jury foreman.

I really enjoyed the experience both times, and I completely fail to understand why so many in our society go to such great lengths to escape this duty and honor.

I was reminded of this again this week by a story in the Denver Post about a lady who dressed strangely, over applied her makeup and then lied about post-traumatic-stress-disorder. All to escape a few days of playing a key part in how our judicial system works.

In the United States, jury duty is usually compulsory. Employers are not allowed to fire you, and in some cases, you are compensated for your time. Not much, but it’s usually enough to buy lunch.

In the early 90’s, while living in Dade County, Florida, I was summoned to a federal jury, and ended up serving on a first degree murder trial. The case involved a young black man who had gunned down another young black man using a Tek-9 sub-machine gun.

That such a gun is even available to your average american citizen is enough to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. I’m all for the rights of the people to bear arms, but do we really need our own personal machine gun? I think not.

It was a most interesting case, and if you have ever been a reader of mystery novels, the evidence as laid out by the district attorney was every bit as enthralling and engaging as any novel I ever read. The entire case was built on circumstantial evidence, and was riveting.

The defense, as I recall, put on not much of a defense at all. It didn’t help that the defendant looked menacing, acted menacing, and appeared to be bored with the entire process.

Behind the scenes, juries are a group of strangers, often reluctant to talk to each other, and it was very apparent that unless someone stepped up and took the lead, we were never going to proceed with the case. No one wanted to be in charge, so I spoke up, and before I knew it, the other 11 people present had elected me foreman.

Being a jury foreman is really nothing special. It just means that you get to fill out the forms and present the verdict to the baliff. As far as what goes on in the jury room, it’s like herding a bunch of cats, or looking after a bunch of toddlers in a large room where a basket full of butterflies has just been released.

My second tour of duty as a jurist was not too long after I arrived in Colorado. I got summoned to a local county court, and ended up being selected for a jury to try a man trying to get out of a DUI charge.

I don’t know why people think they can escape a DUI these days. You get tested on a machine that has been calibrated sixty ways from Sunday, by people who get recertified every 90 days or so on how to use said machine. If you are driving drunk and get stopped by a cop and charged, you might as well just accept your penalty and move on. The cases are always iron clad, and most of the rest of us who have to serve on the juries that you ask for have little tolerance for drunk drivers. We’ve seen too many news reports about what happens when the worst of you aren’t lucky enough to get stopped before you kill a family.

Anyway, one of the few ways we can actually participate in our government without having to run for election is to serve on a Jury.  I actually look forward to my retirement, where I plan on locating the nearest courthouse, and plan on spending at least one or two days a month just sitting in the back of a courtroom listening. It’s got to be at least as good as television.

Next time you get that summons in the mail, instead of thinking of it as a major pain in your life, look on it as an opportunity to see a free theatrical show, where you get to play one of the parts.

 

 

Nosey Do-Gooders and the damage they cause

On my way back and forth to work, even though I have satellite radio and lots of options, I usually have the radio set to the local public radio station so that I can catch the news from National Public Radio.

The other day, I heard a disturbing story, where the State of New Hampshire had decided not to appoint a public defender for people accused of abuse or neglect of children.

Before we all roll our eyes and close our minds with a cry of “but those animals deserve what they get!”, the news article discussed a man who was in danger of having his four-year old daughter taken from him by the State, and put up for adoption, because he was unable to provide an acceptable place for her to live.

She wasn’t beaten. She wasn’t starved. She wasn’t uncared for or abused. They were simply poor, and had no steady place to live.

The States District Attorney said that prosecuting these parents who had no legal advice was like “shooting fish in a barrel”.

When are we going to wake up and look around and see what we are doing to ourselves? This family is doing their best, and under the rules of our country we should either help them, or at least stay out of their way and not make their situation worse by meddling.

Under the rules of the State of New Hampshire, and many other states as well, were we to have another great depression, the State would be obligated to step in and take millions of children from their parents.

Did you ever watch the movie Grapes of Wrath or read the book by John Steinbeck? Under todays rules, some self-righteous do- gooder would feel the need to step in and take the Joad children away and put them up for adoption, and as punishment for being poor and down on their luck, the parents would be denied the legal representation that a murderer or rapist would get without question.

Shortly after World War II ended, my mothers parents used war bonds to purchase some land in South Florida, where they proceeded to build a house. It wasn’t much of a house, but while they were building it, the family lived in an old army tent that my granddad put up on the bank of the Hillsborough canal. Would that have been considered as inadequate housing and grounds to have the children taken away by the state?

 We’ve all had versions of Gladys Kravitz in our lives. The stereotypical nosey neighbor who just can’t mind her own business. These people range from a harmless nuisance, to downright dangerous to our way of life if they manage to get organized and can berate lawmakers into actually legislating on their behalf.

Our country has become so obsessed with child abuse and sex crimes that we have crossed over into silly.

Most states now have some sort of registry whereby offenders must register and report their address, long after they have actually served any jail sentences or probation. In some jurisdictions, these people are not even allowed to live in decent places because of schools that are located within a half mile or more. We treat murderers better than this, and it just makes no sense.

What has happened to us? Where are the proud people who forged into unknown lands, fought off Indians and nature and built homes and subsisted in places where there was no government? Where we worked with our neighbors and treated each other decently? Where we didn’t look to the government for a handout.

I’m afraid for my grandchildren. The world is becoming a not very nice place to live, with sharp dividing lines between the haves and have-nots, and where our United States of America is gradually becoming not so very different from China or Burma or even North Korea.

At stake now is our right to a fair trial. Our laws are so complicated that no ordinary person can hope to navigate their way through any legal process. Having our children taken away because we are poor and can’t afford a lawyer or a place to live is the next step on our road to the world described in George Orwell’s Animal Farm.

Woe is Us! Part 2

On Monday, April 2nd, the Supreme Court of the United States issued an opinion in a 5-4 vote that allows people arrested for minor offenses to be strip-searched before being admitted to jail, even if officials have no other reason to suspect them of carrying contraband or weapons.

I am almost positive that when the founders of our country wrote the Fourth Amendment to our Constitution and included “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause …” they would have thought that being strip-searched, without a warrant or probably cause was “unreasonable”.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, said that the courts are in no position to second-guess the judgement of correctional officials.

I believe that the five members of the Supreme Court who voted to allow this practice have abdicated one of their primary duties, which is to protect the spirit of the Constitution.

The founders of our nation had experienced tyranny in government, unfair taxes, near dictatorship under local officials appointed by the distant crown, and knew when they wrote our constitution that power corrupts, and absolute power should be given to no government.

Our three branches of government are supposed to check and balance each other. When one of them fails to perform this basic constitutional task, then our system begins to crumble.

The Supreme Court is the last stop on our train. If they don’t stand up and defend the constitution, then the rest of us are in for a rough ride.

The United States is quickly sliding from the worlds largest economy to less than the best. China holds about 8 percent of our national debt. Our educational system is now rated as average.  Among industrialized nations, we are behind South Korea, Finland, Estonia and even Poland in educational rankings.

The best thing we have going for us is our government, but in the past few years it seems to be headed into a meltdown with Congress unable or unwilling to do its job, a slate of Republican candidates that are constant fodder for the nightly talk show stand-up comedy routines, and now a Supreme Court that has lost sight of its responsibility.

Woe is Us. Redux.

Woe is us!

I’ve posted on this before in a previous blog, but since that post went up in smoke when my previous service provider decided to change software without notifying me, I’ll have to write it again.

I know our educational system is putting out a lot of students who can’t point to the states on either side of them and name them accurately, or spell the street they live on, or explain how the founders of our country were brilliant and set us up with a constitution that provides for checks and balances with three branches of government, but I’m hoping enough of them are annoyed with our state of affairs that they learn. Knowledge is power, and a citizenry armed with knowledge is as dangerous as any other.

As my Dad used to say, a man who speaks from both sides of his mouth isn’t to be trusted. President Barack Obama did that the other day when he made a statement that warned the “unelected” Supreme Court against striking down his health care law.

Now rather you are for or against some or all of his health care law, you should be incensed that a President of the United States, a former constitutional law professor, and a man who has the power to appoint a person to the bench of the Supreme Court would come out with such a bald-faced statement, that has so much wrong with it on its face that it is hard to find a point to begin.

One of the primary functions of the Supreme Court is to provide a check and balance against laws enacted by the Congress that are unconstitutional. It doesn’t matter how much good someone thinks the law might do, or how many people might benefit from such a law, if it violates the constitution, then the Supreme Court must strike it down.

If Congress wants to make new laws that are not possible with the current constitution, there is a mechanism in place to modify it. If 38 states ratify an amendment to the constitution to change or add a provision, and Congress then makes a law that fits within that change, the Supreme Court will leave it alone.

Like many other people in the United States, there are some portions of the health care law that I like, but there are other portions that I think violate our basic rights as American citizens. My Government should not be able to force me to purchase a product I do not wish to purchase, or cannot afford to purchase. If I am struggling to feed and clothe and house my family now, what will the added burden of mandated health insurance do to me?

It is utterly irresponsible for the President of the United States to infer that “unelected” judges have no rights to make decisions on important cases. Unelected judges are the best kind because they have no reason to alter their decisions in order to win an election, or raise campaign money.

If the President of the United States can’t understand how the three branches of government are supposed to work together to protect the people of the United States from an onerous, tyrannical government, then Woe Is Us.

Chicken Little, or lessons we didn’t learn from history

Jorge Agustin Nicolas Ruiz de Santyana y Borras was a Spanish philosopher, although he was raised as an American, and considered by many to be American, but is perhaps most well known by non-academics for his saying “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

As I recall what I was taught in school, The United States of America was created, in large part, by a group of very independent-minded people who were desirous of escaping what they considered a heavy-handed government.

 Some of the biggest reasons that started the 8-year long Revolutionary war that eventually ended up with the USA were onerous regulations being passed by the government that restricted the liberties of the people in the colonies.

The famous “Taxation without Representation” was only a part of the problem, although a large one. While in theory, we are represented today, I’m wondering how well that representation really works. Yesterday I received my annual bonus check, from which 27% was removed off the top to pay Federal and State income taxes. I wonder what taxes my representatives in local and federal government are paying?

Anyway, I read a very interesting article yesterday by Soraya Chemaly entitled 10 Reasons the Rest of the World Thinks the U.S. Is Nuts. Ms. Chemaly makes a very good case on why the rest of the world thinks Americans are crazy, but left unsaid is why American citizens are asleep at the wheel and letting our government attempt to put into place the restrictions discussed by her.

At the same time Ms. Chemaly appears with her article on our government restricting our freedoms and rights, appears reports in the news media that Employers are demanding that job applicants give up their passwords to various social media. I suppose that employers want to peek at these accounts to discover any potentially embarrassing behavior from people before they are hired. 

Now I’m no right-wing nut from the northern panhandle of Idaho who thinks anarchy is the best policy, nor am I a leftwing hippie who thinks that our government should take care of us all from cradle to grave. I’m somewhere in the middle on most things, and I truly believe that most Americans are like me in that respect.

But my hackles are raised when I see an ever increasing restriction of our rights to privacy, a narrowing of our civil liberties, the increasing size of government and the associated rise in the amount of taxes required of the common citizenry,  coupled with the apparent apathy of the people.

Most of us are so busy dealing with the everday hassles of modern life that we haven’t noticed the slow creep of government intrusion into our everyday lives.

The American government is every bit as corrupt as that of any third world country on the planet. It’s just a bit better at concealing it behind “special interest groups” and “lobbyists” and hiding things behind the vast freedoms granted to us in our bill of rights.

Because most of us ignore politics except during election years when it is shoved down our throats, we don’t really pay a lot of attention to what the people we elect are doing.

How is it that 47% of congress are millionaires? Look up and down your block. Are 47% of your neighbors millionaires? If it is so common to be wealthy in Congress, and Congress is supposed to be represtative of “we the people”, then why are only rich people in Congress? I wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that the longer one can stay a member of Congress, the wealthier and more powerful they are likely to become? Sounds like a great job if you can get it.

We Americans have become lazy, fat and complacent. We are letting our lawmakers take advantage of their positions and become wealthy on our collective dime, while enacting laws and regulations that continue to decrease our freedoms.

I believe in Social Security, Medicare and compassionate aid for those who are unable to provide for themselves. That falls under common decency, and we wouldn’t be human if we couldn’t provide for the less fortunate among us.

However, I also believe that the taxpayers don’t need to cough up the entire bill. Too many lazy people are on the public dole. The classic “welfare mother” who keeps having children is a cliche, but it’s also true. Our public welfare system is so riddled with loopholes and lack of oversight that we might as well be shoveling our taxpayer dollars into a furnace.

We can do better, and we should. We are Americans, and we have a long proud legacy of not only doing it right, but doing it because it’s right.

One single person like me can’t do anything, but I can talk to my friends, and neighbors, and you the reader, and as it has always been in the past, a group of like-minded people get together as one force and change happens. In America, it’s not so hard – we can effect so much change simply by paying attention to who we elect to office and then holding them accountable instead of forgetting about them after they win the race.

As Sr. Santyana tried to remind us, all we need do is look to the past and remember our mistakes, so that we don’t repeat them over and over.

 

A Nation of Control Freaks

Read an outstanding article today on Yolo  about America becoming a nation of Control Freaks. Control Freak Its a scary piece that should be something from an Orwell novel, but instead has sadly become reality.

We have become a nation of “not in my backyards” where we legislate against everything to the point of absolute silliness.

Its our own damn fault too. We either don’t vote, or we let the fringes of our society do all the voting and we end up with the mess we have now – legislatures full of people who have no idea of what centrist thinking is, or how to compromise. When we have everyone stamping their foot and exclaiming loud “NO!s” to anything, then it is no wonder that we are beginning to become mired in our own exclusionary, me first mess.

We have raised several generations of kids who think that their mere presence on the planet entitles them to anything and everything they want, to the exclusion of all others. Me First!

Read the article linked above, or watch the John Stossel video. These inane laws going on our books by the hundreds of thousands are merely a symptom of our infatuation with “me first”.

We’ve taken huge steps to legislate intolerance on a personal basis, but we have moved our intolerance of others to a whole new level by legislation. Don’t like pink houses – there are communities where you can’t paint your house pink. Don’t like young people on the streets having a good time at night – lets create harsh curfew laws. We are so afraid of human behaviour in most forms now that a 15 year old teenage boy who pulls a prank and pees on his buddies tires can be hauled in by the ears and made to register as a sex offender.

We did this to ourselves, and I’m afraid that it is way to late to undo it. People tend to be amazingly like a herd of cows or buffalos. Get a whole bunch of them together in one place, and most of them have no clue what is going on in front of them, they just follow. Good or bad, right off the cliff – because it’s what everybody else is doing.

On a large social scale, why does it matter if two guys or two girls get married. How does that hurt anyone? Why does it hurt me if someone defaces a milk carton if I’m a resident of Massachusetts? Why can’t cars be sold in Denver on Sunday’s? Why do we have to legislate whether or not a certain type of alcohol can or can’t be sold on certain days or in certain places.

Laws should be simple, easy to remember and as few of them as possible. We all need to grab a phone or pencil and contact our nearest legislator and insist they start behaving responsibly. Won’t ever happen, but it’s a nice thought.