Monday, July 19, 2010

You've Got to be Shitting Me

American Scofflaw
We are so lucky to be living in an era of law when it's no longer common for, say, suspects to be interrogated with live cobras tied to the ends of nightsticks. Unfortunately, there are still many colorful ways the police can royally screw you while Lady Justice shrugs.

For instance, you might be surprised to learn that right now in the U.S., it's actually legal for the cops to...

Steal Your Stuff

Imagine you had your car stolen, but then fortune smiles upon you and the cops find it after the thief used it to smuggle 200 pounds of cocaine across the border, running over 30 children in the process while sexually assaulting the car itself.

You realize you're going to need to get all of its fluids replaced from a mechanic with a soft voice and gentle hands, but you still want it back, because hey, it's your car, right?

Yeeeah, there's some bad news: It has been sold to buy a new espresso machine for the station's break room.

It's called civil asset forfeiture. You probably already have heard of something like this, where the police get to seize the car and house of some drug kingpin and stick the money in the department's budget (that's criminal forfeiture).

But then there's this loophole where the police can seize anything they suspect has been used in a crime, even if it doesn't belong to the criminal, and even if there hasn't been a conviction.

Then if you, as the actual owner of the goods, try to challenge it, the burden of proof is on you to prove you didn't know it was going to be used in a crime. That's civil forfeiture.

For the police, there is no legal requirement to prove "beyond reasonable doubt" that, say, your TV set was once used by a ring of Dutch pedophiles to view kiddie porn. They can simply take it, without ever giving it back, even if they never formally charge anyone for a crime.

You're Shitting Me!

In 2004, Zaher El-Ali, a Jordanian immigrant and U.S. citizen, sold a truck to a man who agreed to pay for it in installments. Before he could finish the payments though, the man was arrested for drunk driving and the truck was seized. Seeing as the car still legally belonged to Zaher (he still had the title), he demanded it back. The police refused, and possibly laughed.

Because civil forfeitures are so simple, over 40 percent of police executives admitted their budgets depend on cash from them. That means each year, those stations have a quota of forfeitures to fill and technically there is really no stopping them from filling it with YOUR Xbox.

Guess Your Car's Speed and Ticket You For It

Does this scenario sound familiar to you?

Cop: Sir, do you know how fast you were going?
You: Oh, couldn't have been more than 40, 42.
Cop: Sir, it was over 100. I have it on my radar.
You: I see.
Cop: Sir, where are your pants?
You: That's actually a very funny story, officer..."All the drug money in the pockets was weighing me down."

Luckily, those days are in the past. Not the part about "spending the night in jail for driving bottomless around school zones," the radar thing. Police don't need them anymore because now they can just guess your speed and ticket you based on that.

That's as of June 2010, when the Ohio Supreme Court decided in a 5-1 ruling that a trained officer doesn't need any of those newfangled gizmos to determine if a car was speeding. In accordance with the ruling, the visual estimate of an experienced police officer is enough to convict anyone of speeding, without the need for pesky wastes of time like independent verification and evidence.

Some might argue that this grants too much power to the police, but really, what's the worst thing that could happen?

You're Shitting Me!

Mark Jenney of Akron definitely wasn't the first person to ever get ticketed without a radar reading. But unlike other motorists, he refused to take it lying down and fought back, all the way to the state's Supreme Court.

Sure, in the end he lost and had to pay his ticket, involuntarily helping to legalize radar-less ticketing and probably losing a shit-heap of money in attorney fees but... wait, we forgot where we were going with this.

Was it, "Next time, just pay the damn ticket?"

Arrest You For Drinking in a Bar

Picture yourself on a typical Wednesday morning, hunched over a shot of whiskey ready to commit mass murder on your brain cells, the smug little bastards. After taking one sip, a bunch of cops burst in and tackle you to the ground. In your state of shock and confusion you apologize for drinking and beg them not to tell your parents. It takes several minutes before you realize that you are 26, live alone and that you were just arrested for tasting alcohol in a bar.

Yeah, they got me for assault.

That's the scenario in states with very broad Public Intoxication laws, like Texas. In 2006, Texas scored the highest number of drunk-driving fatalities in the country and, after determining that this was the rare problem that could not be blamed on immigrants or homosexuals, state officials decided to do something about it.

Namely, they dusted off an old 1993 law and gang-interpreted it atop a pinball machine until it somehow became legal to arrest people for so much as being near a bottle of booze, anywhere. Including in a bar.

We're not exaggerating for the sake of comedy here. Not only have they decided a bar is part of the "public" that "public intoxication" forbids, but they don't even require a breathalyzer test to determine if a suspect really is drunk. They can make arrests based on nothing more than their hunches.

You're Shitting Me!

In June 2009, Fort Worth officers used the new public intoxications regulations to arrest a bunch of folks at local bars that, by the way, happened to be the area gay and Hispanic bars. Naturally, according to witness testimonies, none of the arrestees were actually drunk, though they were dangerously brownish/homosexual.

So that's what happened to Ricky Martin.

Damn, you mean the police are abusing a law that basically allows them to arrest anyone they please as long as there is some alcohol in their vicinity? In the South?

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