And federal drug laws are unjustifiably extreme. Consider the case of Chris Williams, the subject of this Op-Doc video, who opened a marijuana grow house in Montana after the state legalized medical cannabis. Mr. Williams was eventually arrested by federal agents despite Montana’s medical marijuana law, and he may spend the rest of his life behind bars. While Jerry Sandusky got a 30-year minimum sentence for raping young boys, Mr. Williams is looking at a mandatory minimum of more than 80 years for marijuana charges and for possessing firearms during a drug-trafficking offense.
This outcome is sad, of course — Mr. Williams will not be free to raise his teenage son — but it is also morally repugnant. Even if you think that the benefits of legalized medical marijuana do not outweigh the costs — a crucial debate, but one we can table for the moment — a coherent system of justice must explain why one defendant is punished more harshly than the next. It must explain why a farmer who grows marijuana in compliance with state law should be punished much more harshly than some pedophiles and killers. If we cannot explain this disparity, we should fight to change it.
Leading up to Mr. Williams’s trial, federal prosecutors offered him various plea bargains, but he turned them all down. He believed, quixotically enough, that he deserved his day in court. He held this conviction even though prosecutors precluded him from presenting his compliance with state law as a defense to the federal charges. Without this essential context, the jury heard a deeply distorted version of Mr. Williams’s story.
After Mr. Williams’s conviction, the United States attorney general’s office came back with a new deal. If he waived his right to appeal, they would drop most of the charges so that he would face a minimum of 10 years in prison and pay a $288,000 judgment.
His response? “This is nothing more than slavery and completely disregards my rights as a citizen of the United States of America. I have declined the offer.”
We’ve linked to the blog, PhotographyIsNotACrime.com (PINAC), a few times in the past (it recently moved locations). Its author, Carlos Miller, not only covered a number of cases involving photographers being arrested or harassed for photographing buildings, police or something else, but was a defendant in just such a case himself. Miller was arrested back in January while videotaping police at an “Occupy Miami” event. Not only was he arrested, but his camera was confiscated and the police deleted footage from the camera — including footage of the encounter that led to his arrest. The police claimed that Miller had disobeyed an order by the police to “clear the area.” However, the videotaped footage — which Miller was able to recover despite the deletion — showed a different story. It showed a clearly-aware-of-his-rights Miller making the case that he was doing nothing wrong. Furthermore, other journalists were allowed to stay in the area, and one of those journalists, Miami Herald reporter Glenn Garvin, testified at the trial about how he was allowed to stay. In fact, he went to the officer who arrested Miller and asked her if he needed to move, and she told him he was “under no threat of getting arrested.”
It also turned out that police were specifically on the lookout for Miller:
An e-mail disclosed during the trial showed the police had been monitoring Miller’s Facebook page and had sent out a notice warning officers in charge of evicting the Occupy Miami protestors that Miller was planning to cover the process.
Given all that, it’s not too surprising that the jury wasted little time in finding him not guilty. But the case isn’t over just yet. Miller is vowing to sue, claiming the arrest and (attempted) deletion from his camera violated his constitutional rights. And he’s got some precedent on his side. As we’ve noted, Boston recently had to pay Simon Glik $170,000 after an appeals court ruled, in a similar case, that his arrest for filming police was a violation of the First and Fourth Amendments — though that was based on wiretap laws, so it was slightly different. Either way, Miller’s follow up suit should be worth watching.
For years, we’ve pointed out that some in the music industry get so obsessed with “stopping piracy” that they miss the fact that their main job should be to increase revenue. They make the huge mistake of assuming that the two things are the same — and that “stopping piracy” automatically leads to “increased revenue.” Yet, almost every time that issue is explored empirically (over time), it doesn’t seem to hold up. The latest example was sent in by Techdirt reader edinjapan, and it concerns the new draconian anti-piracy laws that recently went into effect there. If you believed the basic theory behind this law, this would mean that greater enforcement by police would mean less piracy… and a massive influx in revenue.
Except, the reality is that consumers are spending less on music than they were before the bill became law. The article actually posits that the government has made some people so fearful of being arrested that they won’t do any downloading from legitimate sources any more — just in case it’s tainted. So even if they can cut out piracy (doubtful) there’s little evidence to suggest much increase in commerce as a result.
Spain’s top parties will tackle eviction law reform on Monday after a homeowner’s suicide provoked public fury and accusations that politicians and banks are complicit in de facto “murder”.
Close to 400,000 Spaniards have lost their homes since a property bubble burst in 2008 and the nation subsequently sank into recession, throwing millions out of work and unable to keep up mortgage payments to the banks.
However, the suicide of 53-year-old Amaia Egana has inflamed a public already angered by what they see as a lack of compassion among Spanish banks, many of which have benefited from taxpayer-funded bailouts organised by the political elite.
Compassion doesn’t appear on the balance sheet, but no business can function without at least passive approval of the population.