Jens 'n' Frens
Idle thoughts of a relatively libertarian Republican in Cambridge, MA, and whomever he invites. Mostly political.

"A strong conviction that something must be done is the parent of many bad measures."
  -- Daniel Webster

Sunday, February 03, 2013 :::

I didn't comment here on the David Gregory scandal a month back. If you didn't read about it elsewhere, David Gregory hosted NBC's Sunday morning political talk shows at a studio in Washington, D.C., and interviewed Wayne LaPierre of the NRA. In the course of this interview, Gregory pulled out an empty 30-round magazine as a prop. 30-round magazines are illegal in DC. Not only that, but the staff of the TV show (if not Gregory himself) knew this - they actually called the police ahead of time to ask if it was okay and were told that it wasn't. The DC attorney general has declined to prosecute; the only possible argument I see in favor of this decision is that the law Gregory broke is a stupid law. Knowledge that an action is a crime is pretty much never a legal defense, but it seems to me that it ought to be a key consideration in prosecutorial discretion. For example, this veteran who didn't know that 30-round magazines are illegal in New York should obviously be let off with a warning. He, like Gregory, clearly had no intention of using the magazines in the commission of any other crime or for any nefarious purpose, and prosecuting him for merely having them clearly doesn't serve the goal of seeing justice done.

What makes Gregory's case egregious, in my mind, is that he knew he was doing something illegal (I'm not actually sure that he knew, but I'm inclined to infer that he knew because some of the people connected with the show knew). In other words, he or his staff decided that he could break the law with impunity; it is hard for me to imagine a better reason for a prosecutor to send the message that you can't deliberately break the law with impunity. I wouldn't object to letting him off if he hadn't known that possession of the magazine was illegal or if he had known it was technically illegal but that the law was never enforced except in connection with more serious offenses - for example, people know that driving 56 in a 55 zone is technically illegal, but they also know that this is nearly uniformly unenforced, and I'm a little bit uncomfortable with that situation, but I don't think it means an individual police officer should start giving out surprise tickets. But if you know that you are doing exactly the sort of thing that gets people in trouble, you are demonstrating that you don't think the law applies to you, and you should be promptly and forcefully corrected.

Which brings me to this story about a law student who is going to prison for dealing meth. The author of the article notes that he isn't convinced that drugs should be illegal, and I agree - I would, at least, like to see penalties reduced, and at least some drugs (marijuana, for example) should be legal for adult use. But I don't think that means that, under current law, someone smoking a joint in front of a police station shouldn't be arrested, specifically because it demonstrates a deliberate flouting of the law. Leaving them alone would let them know that they can (at least sometimes) ostentatiously flout the law and get away with it, and it would also signal to others that the law is not the law. Relatedly, if distributing wholesale quantities of marijuana were legal, plenty of decent, law-abiding citizens would distribute marijuana, but anyone who is distributing it illegally is probably the sort of person we want off of the streets.

I do think some prosecutorial judgment is appropriate, and I think letting a kid who is smoking a joint in his dorm room off with a warning is likely to be the best option. But if someone deliberately breaks the law on national television, the law should be enforced.

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::: posted by Steven at 1:52 PM


To summarize, the veteran seems to have pled guilty to possession of the magazines, but with a "conditional discharge", which, if I understand it correctly, means that if he stays out of trouble for a year, he isn't punished, but they can change their mind if he screws up. This seems like a good way to handle obviously unintentional violations of laws that a reasonable person wouldn't guess existed.
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Idle thoughts of a relatively libertarian Republican in Cambridge, MA, and whomever he invites. Mostly political.

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