One of the ways rights are being threatened by government today is
the creeping practice of what may be called displacements
In psychology displacement
behavior is the
substitution of behavior that is easier, safer, but unconducive to
one's own best interests, for behavior that is more difficult, more
risky, more conducive, but perhaps unacceptable in a larger context.
The classic example is venting one's rage by uselessly smashing an
inanimate object instead of doing something rational and effective
about the real source of the frustration. It is usually to reduce
emotional tension, without regard for solving underlying problems.
In law one of the forms displacement takes is making crimes out of
what would previously been considered only evidence
crime, often weak and circumstantial. This is usually done because
the basic crime, the malum in se
, is difficult to prove. So
possession or production of evidence thought to be associated with
the underlying crime is prosecuted, as an act of discretion in which
the courts defer to the judgment of the prosecution that the suspect
is a bad guy, having that reputation with the prosecutor, even
though the prosecutor is unable or unwilling to actually prove he
committed that underlying crime, or even that such a crime was
actually committed by anyone. Presumption upon presumption, until
the burden of proof falls on the accused to prove his innocence
instead of on the prosecutor to prove his guilt.
Transactions and communications with government agents
Four such statutes have become especially prominent: enabling civil asset forfeiture
, against money laundering
and against making false statements
A recent suspect involving two of these is former U.S. House Speaker
Dennis Hastert, charged with money structuring and making false
statements to FBI agents, about payments to a blackmailer in amounts
of less than $10,000 each to avoid, to conceal his alleged acts of
child molestation when he was a schoolteacher many decades ago. He
was not charged with child molestation, prosecution of which is
barred by a statute of limitations, and the payment of blackmail is
not a crime, so the payments are not evidence of a crime, because
there is no crime. Only the several payments made in amounts of less
than $10,000 are considered to be the crime.
The legal theory for making a crime out of any false statement to a
"government investigator" is that it is "obstruction of justice,"
like physically impeding officers while they are working. However,
the statute is worded so vaguely that it can be used as a tool to
prosecute anyone who says anything to a government agent, as long as
two agents sign a form report that the statement was false, without
providing any evidence like a recording of the conversation. Indeed
that form can be signed without there having been any conversation
at all. And it doesn't have to be a federal investigator working for
what is usually perceived as an investigative agency. It could be a
census taker. It could be a state or local agent, or even an agent
of a foreign government outside the U.S. The hapless defendant, who
may have just been trying to help, is treated as though he were
under oath when he is not under oath.
A predictable response whenever there is an especially heinous
shooting incident is to call for "stronger gun control laws". Yet
almost none of the statutes proposed would do anything to prevent
incidents like the one that occurred. Almost all seem to be
predicated on the demonstrably false model that gun laws reduce the
numbers of firearms generally available, and that that would reduce
the firearms available to criminals. Yet it is more likely to result
in more shootings by criminals who will have no trouble getting
firearms and use them in a target-rich environment of unarmed
victims. That kind of simplistic linear thinking is common to most
kinds of displacement proposals.
The rational solution would be to so organize society that it can
identify dangerous individuals and intervene before they can do
harm, but most ways government might try to do that would be a
danger to civil liberties and standards like due process of law. So
some people seize on doing something easy so they can say they are
doing something, even when what they are doing is useless or even
- Asset Forfeiture Abuse, ACLU — Review of laws and practices.
- FreedomWorks’ State Civil Asset Forfeiture
Scorecard Shows Dire Need for Fundamental Reform
- Money Laundering Laws Invite Abuses,
Gerald B. Lefcourt, National Association of Criminal Defense
lawyers, June, 1998.
- Law Lets I.R.S. Seize Accounts on Suspicion,
No Crime Required, Shaila Dewan, New York Times, Oct. 25, 2014.
- The IRS is abusing a law that allows it to
seize people's cash, Christian Sterbenz, Feb. 5, 2015, Business Insider.
to Government Investigator, Go to Jail
Social Security Number, Go To Jail
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