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Asset Forfeiture

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John Yoder and Brad Cates, former directors of USDoJ's Asset Forfeiture Office, have this op-ed in the WaPo:

Last week, The Post published a series of in-depth articles about the abuses spawned by the law enforcement practice known as civil asset forfeiture. As two people who were heavily involved in the creation of the asset forfeiture initiative at the Justice Department in the 1980s, we find it particularly painful to watch as the heavy hand of government goes amok. The program began with good intentions but now, having failed in both purpose and execution, it should be abolished.

Asset forfeiture was conceived as a way to cut into the profit motive that fueled rampant drug trafficking by cartels and other criminal enterprises, in order to fight the social evils of drug dealing and abuse. Over time, however, the tactic has turned into an evil itself, with the corruption it engendered among government and law enforcement coming to clearly outweigh any benefits.


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Eugene Robinson is a columnist for the WaPo whom I don't often agree with.  This column is about Hillary Clinton and her fuzzy message, and it is mostly off-topic for the blog.  I was struck by one paragraph, though.

In the book, Clinton rejects the idea of choosing between the "hard power" of military might and the "soft power" of diplomacy, sanctions and foreign aid. Instead, she advocates "smart power," which seems to mean "all of the above." When I hear officials talking about "smart" this or "smart" that, I hear a buzzword that is often meant to obscure policy choices rather than illuminate them.
Second the motion.  And it's not just officials.

Cold Case Autopsy

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Breaking news from the Wars of the Roses, 1485 ... Nick Kirkpatrick has a story in the WaPo headlined, King Richard III was probably hacked and stabbed to death in battle, according to a new study.  Prior posts:

Digging Up Richard III

My Kingdom for a DNA Identification

The Defence of Fort McHenry

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D.C. lawyer Francis Scott Key's name appears in many of the reports of early decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court.  He is not best known for his legal briefs, though.  Two hundred years ago today, he witnessed his countrymen's valiant defense of Fort McHenry, near Baltimore, from a British naval bombardment.  Morale had sunk after the burning of Washington and the White House, and the successful defense was a badly needed inspiration.  Key wrote a poem called The Defence of Fort McHenry.  Later set to music, it is now known as The Star Spangled Banner.

O! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war's desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav'n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: 'In God is our trust.'
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

Why You Take the Press with a Grain of Salt

I've often noted that journalism, and in particular the reporting (and non-reporting) of crime, is not to be taken at face value.  The most deceptive part is not the slanting of stories, although that's a major problem. The most deceptive part is what gets covered and what gets deep-sixed.

Last weekend, the Palin family was apparently involved in a booze-filled free-for-all at a family party in Anchorage.  This was covered by the New York TimesCNN, USA Today, the Washington Post, ABCMSNBC, and a whole bunch more.

Fair enough.  Sarah Palin was a candidate for Vice President six years ago and remains, kind of, a voice within the Republican Party.  So I get the coverage.

What I don't get is the press's simultaneous and virtually uniform blackout of a grisly murder rampage by an avowed Jihadist.  As the conservative blog Powerline reports:

If a Jihadist were going around the United States committing random murders, you might think it would be a significant news story. But apparently not: until this morning, I had never heard of Ali Muhammad Brown, a "devout Muslim" who murdered at least four random American men as an act of Islamic jihad.

It seems that the only major paper to have picked up this story, though it broke last month, was the New York Post.

Moral of story:  As I tell my students, listen critically to what you're hearing  -- and even more critically to what you're not hearing.

"Mr. Death Penalty"

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The National Journal has an article titled, "Mr. Death Penalty," which describes the work of CJLF's own Kent Scheidegger.  Kent will be too modest to post about it himself, so I thought I would let you know.

The article is not a puff piece  --  there's nothing like the giddy, gushing tone you'd see if it were about "Mr. Abolitionist."  But it's reasonably fair-minded as these things go, and does not portray Kent as Satan.  Unfortunately, it doesn't go nearly far enough in describing the extent of either his fair-mindedness or his astonishing analytical abilities, which are as good as any I've seen in the legal profession.

Congratulations to Kent and CJLF for getting some overdue recognition as the country's leading advocate for what is, in some cases, the only punishment that even resembles justice.

[Ed. note:  I have updated this to give the National Journal link].

Seeing It Up Close Has an Effect

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I noted yesterday that one reason there is such a hue-and-cry about the slap-on-the-wrist deal Ray Rice got from the prosecutor  --  after knocking his girlfriend cold  -- was that the assault had been taped, and has now been seen on TV by tens of millions of people. Nothing works like the evidence of your own eyes.  

In the past, with no tape to view, we would have been left with the defense lawyer's breezy, courthouse-steps interview to the effect that, "My client had a moment of misjudgment.  He has taken responsibility, and he and his wife would now like their privacy to move on with a life full of hope."

(I regret to find that I can now write this BS in my sleep).

When a crime can be seen, with all its violence and bullying on unfiltered display, things change.  And now there is evidence, although mostly sketchy and suggestive at this point, that, indeed, they are changing.  This is the news:

As matters of public concern, crime and security are back.

The Most Transparent DOJ in History

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Ummm....well.....errrr....maybe not.

Would someone remind me how long Eric Holder has been Attorney General?  I mean, I know he wouldn't be hiding the ball from his own Inspector General.

Evil, Part II

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Kent notes that WaPo columnist Richard Cohen has discovered the existence of evil. As Kent observes, this is progress.  Three years ago, Mr. Cohen took a more relativist approach.  The subject then was nothing like the grotesque beheading of a hostage (it was, instead, the behavior of the very unfortunately named Congressman Weiner), but relativism quickly balloons once it escapes, so I went after Mr. Cohen with both barrels in my comment to Kent's post.

Still, progress is progress and clarity is clarity, and I'm happy to see them.  Perhaps, in a different life, I'll see some on the editorial page of the New York Times.


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After 9/11, it briefly became acceptable across the ideological spectrum to speak of "evil."  Usually, the pseudosophisticates who dominate academia, journalism, and the political left consider it the mark of a rube to speak in terms of good and evil.  Being "advanced" requires moral relativism which requires understanding and compassion for people who commit horrendous crimes.  Murder and rape are "antisocial behavior," not evil acts.

Richard Cohen is a columnist for the WaPo who leans left but has more sense than most of his ilk.  In this column, he dares to use the e-word:

Prosecution As Payback

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Among the worst abuses of prosecutorial authority is to base a decision to prosecute on an unrelated grudge against the defendant.  Standard and Poors claims the U.S. Department of Justice has done exactly that, according to this editorial in the WSJ.

It's not a smoking gun. But Standard & Poor's claims in a new court filing that it has documents showing that government lawyers who have targeted the firm over its flawed ratings on mortgage bonds also had "intense interest in and engagement regarding S&P's downgrade of the United States."
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Justice says there was no connection between the downgrade and its decision to charge S&P. But in a Tuesday federal court filing in the Central District of California, S&P says it has obtained internal Justice documents showing "that the two topics were often linked."

The documents are under a protective order and thus not public. But it's safe to assume S&P would want to stick to the facts because federal Judge David Carter can see the documents too. If S&P is right, then Justice will have to explain why lawyers tasked with investigating pre-crisis mortgage bonds were so keenly interested in a downgrade of government debt that took place years after the mortgage bond ratings. Do prosecutors investigate every time someone expresses a skeptical view on Treasury bonds?

The Story of a Minor Crime

We often hear that the law overpunishes "non-violent" offenses. This usually means theft of some sort, and the phrase "non-violent" is basically used as a cipher to imply "non-harmful" or "not all that harmful."

So I want to tell you the story of a non-violent crime that recently came to my attention via Facebook and email messages from the parents of the victim.  I have changed the proper names to conceal the identities of the people involved.  The first message is a Facebook entry from the mother.

HIPAA Consequences

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Stewart Baker has this post at Volokh Conspiracy, "HIPAA is an arguably well-intentioned privacy law that seems to yield nothing but 'unintended' consequences."  I'm not quite as cynical on HIPAA as Stewart, and I wouldn't have said "arguably" or put "unintended" in quotes.  He is right that the law has had numerous bad consequences, though, including this gem from the Daytona Beach News-Journal:

In the name of patient privacy, a Daytona Beach, Fla., nursing home said it couldn't cooperate with police investigating allegations of a possible rape against one of its residents.

Culture, Values, Politics and Crime

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A commenter recently took me to task, disturbed that I criticized the Administration for its tepid response to the Russian-sponsored mass murder of 298 people in the Ukraine.  The commenter thought my remarks went too far in the direction of a strictly political attack.

Let me say that reasonable minds could differ about that post.  My own view is that (1) the episode was indeed mass murder, (2) our government's response was, and is, feckless, both for moral and practical purposes, and (3) fecklessness in the face of murder, and of crime generally, is a huge problem just now, and I'm going to continue to talk about it when it rears its head.

Ever heard the complaint that the criminal justice system punishes only the poor and powerless?

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