Monday, October 29, 2007

Yeah, But They're Fun Lov'in Criminals

Yes, You Are a Criminal
If you live or do business in the United States, you're almost certainly a criminal. You may not realize it yet, but considering the ever-expanding list of ridiculous laws out there, you could be a lot closer than you think.
For example, in New Jersey, you can be arrested for driving by your own home. In Florida, the local courts sentenced a man to six years in prison for carrying cash. In Pennsylvania, a woman faces prison for yelling obscenities at her clogged toilet. And under federal law, you can be imprisoned for withdrawing lawfully-earned money from your own bank account.
So what's the common thread that links all these stories? It's called criminalization - it means converting once socially stigmatized actions or other civil sanctions into criminal offenses.
Are you abusive, or does your spouse or partner say that you are? Domestic violence laws in New Jersey and numerous other states mandate you can arrest a man based on recommendations from a social worker. The social worker may recommend a man's detention for spousal abuse based on a woman's testimony alone. Driving by your own home can be grounds for a criminal complaint.
Who hasn't ever carried cash in their wallet? In Florida, it's a criminal offense to do so! A court sentenced a man to six years in jail for possessing a cocaine-contaminated dollar bill. An appellate court ordered the man released only after local newspapers revealed that the overwhelming majority of currency circulating in Florida is tainted with narcotics residues.
Do you become frustrated because your appliances at home don't work properly? In Pennsylvania, a woman who allegedly shouted profanities at her overflowing toilet within earshot of a neighbor faces up to 90 days in jail.
Have you ever withdrawn cash from a U.S. bank account? Better be careful, because if you withdraw more than US$10,000 in a series of "related" transactions, you may be guilty of a federal crime called structuring. If so, you face a five-year prison sentence and a US$250,000 fine. Authorities can also confiscate your entire bank account under civil forfeiture laws.
Are you a terrorist? You may not think that you are, but under the USA PATRIOT Act and other federal laws, practically all forms of domestic protest could be considered "terrorism." Once the government classifies you as a terrorist, authorities can seize everything you own, whether or not those assets are connected to your alleged terrorist acts. Then, under the Military Commissions Act, authorities can detain you indefinitely, without ever charging you with a crime.
These examples merely scratch the surface of the overwhelming trend of criminalization. The trend won't be reversed until we convince lawmakers that more criminal sanctions aren't necessarily the best way to deal with moral, social or political problems.
In the meantime, the only way to protect yourself is to continually ask: "Is there any way I might get arrested for this?"
The answer may not always be obvious, but a little research online or at a law library may at least shed light on the potential for criminal liability.

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