That’s the title and subtitle of a provocative book by attorney Harvey Silvergate. The premise, that “[t]he average professional in this country wakes up in the morning, goes to work, comes home, eats dinner, and then goes to sleep, unaware that he or she has likely committed several federal crimes that day,” is quickly overtaken by examples of myriad federal prosecutions that twist and bend federal criminal laws and regulations to make criminal activities that on their face no law or regulation criminalizes.
From the book’s blurb:
In Three Felonies a Day, Harvey A. Silverglate reveals how federal criminal laws have become dangerously disconnected from the English common law tradition and how prosecutors can pin arguable federal crimes on any one of us, for even the most seemingly innocuous behavior. The volume of federal crimes in recent decades has increased well beyond the statute books and into the morass of the Code of Federal Regulations, handing federal prosecutors an additional trove of vague and exceedingly complex and technical prohibitions to stick on their hapless targets. The dangers spelled out in Three Felonies a Day do not apply solely to “white collar criminals,” state and local politicians, and professionals. No social class or profession is safe from this troubling form of social control by the executive branch, and nothing less than the integrity of our constitutional democracy hangs in the balance.
You’ve listened to my rants about the out-of-control U.S. security and legal apparatus, including improper restrictions or harassment of photographers, (to my mind) unconstitutional invasions of privacy and searches at airports, federal prosecutors misusing the grand jury process, etc. Silvergate is of the same mind. From pp. 264-65:
Wrongful prosecution of innocent conduct that is twisted into a felony charge has wrecked many an innocent life and career. Whole families have been devastated, as have myriad relationships and entire companies. Indeed, one of the most pernicious effects of the Justice Department’s techniques — too often given warrant by the courts — is that they wreck important and socially beneficial relationships within civil society. Family members have been pitted against one another. Friends have been coerced into testifying against friends even when the testimony has been less than honest. … Newspaper reporters have been pitted against confidential sources. Artists, including those critical of the government, have been subjected to Kafkaesque harassment. … No society can possibly benefit from having its government so recklessly attack and render asunder such vital social and professional relationships.
How Bad Is This? Department
Consider this sequence:
- You are a border patrol agent, dealing every day with issues relating to — among other things — drug smuggling.
- You mention “in a casual conversation that legalizing and regulating drugs would help stop cartel violence along the southern border with Mexico.”
- You are then fired, supposedly because your comments were “contrary to the core characteristics of Border Patrol Agents, which are patriotism, dedication, and espirit [sic] de corps.”
What do you do? Contact the ACLU’s local New Mexico office and sue for violation of your First Amendment rights, among other things.
Don’t you just love it when those closest to a matter are penalized for criticizing?
Just When You Thought It Was Safe … Department
… safe, that is, to walk down the street while engaged on your cellphone, the following from “States’ Lawmakers Turn Attention to the Dangers of Distracted Pedestrians” in The NY Times:
In New York, a bill is pending in the legislature’s transportation committee that would ban the use of mobile phones, iPods or other electronic devices while crossing streets — runners and other exercisers included. Legislation pending in Oregon would restrict bicyclists from using mobile phones and music players, and a Virginia bill would keep such riders from using a “hand-held communication device.”
In California, State Senator Joe Simitian, who led a successful fight to ban motorists from sending text messages and using hand-held phones, has reintroduced a bill that failed last year to fine bicyclists $20 for similar multitasking.
Does no one worry that we might legislate all the danger right out of the world, and with it all the fun? The nanny state run amok!
Back to the Future Department
I wrote some time ago about the settlement the NYCLU reached with the Feds regarding photography of and on Federal property, a settlement that was unqualifiedly supportive of photographers’ rights. Now you can read the official DHS circular pertaining to the matter and, more importantly, make a copy and carry it with you. Here. (Selected portions have been redacted, but the import of the document and its directions to DHS, FPS (Federal Protective Service) and PSOs (Protective Security Officers) are quite clearly stated.)
(Of an opposite and depressing nature, this article from the Miami NewTimes News showing that cops can be, well, cops when it comes to photographers photographing them.)
Meanwhile, Sanity Rules Across the Pond Department
This story from MailOnline of a Canadian citizen returning to Canada through Gatwick Airport who was forbidden to carry a gun on the plane. Makes sense, you say? Read on:
Airport officials ordered a holidaymaker carrying a toy soldier onto a plane to remove its three-inch gun – because it was a safety threat.
Ken Lloyd was stunned when he was told he could not go on the plane with the nine-inch model soldier because it was carrying a ‘firearm’.
The Canadian tourist and his wife had bought the toy, which holds a replica SA80 rifle, during a visit to the Royal Signals Museum at Blandford Camp in Dorset.
But when he tried to take the £135 keepsake through Gatwick Airport in his hand luggage it triggered a security alert at the scanners.
Adam Forty, curator at the Royal Signals Museum at Blandford Camp, Dorset, said: ‘The military museum takes security very seriously, especially around military installations and airports, but this does seem more than a little excessive. It is probably just as well we didn’t sell Mrs Lloyd a toy tank.’
A spokeswoman for Gatwick Airport said: ‘Items including firearms and items with the appearance of firearms are prohibited.
Reminds me of my wife being forbidden to carry on her very dull $20 steel knitting needles by a screener (and her supervisor) at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris this past September. I could do more damage with a ballpoint pen.
Avatar Redux Redux Department
A gift to myself this past Christmas was the Avatar “Extended Collector’s Edition.” I had waited, not getting the initial release, not getting the “Director’s Cut” theatrical re-release, until this Avatar to end all Avatars arrived. Amazon.com delivered.
With these DVDs, we are out to three hours (sixteen minutes beyond the eight minutes added in the Director’s Cut), including a not-indispensable but highly useful introduction to Jake Sully, James Cameron’s physically flawed hero, who as a consequence rises now much closer to the Ron Kovic/Tom Cruise character in Born on the Fourth of July.
I continue to marvel at Cameron’s creation. Avatar does in fact create for us a complete world, a realistic ecosystem, and a seemingly-primitive indigenous, pre-literate culture living in Gaea-symbiosis on their alien world.
The added footage is pretty much seamless, and actually in a few instances fills out what were some non-sequiturs in the original.
In her apartment — very wide angle.