Robertson said, “We have to take a look at what we are considering crimes. I’m not exactly for the use of drugs, don’t get me wrong, but I just believe that criminalizing marijuana, criminalizing possession of a few ounces of pot, that kind of thing is costing us a fortune and it’s ruining young people.”
On October 23d Bradford Metcalf’s appeal to the Supreme Court of his 40-year prison term for possession of machine gun parts kits was denied, but yesterday I received an email from Metcalf’s brother, Greg, that the Supreme Court will consider his case again.
Here’s the email:
Thanks again for your unwavering support in our effort to restore the Constitution.
Remarkably, we have another chance for the Supreme Court to hear Brad Metcalf’s gun case. They
will confer again on Jan. 7, 2011.
Please have your troops contact the Supreme Court Public Information Office to urge their consideration via this address:
Metcalf was a member of one of the many small militia groups that started up back in the 1990s in response to government raids at Ruby Ridge, Idaho (August, 1992) and Waco, Texas (April 19, 1993). After the Timothy McVeigh bombing of the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City (April 19, 1995), President Clinton’s Attorney General, Janet Reno, decided to get tough on militias. Several groups were infiltrated, raided, and their members imprisoned. Metcalf’s story is one of them.
In August, 1997, about 70 agents from the BATF, FBI, and Michigan State Police raided Metcalf’s home, along with the homes of two other militia members, Ken Carter and Randy Graham. Metcalf was a firearms hobbyist, having been a federally licensed firearms dealer for 6 years, a competitive shooter, and reloader. He owned 28 guns, all legally configured. Militia members had been meeting at his home, shooting at his range (he had 40 acres), and talking about how government was out of control.
Seven months later, in March, 1998, all three were arrested. The prosecutor, Lloyd K. Meyer, subsequently offered Metcalf a 3-years-in-prison plea bargain. He refused. Meyer offered Graham the 3-year plea bargain if he’d testify against Metcalf, but he refused. He offered Carter, who suffered from emphysema, a 5-year plea bargain, bypass surgery, and a lung transplant, which Carter accepted.
The trial was a one-sided affair. Government testimony was mostly allowed, while Metcalf’s attempts to introduce evidence in his own defense was mostly denied. The judge, Richard Alan Enslen, repeatedly recommended to Metcalf that he get an attorney. The prosecutor painted Metcalf as a home-grown terrorist and paraded Metcalf’s gun collection in front of the jury as evidence, claiming some of them were machine guns. Metcalf’s evidence to the contrary was ruled inadmissable. Metcalf was ultimately given a 40-year prison term, 10 for each machine gun. The judge added on 10 more for “use of a firearm in a violent crime,” even though no violent crime was specified. And the judge added a “terrorist enhancement,” which allowed the years to be “stacked” on top of one another. Graham later got 55 years. Carter got his surgeries, did his 5 years, and died 6 months after release.
The machine guns Metcalf was convicted of were actually machine gun parts kits that had never been assembled. They, in fact, needed some milling before you could assemble them and make them work. But that didn’t stop him from geting convicted.
He is now broke, his land long gone, and he has been in prison these past 12 years. He has appealed his case several times without relief. He hasn’t had much hope until now. Maybe this Supreme Court appeal will have a positive outcome. If some of us wrote the Supreme Court in his behalf, at the above address, I think it would help.
The most important item on any ballot in the country this Nov. 2 is Proposition 19 on the California ballot. It seeks to make marijuana legal, which will be a small initial step to stopping the drug violence associated with America’s War on Drugs.
Just today the Associated Press is reporting the following story:
Mexico: 13 dead in massacre at Ciudad Juarez party
(AP) – 6 hours ago
CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico (AP) — Gunmen stormed two neighboring homes and massacred 13 young people at a birthday party in the latest large-scale attack in this violent border city, even as a new government strategy seeks to restore order with social programs and massive police deployments.
Attackers in two vehicles pulled up to the houses in a lower-middle-class Ciudad Juarez neighborhood late Friday and opened fire on about four dozen partygoers gathered for a 15-year-old boy’s birthday party.
The dead identified so far were 13 to 32 years old, including six women and girls, Chihuahua state Attorney General Carlos Salas told reporters at a news conference at the crime scene. The majority of the victims were high school students, a survivor said. … You can read the rest of the story here, or on any of the other news outlets on the internet.
The reason the California proposition is so important is because it puts America’s most populous state on a collision course with the federal government over whether or not drugs should be legalized or continue to be criminalized. The federal government’s Attorney General Eric Holder has already said the feds will continue to prosecute marijuana users, whether or not Prop. 19 passes.
The California proposition only deals with marijuana (These Mexican gangs are battling over more than marijuana) and it’s not a blanket state-wide mandate (since local jurisdictions can opt to legalize and tax marijuana or not), but it is a start. If this measure passes, other states will likely follow California’s lead and set the stage for a battle between the states and the feds. It will quickly become a major states rights issue.
Eventually, of course, what is needed is to legalize all drugs. Just as with the repeal of Prohibition, it will take the crime element largely out of the drug equation and put drug abuse in the medical arena where it belongs. As a huge additional benefit it will cut America’s prison population down drastically and free up hundreds of millions of dollars now used in arresting and prosecuting drug offenses.
One European country has already gone the legalization route with tremendous success. Portugal legalized all drugs ten years ago, and in that time it has gone from one of the worst drug-abusing populations in Europe to one of the least-abusing populations. You can read about it here.
Many bureaucrats don’t want Proposition 19 to pass. It will mean wholesale layoffs for bureaucratic paper pushers, and especially cops, judges, prosecutors, and jailers. They like drugs being illegal because it ensures them of a fat job and pension.
Prop 19 is a chance for citizens to strike a blow now for a sane drug policy, and to sow the seeds of an important states rights battle with the federal government.
Of all the commentaries I’ve written in my 20 years as publisher of Backwoods Home Magazine, the one that still haunts me to this day is titled, “America, land of the free
…ha, ha, ha!,” which appeared in Issue No. 104, the March/April 2007 issue. It is about Matt Bandy and Bradford Metcalf, both wrongfully prosecuted by the U.S. Government.
Bradford Metcalf remains in prison these past 12 years on trumped-up charges concerning weapons possession, but the Supreme Court may hear his case. I got the following email this evening from the Metcalf family:
Defenders of the Constitution,
The Supreme Court will confer regarding “10-6452 Metcalf v. US” on Oct. 15, 2010.
Metcalf was convicted in 1998 of Conspiracy to Possess Automatic Weapons and 8 other possession charges (no violence) and sentenced to 40 years (he acted as his own attorney – his jury thought he would get 3 to 5 years…). You can contact the Supreme Court Public Information Office to urge their consideration at this address:
Here is what I sent:
Subject: Case Defining “arms”
Please consider case no. 10-6452 Bradford Metcalf v. US (slated for conference Oct 15) as a vehicle to define arms protected under the 2nd Amendment. Can the US limit possession? Is a rifle OK but not grenade? 50 caliber but not 20mm canon? “80% completed machine gun sideplate” (requires milling to make functional)?
Second Amendment Sisters
Jews for Preservation of Firearms Ownership
Backwoods Home Magazine
Heartfelt thanks to you all.
Please join me in contacting the Supremes to consider this case. Bradford Metcalf is a political prisoner left over from the Janet Reno/Bill Clinton crackdown on conservative dissidents in the wake of Waco and Ruby Ridge. Unfortunately, he is not the only political prisoner still languishing in federal penitentiaries.
Here is a chance to at least speak up on behalf of one nearly forgotten political prisoner.
Most people only see the inside of a jail on television, as on the many programs MSNBC airs with titles like “Locked Up:Raw.” TV shows focus on bad guys who have committed violent crimes and who continue to commit violent crimes on other prisoners while locked up. The guards are always shown as nice family people just trying to keep order among the degenerate inmates. The guards are doing important jobs for society, the TV programs would have you believe.
The reality is quite different. Most inmates are not hard core criminals incarcerated for violent crimes, but ordinary, mostly young people caught doing or possessing drugs, which probably shouldn’t be outlawed in the first place. That’s why America has the highest incarceration rate in the world — drug use. It keeps the prisons full, the guards employed, and drug prices high so the drug gangs and America’s criminal justice system can both make billions in profits. It’s a win-win situation for all of them. Many towns in America are now totally dependent on keeping their prisons full. In a recession, especially, these small towns need the prison revenue more than ever. So what if we’re targeting our youth population! It’s good business!
Your typical prisoner is very docile while in prison, simply attempting to survive the rather inhuman experience visited upon them by the criminal justice system. Most of the people in jail with me during my two-day stay in the county jail in Gold Beach were there for probation violations on previous drug convictions. These are the hapless young souls among us. They had made a mistake and been convicted of a drug crime, primarily possession of marijuana, hashish, or methamphetamine, and they had served an initial incarceration period. Now they are serving additional time for violation of their probations. Some were stupid enough to have been caught doing drugs again, but the others had been picked up on, from what I could gather, phony probation violation charges, such as being observed by a cop “associating with known drug users.”
These prisoners keep the county jail full in small towns like Gold Beach. It continues the flow of revenue from the state to the local cops, courts, and jail. Their incarceration essentially provides full employment for the local bureaucrats and cops.
Several of my cellmates told me that the cops go looking for people they know are nearing the end of their probation, then bust them on any technical violation they can find or dream up so they can fill up the county jail cells. While I was in jail, the cells were right about at capacity, although there was always room for just one or two more hapless souls or dui cases like me. Dui cases like me come and go all the time, they told me, but the young kids stay there, for weeks and months awaiting trial on phony probation violation charges.
Eight people were with me in my 10-bed jail dormitory. Although most were in their 20s, there was one guy in his 40s on a duii like me. He was a commercial crabber from Port Orford and came into jail drunk. Real nice guy who I’ll go out crabbing with in the future. We joked in jail that if we went crabbing together, it may constitute an “association” probation violation for each us that will land us both back in jail. He said as soon as he got out (a couple of days after me), he’d hitch a ride back to Port Orford to do some crabbing so he could pay his fines and the alcohol rehab sessions he was required to attend. He thought he only needed to raise $50 for the initial session, but I told him it was actually $150, then an additional $150 per session for an additional 12 mandated sessions. He was pretty depressed at that news.
I found all the inmates friendly and cooperative, in sharp contrast to the guards, who (except for a guard named Burgess) were condescending and robotic. It occurred to me that this could be the future of America, with an army of all powerful condescending and robotic guards gainfully employed at the expense of their fellow citizens who have made relatively minor infractions of senseless laws.
The prisoners in my jail dormitory (I believe they call it a jail pod) were self-organizing as they tried to make a bad situation tolerable by cooperating with and helping each other. They divided the two open toilets at one end of the 30-foot by 30-foot room into a pisser and a crapper, each person doing his best to keep the area clean and private for whoever was using it.
There was a tiny ancient TV bolted on the wall near the ceiling at one end of the pod, but I could barely see it or hear it from my bunk at the opposite corner. It got only a couple of channels but it did get a football game on Sunday.
The beds were double bunks like in military boot camp, but they had no springs, only a rigid steel frame with a two-inch mattress. It just about totaled my bad back. You are issued one blanket, summer or winter, and no pillow. Brian, a diabetic and asthmatic, said he got cold a lot. The guards would let him out of the cell twice a day to take his insulin, but he said they denied him his Albuterol, which is the same asthma inhalant my daughter uses.
There was a phone on one wall, but it didn’t work half the time I was incarcerated. Chris was on the phone often with his wife and sometimes his daughter. He kept telling his wife he had no money to give her, and it nearly brought tears to my eyes when he told his daughter that Daddy will be home as soon as he can.
There were no windows in the pod, and although there was a door with bars, an outer solid steel door was always kept closed so that you had no view of even a hallway. No outside light of any kind penetrated the room.
The only thing that could actually be moved in the pod was your mattress, a rubber cup and rubber spoon each of us were issued, our single 18-inch by 30-inch paper-thin bath towel, and our two extra sets of underwear which we kept under our mattress. Oh yeah, and a dozen or so ancient dog-eared paperbacks piled on the one empty bunk. (No magazines allowed.) Otherwise you had nothing.
Everything was bolted down. Big steel buttons turned on the water in the two showers and two steel sinks. No human being, no matter how pissed off, could possibly dislodge or break much in this place, except maybe for the six fluorescent lights on the ceiling, which provided ample light for the steel-encased video camera on the wall above the bathroom.
Of the two showers, one was broken and the other leaked profusely into the toilet area, so the guards provided extra towels that helped provide a dam between the showers and toilets. Of the shower that worked, it delivered near scalding hot water so that you had to duck in and out of it, soaping yourself in between, to keep from getting burned.
The floors were green concrete with patches of red where the paint had worn off. The walls were yellow concrete, and the ceiling was off-white concrete. It resembled very much a dungeon.
For exercise the inmates paraded in a 12-foot circle around the two steel tables in the center of the room. There was room for as many as five to parade at a time. I paraded around them for about two hours a day, on the trail of worn-off paint that revealed the underlying old red color on the floor.
Since there was nothing to do, most of the inmates slept at least half the day. I, of course, being much older and having worked at newspapers much of my life, interviewed them and wrote extensive notes on the few sheets of paper issued me.
There were no arguments and lots of commiserating among the inmates as they listened to each others stories of arrest and offered each other advice.
There was no privacy at all. Even the toilets were just barely blocked from the view of other inmates. The entire room was designed to dehumanize its occupants. Once a day, one of the older guards would come in and inspect the pod, tapping on the steel mirrors and looking for anything out of the ordinary. He was exceptionally hostile in his demeanor.
This whole experience of arrest, trial, and incarceration was a first for me, and it has left a very bitter taste in my mouth. I look at things differently now. I especially look at the cops and the criminal justice system differently. Whatever respect I had is gone. For two days I was in the custody of the enforcers who must be willing to administer the insane justice meted out by an increasingly dictatorial state. Every society has these willing participants who will gladly enforce the state’s tyranny for their generous pay and pensions.
In a guest editorial we will run in the next issue of Backwoods Home Magazine (I was either involved in my defense or in jail, so had little time to write one), issuing traffic tickets is a $7.5-$15 billion business. That’s billion with a “b.” Very little of that money comes from habitual offenders, such as repeat drunk drivers or speeders. Nearly all of it comes from the occasional offender, and very few of the tickets are contested because it is so inconvenient or costly to contest anything against a government agency armed with unlimited resources.
About half of these billions for dollars goes to various government agencies, such as the municipalities that issue the tickets, the courts that administer them, and the agencies that teach the various classes the ticketed are required to attend. The other half goes primarily to insurance companies, which raise rates on many of those ticketed even though there is no statistical evidence linking this multi-billion dollar punishment scheme to lower accident rates. (That’s why the insurance industry is so willing to donate radar detectors, breathaylizer machines, red light cameras, etc. to police agencies; it leads to enormous profits for them.)
Many local municipalities keep the money from the tickets, but others send it to the states, where it is essentially “laundered” and sent right back to the municipalities to fund the cops and courts.
An average cop costs up to $75,000 per year to hire (although that figure is probably much lower in my town), but he will issue at least double his salary in traffic tickets per year. Some towns earn 70% of their budget through speeding tickets alone. I don’t know how much the cops in my town of Gold Beach make, but the local police chief is always advocating for more officers “to protect the public.” In his regular newspaper column in our local weekly, the Curry County Reporter, the chief brags, “We issued 80 traffic citations for August, which according to the officers is a new Gold Beach PD record! Overall this summer (June-August) also produced a record number of citations being issued. …Regarding those 80 citations, the total fine money if all were adjudicated in favor of the City, would be approximately $20,000.”
The restaurant owners and motel owners in Gold Beach are probably rolling their eyeballs at the chief’s bragging, because they know that those citations, many of which were issued to tourists, will cost them far more than $20,000 in future revenue lost because many of those tourists ticketed will not be back to Gold Beach any time soon. Tourists tend to get pretty mad at a town if they get ticketed in it while on vacation. The Gold Beach PD is working directly against the economic interests of the town’s private sector, while making a tidy sum for itself.
And this is just the city cops. The state police, who ticketed me and always lurk just outside of town in ambushes, give even more tickets. And we haven’t even come to the sheriff’s department yet. They run the jail and help out in the courts so they get a big slice of the revenue generated.
In a study of traffic tickets published in 2007 by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, the authors, Thomas Garrett and Gary Wagner, concluded that when the economy goes down traffic tickets go up., that government entities consider traffic tickets “an important source of revenue,” and that “a ten percent decrease in negative revenue growth results in a 6.4 percent increase in the growth rate of traffic tickets.”
They also said, “Traffic tickets provide an attractive revenue source for local governments because the amount of revenue that can be generated is often unrestricted, they provide a mechanism to capture revenue from non-residents and non-voters, and most traffic offenses possess a low-strict-liability threshold to achieve a conviction (as opposed to the higher criminal intent standard).
So I expect the local police chief will set more traffic ticket records in the future since the economy is probably going to go deeper into recession. I also expect the local cops to drive many of the local restaurants and motels out of business as they chase away the tourists. The cops, the courts, and the rest of local government will continue to suck any tourist profits out of the town’s private sector. It’s as if they have declared war against local businesses.
But nobody protests! I wonder if they just don’t get the connection!
So I asked Jake, “Do you have a copy of the Constitution in your luggage?”
He smiled and said, “Two copies.”
“Good,” I said, “because your fellow students are going to have their copies of the Communist Manifesto with them.” I was just joking, of course, and Jake laughed because he knows he’s in for some political and Constitutional debates with his fellow students and professors at the left-leaning university. But I and people like Stossel have given him a solid foundation in why the U.S. Constitution is so valuable and why we must help educate others so they can, in turn, help us stop Big Government from further encroaching on it.
My recent DUII arrest and conviction is a good example of an area where government has trampled on the U.S. Constitution. As DUII Attorney Lawrence Taylor says: …”the greatest single threat to our freedoms, the freedoms set forth in our Bill of Rights to our Constitution. … I don’t think it’s from the extremists of the Muslim world. The threat as it has always been throughout history is internal. It is from within. I do not think it is from the American Communist party or extremists on the right. …the greatest single threat to our freedoms today is a group of American housewives. They call themselves the Mothers Against Drunk Driving, MADD.”
Taylor maintains, and I vigorously concur, that a person arrested and tried for DUII is often denied Constitutional rights protected by the 4th and 5th amendments, that the main evidence in a DUII case (from the breathalyzer test) is typically destroyed so the defense cannot examine it, and in some states (not Oregon) you don’t even have the right to a jury trial.
The strongest piece of evidence the state uses in court against an accused DUII defendant is the breathalyzer test. In Oregon (and I believe in all the states now), if you register a .08 on a breathalyzer test you are presumed impaired. Interestingly, back 30 plus years ago when the American Medical Association (AMA) was asked by legislators to give their scientific estimate of when a person should be considered to be DUII, they recommended .15. So prosecutors and organizations like MADD used a lot of political pressure over the years to convince legislators to lower the rate, and now we are at .08. (I blew .08, but the breathalyzer expert my lawyer brought down from Portland with her was prepared to testify that I was most likely .06, at most .07, when I was driving.)
There is also a problem with the breathalyzer machine. It is not always accurate, although the state’s expert in my case claimed it was accurate more than 98% of the time. (I am a member of Mensa, which means I’m supposed to be in the top 2% in IQ in the population, so why is it so far fetched to assume that I might be in the 2% of the population for whom a breathalyzer test is inaccurate. If you had a 2% chance of winning the lottery, you would probably play it every day of your life. In an American population of roughly 300 million, that means 6 million innocent people could be convicted of drunk driving by a false reading on a breathalyzer test.)
But the breathalyzer test sample is not saved anyway. Maybe the cop administered it wrong. The state cop who administered mine was a state patrol officer for less than a week (before that he was a recruit in training for about a year), so maybe he made a mistake.
The companies making breathalyzer machines are always claiming their machines are accurate, even though they will not disclose to defense attorneys the algorithm they use for computing results. But they are also always updating their machines, claiming the new machine is more accurate than the old machine. To me that is an admission that the older machine was not as accurate as they had claimed. But, of course, all this is not admissable as evidence in court. You can’t even discuss it.
Another problem with the breathalyzer machine is that it measures how much alcohol is in the mouth, then multiplies it by a factor of about 2100 (they use the term “partition ratio”) to determine how much is in your blood. The trouble is it assumes you are an average person with a partition ratio of 2100 to 1, which fits almost no physiological human makeup, whose partition ratios range from between 1100 to 1 and 3500 to 1, so for many people the breathalyzer machine will invariably read an alcohol level that is either too high or too low.
There are a whole slew of other problems with the breathalyzer. You can read about them in Atty. Taylor’s excellent speech here if you want. But most of these things can’t even be brought up in court. They are inadmissable. So the prosecution in most states is allowed to bring up what amounts to false evidence, and you can’t defend against it. Does that sound like a violation of the U.S. Constitution?
But, of course, I know that most people don’t want to hear the constitutional argument against these DUII laws or breathalyizer machines. They think people shouldn’t drink any kind of alcohol and drive, that a Constitutional Exception is a good idea when it comes to alcohol consumption and driving a vehicle. They also think it’s just the breaks that 2% or so of the population may be getting a bum rap if the breathalyzer test is inaccurate for them. Look at the lives we’re saving, they say, by catching the other 98%.
But I’m going to explore this topic in more detail over the next several weeks. It’s a good example of just one area where our government is stepping on our rights. And my time in jail put me in touch with a related area — drugs. That’s where the our government has turned downright totalitarian by imprisoning a huge portion of our population for doing nothing more than exercising their Constitutional right to do with their body what they want, so long as they are not harming anyone else. That’s a much sadder and more sinister story than the DUII stuff.
BHM a “no-show” at Fort Collins, Colorado Sustainable Living Fair
A quick note to say BHM was a “no show” at the Sustainable Living Fair in Fort Collins, Colorado this weekend. I hadn’t planned to attend anyway, but was sending my son-in-law, Erik, instead. Erik had a last-minute emergency, after packing his SUV to go, and had to cancel the trip. I apologize to those expecting a BHM booth at the show. We’ve already had reports of disappointed people.
I’ve been trying to put things in perspective since I got arrested for duii six months ago. After I refused to accept “Diversion,” which is an easy way out of your first duii in Oregon but entails an admission of guilt, the state cops began tailing me when I drove, presumably to try and catch me doing something else wrong before I went to trial. Then I was convicted last week at what I thought was a sham trial, with the judge obviously sympathetic to the prosecution, the cops obviously embellishing the facts on the witness stand, the prosecution inserting a last-minute expert witness in an underhanded fashion, and my unprepared attorney resting the defense case without calling any witnesses, including the high-priced duii expert she brought down with her from Portland.
Conviction for a duii in Oregon is a lot different than taking Diversion; the state discourages contesting a duii by making the penalties more severe for an actual conviction. Had I taken Diversion, the case would have been dismissed after a year. But the conviction will stay with me for life and essentially makes me a marked man for a future cop hoping to score some points with his department and the local DA. It also has little fringe penalties like barring me from entry into Canada for the next 10 years, not that I have any plans to visit that socialist country.
As the judge read my sentence at the trial, I felt as though I had been run over by a steamroller. I spent two days in jail, with all the indignity and discomfort that involves, then placed on a two-year probation that entails me having to get rid of any booze in my office or home, even down to my wife’s cooking wine, and having to lock away my firearms, a hobby that gives me great pleasure and relaxation. I cannot possess (awareness of and access to) alcohol or firearms under threat of re-arrest and reimprisonment.
So I’ve accepted my plight and put everything in perspective: I’m not dead, I haven’t killed anyone, I’m not still in jail under the thumb of guards the Third Reich would have been proud of, and I have relatively safe havens in my in-town office and home. (I say relatively because my probation says I have to allow an officer to conduct a search of my home or business if he suspects I may be in violation of my probation, such as having alcohol or a gun on the premises.)
I can also use the next two years to get in shape and write more. I’ve been on a fairly vigorous exercise program anyway, playing a lot of golf (always walking, almost never with a cart). Stopping drinking altogether will probably allow me to shed an extra five pounds since wine and beer have a lot of calories. I’ll also probably write more as a way of winding down for the evening.
Plus I’ve had several very positive experiences as a result of the conviction. As unpleasant as my two days in jail were, I came face to face with the plight of the young prisoners who are caught up in the criminal justice system and can’t seem to get out. These poor hapless dopes with their stupid technical violations of probations from minor past drug convictions are easy pickings for the cops. They keep the jails full and the guards and bureaucrats employed. Silveira and I have written about the absurdly high incarceration rate of American citizens in the past, but this is the first time I’ve had a very personal experience with it. I’m going to try and work to change that situation. I think my magazine and website can be a valuable tool in that fight. In contrast to the plight of these young offenders, my penalty for a DUII conviction is a walk in the park.
Another positive experience was the Victims Impact Panel. We really do need to keep drunks from driving cars, just as we need to curtail all violent behavior. But we need to do it without making all citizens in society criminal suspects.The VIP session gave tragic stories involving people who were highly intoxicated and habitual offenders. We’ve got to keep from mixing those offenders up with the average citizen going about his or her own business.
In my area, cops abound and traffic stops are frequent. A driver runs the gauntlet from Port Orford, 27 miles north of Gold Beach and for years known as a “speed trap,” to Brookings, 27 miles to the south of Gold Beach. While we local businessmen have been trying to lure tourists to our area to help save our jobs, the local cops — state police, city police, and county sheriff’s — stop the tourists, and locals too, sometimes a block from the restaurant they just ate at and bust them for anything they can. It raises revenue for the bureaucracy (even if it does go to the state first, get washed, and get returned through other funding avenues), but it is killing the tourist industry here. Tourists who have been given seat belt violations (a not uncommon occurrence here) will probably not only never return but will tell all their friends never to vacation here. A tourist who has been given a duii for having a couple of glasses of wine at a restaurant may have gotten what he deserves in some peoples’ view of the world, but that tourist also will never return to this area except for his court date.
It helps that I’ve done a lot of research during the past six months about duii law, the tragic consequences that result when drunk driver meets innocent bystander, and the unintended consequences that result when the state reaches beyond the reasonable when enforcing drunk driving laws.
Earlier this evening I went to my Victims Impact Panel as required by my duii conviction. Three drunk driving victims and one former drunk driver gave presentations to about 19 people, most of whom were mandated to be there. This was excellent. No in-your-face, finger-pointing lectures, but thoughtful presentations designed to open your eyes.
A 60-year-old lady was broadsided by a pickup operated by a drunk driver when she was 28, and today she still suffers from brain damage incurred in the accident. A beautiful woman in her late 20s got drunk and was ejected from a jeep driven by a companion, also drunk, and now has a prosthetic leg. A middle-age mom lost her 13-year-old daughter in a head-on collision with a drunk driver. The final presentation was from a former young drunk driver convicted of two duiis, but he said he had driven hundreds of time drunk and not been caught. He finally had his friend die in a crash in which they were both drunk and he subsequently stopped drinking altogether.
These were all powerful, moving presentations, so that you got the message. I certainly did. This is the only VIP I had to attend, but I’ve decided to bring my three sons to one they offer in the future. They are on the verge of becoming men, and I think they could benefit from the message. Anyone can attend them, as long as you are over the age of 12. Some of the slides they show are very graphic.
I agree with the inescapable conclusion of the VIP: you should not drive drunk, and you should think twice before driving a vehicle if you’ve had anything at all to drink. Although I was not driving intoxicated for the duii I just got, I have done so on occasion during the past 66 years but was not caught. So I’ll accept this as payback. I certainly won’t drink and drive in the future. Although my doctor told me after my heart surgery that one or two glasses of wine a night for my heart is beneficial, I think I’ll give up booze altogether and take the chances with my heart. This experience with a drunk driving conviction can’t be too good for my heart.
Here are some interesting facts that the moderator, Mindy, gave about drunk driving penalties for a (mostly) first conviction in other countries:
Malaysia — your spouse gets jailed too
Norway — 3 weeks in jail at hard labor
Finland and Sweden — 1 year at hard labor
France — 1 year in jail, lose license for life
Bulgaria — execution for a second offense
El Salvador — execution by firing squad for a first offense
Makes the punishment in this country sound mild. I guess it comes down to a matter of degree and fairness. Is a year in jail or execution fair punishment? It certainly would deter people from driving drunk. But in Iran they are about to execute a woman for having an affair outside marriage, and they’ve already given her 99 lashes. That is also a deterrent, but it doesn’t sound fair to most of us.
Drunk driving laws need to make sense, the test for being drunk needs to be reasonable and accurate, the cop needs to be honest, the courts need to be fair, and the system can’t be rigged just to produce revenue for the state. Otherwise we risk becoming a totalitarian state.
I attended the court hearing this morning of Shon Davis, one of my fellow jail inmates over the weekend. He’s been in jail for two weeks on a parole violation involving a previous drug possession conviction. Shon said a state cop arrested him while he was getting off work at the Wacky Tobacconist, one of two such stores he manages in Gold Beach and Brookings. He has already lost his job over the arrest.
Shon said the parole violation involved his alleged “association with a known drug user” that the state cop said he observed earlier in the day. “How was I supposed to know the guy was using drugs,” Shon told me. “It took me two years to get to where I am today, and they just took it all away from me.”
I don’t know how old Shon is, but I’d guess in his late 20s. He said he wouldn’t even have still been on probation had he finished paying his fines earlier in the year and been released from probation on the scheduled date, but the judge extended his probation for a year so he could finish making payments.
At today’s hearing the prosecutor said Shon had also failed a drug urine test and he had some other add-on crime I couldn’t quite hear. The court scheduled his trial for Dec. 1 and Shon is to remain locked up in that sunless, cramped dungeon of a jail until then. I talked to Jim Gardner, Shon’s lawyer, afterwards and asked why there was no talk of him being released. He said the D.A.’s case has big problems (read that as not very strong) but they won’t let Shon out “even if you had a million dollars.”
I left the court rather depressed about the whole thing and walked the mile back to my office. In jail Shon told me he helped build the greens at Salmon Run, the golf course where I used to be a member and still often play. We knew several people in common at the course, including Felix Calderon, the major figure in the Calderon Group which built the course. I told Shon I’d try to get him a job helping to build the Crook Point Golf Course, the new course proposed for Pistol River near my home.
By the way, I was in jail for duii (driving under the influence of intoxicants). It’s a phony rap as far as I’m concerned. I had two glasses of wine last Feb. 12 with John Silveira while we were working on the magazine at the office, then left and got caught in a speed trap at the edge of town. Speed traps are ubiquitous around here. They are a major revenue-producer for the bureaucratic machine. After six months, $10,000, and a joke of a trial, I was convicted and sentenced to two days in jail, loss of my license for a year, and a couple of thousand dollars more in fines. They also pulled my concealed carry permit.
A few hours after Shon’s court appearance, I went down to the bank and took $400 out of my social security account and put a $100 each into the jail accounts of Shon and three other of my former jail mates. I know some of them have no money so this will help them buy something when they have commissary privileges twice a week. It’ll be an escape from the drab crap they serve to the inmates at lunchtime.
More on this dismal business later. I suppose it will be outrageously funny and absurd years from now, after we rescue this country from the police state it is turning into. Right now it’s just damn sad. Not for me so much, but for those inmates still in jail — all nonviolent offenders and most on parole violations for booze and marijuana. They’re “caught” in the Government System, paying everyone’s salaries with their incarceration. The government can’t aford to let too many of them out. Think of all the guards and bureacratic paper-pushers they’d have to lay off.