All posts by Thomas L. Knapp

Excessive: Bail Isn’t Meant to Enable the Holding of Political Prisoners

The US Constitution’s Eighth Amendment forbids “excessive bail” in criminal prosecutions. That prohibition seems somewhat vague. I guess we’re just expected to know excessive bail when we see it. Two current cases demonstrate not just excessive bail, but abuse of the whole idea of bail for the purpose of holding un-convicted defendants as political prisoners.

In August, podcaster Christopher Cantwell of Keene, New Hampshire traveled to Charlottesville, Virginia to join his fellow white nationalists in a violent race riot. Cantwell ended up as the central figure in a Vice documentary on the event — and under arrest for felony assault.

Cantwell’s bail was initially set at $25,000, but on appeal from the prosecutor it was revoked entirely and Cantwell was slapped into solitary confinement (“protective custody”) at the Albemarle County jail until his trial, scheduled for November. Why the sudden turnabout? The prosecutor claimed that Cantwell a) was a flight risk, and b) had evil political views.

Cantwell was clearly not a flight risk. He turned himself in on demand, having stayed in Virginia and in touch with police in anticipation of doing so once he heard rumors of a warrant for his arrest. And Cantwell’s political views should under no circumstances have been treated as relevant to bail. The purpose of bail is to incentivize a defendant to appear at trial, full stop.

Meanwhile in Georgia, Reality Leigh Winner languishes in the Lincoln County jail, also denied bail since her June arrest for “removing classified material from a government facility and mailing it to a news outlet.”

The initial bail denial was premised on the possibility that she might have taken, and might disclose, more classified information. But in a second bail hearing, as in Cantwell’s case, the judge’s denial of bail was obviously conditioned solely on the content of Winner’s supposed political beliefs.

Winner was not a significant flight risk. She had no criminal record, her passport had been confiscated, and her mother had offered to move to Georgia to act as her pre-trial custodian. The prosecutor’s only real argument for denying bail was the claim that Winner’s admitted admiration for fellow whistle-blowers Edward Snowden and Julian Assange indicated “contempt for our country and our security.” The judge bought that argument.

Again: The sole legitimate purpose of bail is to ensure that the defendant shows up for trial so as to not forfeit some significant amount of money or property.

Conditioning bail on the defendant’s political beliefs — or, worse, denying it entirely over those beliefs — is by definition “excessive.” Judges who commit such violations of the Eighth Amendment in particular and of due process in general should be removed from the bench — and possibly given a taste of confinement themselves.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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Take a Knee. Take a Seat. Take a Chill Pill.

English: American students pledging to the fla...
American students pledging to the flag in a former form of the salute, specifically the Bellamy salute . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners,” US president Donald Trump thundered from the stage of a September campaign rally, “when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out. He’s fired. He’s fired!'”

Many seem to agree that professional football games are no place for political statements. Well, at least they agree now. I don’t recall a peep from them for nearly a decade of the US government shelling out millions of dollars to turn professional football games into combination political statements and military recruitment rallies.

Meanwhile, the Houston Chronicle reports, a Texas high school student has been expelled for sitting through morning prayers to the god called government, also known as “the Pledge of Allegiance.”

C’mon, people — relax!

Is it truly important that someone you don’t know didn’t assume your preferred bodily posture while a song you like was played?

Is it the end of the world that a high school student doesn’t practice the same (secular) religion as you?

I was brought up to respect the flag. The Marine Corps reinforced that tendency. A 48-star flag adorned my grandfather’s casket (he served in the navy in World War Two). A 50-star flag just may cover mine one of these days. My personal politics notwithstanding, I’m a little bit attached to its symbolism.

But at the end of the day, the flag is a piece of cloth that some people don’t attach positive, let alone reverent, feelings to. The cry that some people “died for” it is, frankly, disrespectful to those people and whatever their real reasons were for taking up arms beneath it.

The national anthem is a song that glorifies the killing of rebellious slaves, some of whose descendants are likely among those criticized for failing to stand while it’s played (ask the grandchild of an Auschwitz survivor to stand for the Deutschlandlied and see how he or she responds).

And the “Pledge of Allegiance” was written by a flag salesman to, you guessed it, boost his flagging sales numbers (sorry, couldn’t help myself there).

If it bothers you to the point of distraction that some people are, by your lights, insufficiently respectful of the Stars and Stripes, your priorities are way out of whack. And if the flag does indeed stand for freedom, you’re part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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Bump Stock Ban Boogie: The Latest Silly Political Dance Craze

 

Slide Fire Solutions SSAK-47-XRS-RH Bump Fire Stock mounted on a GP WASR-10/36 AK-47 (Source: Wikipedia)
Slide Fire Solutions SSAK-47-XRS-RH Bump Fire Stock mounted on a GP WASR-10/36 AK-47 (Source: Wikipedia)

Every time there’s a “public mass shooting” (defined by the Congressional Research Service as an incident in which four or more people are indiscriminately killed, not including the shooter or shooters, in a relatively public place) in America, the usual suspects climb atop of the pile of bodies before they’re even cold and start doing the funky chicken to the tune of “gun control, gun control, this wouldn’t happen if we just added one more gun control law to the hundreds of gun control laws that we already have.”

They’re always wrong, their political posturing is always ghoulish and disgusting, and any policy outcomes they achieve are stupid and pointless at best and an outrage against the rights of the people at worst.

This time, it looks like the former. US Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) is pushing legislation to ban “bump stocks,” devices which allow one to fire a semi-automatic weapon (which fires one shot per pull of the trigger) at rates not unlike those of an automatic weapon (hundreds of rounds per minute  for as long as the trigger is depressed, unless the gun runs out of ammo, or it jams, or its barrel melts).

“Bump firing” devices are pretty simple. They’re based on holding the trigger finger in place and using the recoil of the weapon to, you guessed it, bump the trigger against the finger repeatedly.

Because they’re so simple, anyone who really wants one will get or make one, ban or no ban. And, because they make a weapon’s fire incredibly inaccurate and difficult to control, hardly anyone DOES want one for any purpose other than impersonating Rambo in YouTube videos.

If the Vegas shooter did use a bump stock, as seems to be the case, it probably saved some lives. A reasonably proficient marksman would likely have killed more people with aimed shots from a semi-automatic, or even bolt action single shot, rifle under the circumstances (thousands of people packed together, less than 500 yards away, with a clear line of sight and no counter-sniper fire to worry about).

Republican politicians and the National Rifle Association are already jumping on the bump stock ban wagon. I’m not surprised. There’s no “there” there.  The whole idea is even dumber, and less pernicious in effect, than the 1994 ban on “assault weapons” (defined as guns that people like Dianne Feinstein think look scary).

This stump stupid idea has to be fought on principle, of course. “Shall not be infringed” means exactly that, and politicians should never be rewarded for publicly rolling around in the blood of murder victims while demanding that we sacrifice our rights to their ambitions. But I won’t personally be losing any sleep over Feinstein’s stunt.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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