Ecoterrorism Vindicated in England

Apparently 6 vandals who cause $60,000 damage to a power plant in England were acquitted solely on the argument that they were helping stop global warming -- in other words, they admitted their vandalism, but said it was in a higher cause.

It's been a pretty unusual ten days but today has been truly extraordinary. At 3.20pm, the jury came back into court and announced a majority verdict of not guilty! All six defendants - Kevin, Emily, Tim, Will, Ben and Huw - were acquitted of criminal damage.

To recap on how important this verdict is: the defendants campaigners were accused of causing £30,000 of criminal damage to Kingsnorth smokestack from painting. The defence was that they had 'lawful excuse' - because they were acting to protect property around the world "in immediate need of protection" from the impacts of climate change, caused in part by burning coal.

So the testimony centered not on whether they actually vandalized the power plant - they never denied it - but on whether the criminals were correct to fear global warming from power plants.  I don't know much about British law, but this seems to be a terrible precedent.  Or maybe not - does this mean that I can go and legally vandalize every Congressman's house for wasting my money?

Posted on September 10, 2008 at 09:54 AM | Permalink | Comments (9)

But its for the Kids

What is adult prohibition of marijuana achieving, if teenage use rates of marijuana are nearly as high as those for cigarettes, where we don't have adult prohibition.  Prohibitionists argue that adult marijuana must be banned because its legal availability to adults would make it easier for teens to obtain, but a direct comparison of marijuana and tobacco smoking demonstrates little utility from this approach:

The cigarette use figure represents a sharp drop from the 2005 survey, when it was 23 percent. Marijuana use, at 20.2 percent in 2005, showed a much smaller decline....

Another report released this week, the Fiscal Year 2007 Annual Synar Report on tobacco sales to youth, showed the 10th straight annual decline in the rate of illegal tobacco sales to minors. In 1997, 40.1 percent of retailers violated laws against tobacco sales to minors. In 2007 the rate had dropped to just 10.5 percent, the lowest ever.

"Efforts to curb cigarette sales to teens have been wildly successful, and it's past time we applied those lessons to marijuana," said Aaron Houston, director of government relations for the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C. "Tobacco retailers can be fined or put out of business if they sell to kids, but prohibition guarantees that we have zero control over marijuana dealers. Foolish policies have guaranteed that the marijuana industry is completely unregulated."

Jacob Sullum provides additional analysis in the rest of the post.

Posted on June 7, 2008 at 12:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

I Think I Can Agree With This

I observed a while back that "Eliot Spitzer has been brought down for a crime most libertarians don't think should be a crime, by federal prosecutors who should not be involved even if it were a crime, and using techniques, such as enlisting banks as government watchdogs of private behavior, that stretch the Fourth Amendment almost out of recognizable shape."

Megan McArdle makes a pretty good point about the last part:

I'm not distressed to hear that the Feds were spying on Eliot Spitzer. No, not because I don't like the man, but because I think maybe we should spy on our politicians, all the time. No probable cause, you say? I fling back at you Mark Twain's observation that America only has one distinct criminal class: Congress. . . . I think it's entirely appropriate that the anti-corruption police watch politicians like hawks. They've chosen public office; that conveys a lot of responsibility to the public, including assuring them that your votes aren't being bought outright. I also think that politicians, when caught in a crime, should automatically get the maximum penalty; if they think the law is such a good idea, they ought to suffer heartily when they disregard it.

Posted on March 14, 2008 at 07:04 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

We Don't Need To Turn Over No Stinking Evidence

A few days ago, I pointed to a Tom Kirkendall post where he reported that a large volume of evidence, including interview notes with star witness and Enron CFO Andy Fastow, was finally turned over to the Skilling defense team.  This is required by law to occur before the, you know, trial itself but in fact comes months and years after the trial.  Apparently, there are a lot of bombshells in the notes, including this one as described by Skilling's attorneys in a brief linked by Kirkendall: (citations omitted)

Task Force prosecutors called the “Global Galactic”  document “three pages of lies” and the “most incriminating document” in  Skilling’s entire case. At trial, Fastow testified Skilling  knew about Global Galactic because Fastow “confirmed” it with him during a  spring 2001 meeting. Skilling denied knowing anything about Global Galactic.  To bolster Fastow’s testimony and impeach Skilling’s, the Task Force introduced a set of handwritten “talking points” that Fastow said he prepared in anticipation of his meeting with Skilling. At trial, Fastow swore he “went over” the talking points with Skilling, including the crucial point “Confirmation of Global Galactic list.” Id. In closing, the Task Force relied heavily on this document to corroborate Fastow’s testimony that he discussed Global Galactic with Skilling.

The raw notes of Fastow’s interviews directly impeach Fastow’s testimony and the Task Force’s closing arguments. When shown and asked about the talking-points document in his pre-trial interview, Fastow told the Task Force he “doesn’t think [he] discussed list w/ JS.”

This obviously exculpatory statement was not included in the Task Force’s “composite” Fastow 302s given to Skilling. Nor was it included in the “Fastow Binders” the Task Force assembled for the district court’s in camera review of the raw notes. It is not possible that this omission was inadvertent. Fastow’s statement is one of the most important pieces of evidence provided during all his countless hours of interviews. Moreover, in preparing both the composite 302s and Fastow binders, the Task Force extracted and included other—relatively inconsequential—statements from the same interview date and even the same page of notes. The Task Force’s exclusion of this critical piece of evidence for over three years is inexcusable and, on its own, warrants a complete reversal of Skilling’s convictions and other substantial relief.

Disclosure: I actually worked with Jeff Skilling briefly at McKinsey & Co.  From that experience, I have always thought it unlikely that this incredibly detail-oriented guy did not know about a number of these key Enron partnerships.  However, that presumption on my part in no way reduces my desire to see him get a fair trial, and I am becoming convinced that he did not.

Posted on March 14, 2008 at 06:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thoughts on Prosecutorial Abuse

With Eliot Spitzer going down for what shouldn't be a crime (paying for sex) rather than what should be (abuse of power), now is as good a time as ever to focus on prosecutorial abuse.  As in the case of Spitzer, the media seems to have little desire to investigate overly-aggressive prosecution tactics.  In fact, in most cities, the local media cheer-leads abusive law enforcement practices.  It makes heroes of these abusive officials, whether their abuses be against the wealthy (in the case of Spitzer) or the powerless (as is the case of our own Joe Arpaio here in Phoenix).

Tom Kirkendall continues to be on the case of the Enron prosecution team for their abuses, which have been ignored in the media during the general victory dance of putting Jeff Skilling in jail and running Arthur Anderson out of business.  But, guilty or innocent, Skilling increasingly appears to have solid grounds for a new trial.  In particular, the Enron prosecution team seems to have bent over backwards to deny the Skilling team exculpatory evidence.  One such tactic was to file charges against every possible Skilling witness, putting pressure on them not to testify for Skilling.  Another tactic was more traditional - simply refuse to turn over critical documents and destroy those that were the most problematic:

The controversy regarding what Fastow told prosecutors and FBI agents who were investigating Enron became a big issue in the Lay-Skilling prosecution when the prosecution took the unusual step of providing the Lay-Skilling defense team a "composite summary" of the Form 302 ("302's") interview reports that federal agents prepared in connection with their interviews of Fastow. Those composites claimed that the Fastow interviews provided no exculpatory information for the Lay-Skilling defense, even though Fastow's later testimony at trial indicated all sorts of inconsistencies

However, I have spoken with several former federal prosecutors about this issue and all believe that the government has a big problem in the Skilling case on the way in which the information from the Fastow interviews was provided to the Lay-Skilling defense team. None of these former prosecutors ever prepared a composite 302 in one of their cases or ever used such a composite in one of their cases. The process of taking all the Fastow interview notes or draft 302's and creating a composite is offensive in that it allowed the prosecution to mask inconsistencies and changing stories that Fastow told investigators as he negotiated a better plea deal from the prosecutors. 

Similarly, the Enron Task Force's apparent destruction of all drafts of the individual 302s of the Fastow interviews in connection with preparing the final composite is equally troubling. Traditionally, federal agents maintain their rough notes and destroy draft 302s. However, in regard to the Fastow interviews, my sense is that the draft 302s were not drafts in the traditional sense. They were probably finished 302's that were deemed “drafts” when the Enron Task Force decided to prepare a composite summary of the 302's.

Note that showing how a person's story has changed over time is a key prosecution tactic, but one that is being illegally denied to Skilling.  Apparently Skilling's team has now seen the actual interview notes, and believe they have found "a sledgehammer that destroys Fastow's testimony" against Skilling.  Stay tuned, a new trial may be on the horizon.

Posted on March 12, 2008 at 09:15 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Cargo Cult Drug Enforcement

This is a great example of what I call cargo cult thinking:  If drugs are sold in small baggies, then banning these baggies will reduce drug sales:

Tiny plastic bags used to sell small quantities of heroin, crack cocaine, marijuana and other drugs would be banned in Chicago, under a crackdown advanced Tuesday by a City Council committee. Ald. Robert Fioretti (2nd) persuaded the Health Committee to ban possession of "self-sealing plastic bags under two inches in either height or width," after picking up 15 of the bags on a recent Sunday afternoon stroll through a West Side park.

Great idea.  But it seems that Chicago may not be after drug dealers after all:

Lt. Kevin Navarro, commanding officer of the Chicago Police Department's Narcotics and Gang Unit, said the ordinance will be an "important tool" to go after grocery stores, health food stores and other businesses.

Huh?  We need to "go after" health food stores?

This is the weirdest bit of problem-shifting I have seen since Oakland started assigning legal liability for teenage littering to the McDonalds corporation

Posted on March 5, 2008 at 01:35 PM | Permalink | Comments (19)

Incarceration

Like a lot of folks, I am staggered by the fact that more than 1 in 100 Americans are incarcerated, including approx. 1 in 9 young black men.  I don't have the evidence at my fingertips, but my gut instinct, like many libertarians, is to blame the war on drugs for much of the prison population.  I would have liked to have seen more detail in the PEW Report on how the population breaks down -- ie for what crimes and sentence lengths -- but no such information is available. 

I will say that the PEW report spends way too much time on the utilitarian argument about the costs in public dollars to actually incarcerate these folks.  My sense is that Americans almost never complain about the budgetary costs of incarceration.  They tend to be more than happy, as a group, to pay whatever it takes to keep felons locked away for long periods of time.   I think a much stronger argument is the individual rights complaint that so many people are locked up for what is basically consensual activity.

Posted on February 29, 2008 at 12:32 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)