Strip Searches for Everyone!

Apr 042012

Oh my:

The Supreme Court on Monday ruled by a 5-to-4 vote that officials may strip-search people arrested for any offense, however minor, before admitting them to jails even if the officials have no reason to suspect the presence of contraband.

Here’s the case that was brought to the Supreme Court:

The Supreme Court case arose from the arrest of Albert W. Florence in New Jersey in 2005. Mr. Florence was in the passenger seat of his BMW when a state trooper pulled his wife, April, over for speeding. A records search revealed an outstanding warrant based on an unpaid fine. (The information was wrong; the fine had been paid.)

Mr. Florence was held for a week in jails in two counties, and he was strip-searched twice. There is some dispute about the details but general agreement that he was made to stand naked in front of a guard who required him to move intimate parts of his body. The guards did not touch him.

“Turn around,” Mr. Florence, in an interview last year, recalled being told by jail officials. “Squat and cough. Spread your cheeks.”

“I consider myself a man’s man,” said Mr. Florence, a finance executive for a car dealership. “Six-three. Big guy. It was humiliating. It made me feel less than a man.”

The question before the courts was whether routine strip searches of all inmates — as opposed to strip searches just in cases of suspected contraband — constituted an unreasonable search under the Fourth Amendment. Alas, the court decided that the routine searches were fine and dandy… and yes, that means strip searches for people merely accused of petty offenses.

I wonder: If it’s “reasonable” to be repeatedly forced to expose your private orifices to corrections officers, even before you’re ever convicted of the most petty of offenses, then what would possibly count as “unreasonable”? Nothing, I suspect.

(Hat Tip: The Agitator.)

P.S. That’s damn depressing news, so if you want to go crawl back into bed, go read this awesome satire from the Borowitz Report.

Rights Are Inalienable But Forfeitable

Feb 092012

In my recent Philosophy in Action Webcast discussion of the death penalty, I mentioned Craig Biddle’s discussion of the fact that rights are inalienable but forfeitable. As promised, here’s footnote 46 of his excellent essay, Ayn Rand’s Theory of Rights: The Moral Foundation of a Free Society

… If rights were somehow inherent in man by virtue of his being man, then we could never punish people who violate rights–because using retaliatory force against them would violate the “rights” that they “inherently” have and that they thus always retain by virtue of being human. Because Rand’s theory is based on and derived from the observable requirements of man’s life, it is not afflicted with contradictions regarding those requirements. On Rand’s theory, rights are inalienable, in that others cannot take away or nullify one’s rights; but they are also forfeitable, in that one can relinquish one’s own rights by violating the rights of others. If and to the extent that a person violates the rights of others, he relinquishes his own rights and may be punished accordingly. His choice to violate rights places him outside the purpose of the principle and thus the scope of its protection. Again, one cannot claim the protection of a principle that one repudiates in action.

If rights were inherent in human nature, based purely on DNA or species-membership, then the advocates of “personhood for zygotes” would be right: the fertilized egg would have a right to life. However, on an objective theory of rights, rights cannot apply until the fetus is biologically separated from the woman. Only then does the fetus — then a baby — enter the social context necessary for rights. For further details, see Ari Armstrong’s and my recently-published essay, “The Assault on Abortion Rights Undermines All Our Liberties.

Police Fabricating Drug Busts

Oct 202011

Did you need another reason to oppose the Drug War? Just in case, here’s reason #28173:

A former NYPD narcotics detective snared in a corruption scandal testified it was common practice to fabricate drug charges against innocent people to meet arrest quotas.

The bombshell testimony from Stephen Anderson is the first public account of the twisted culture behind the false arrests in the Brooklyn South and Queens narc squads, which led to the arrests of eight cops and a massive shakeup.

Anderson, testifying under a cooperation agreement with prosecutors, was busted for planting cocaine, a practice known as “flaking,” on four men in a Queens bar in 2008 to help out fellow cop Henry Tavarez, whose buy-and-bust activity had been low.

Go read the whole story.

Video: The Morality of Torturing Terrorists and Criminals

Sep 202011

In Sunday’s Rationally Selfish Webcast, I discussed the morality of torturing terrorists and criminals. The question was:

Is it moral to torture criminals and/or terrorists? We supposedly were able to track down Osama Bin Laden with information obtained by torturing captured Al Qaeda prisoners. Is it moral to torture criminals, terrorists or other evildoers to gain useful information to fight crime or help win a war? If so, should there be any limits on when and how torture should be used by the government?

Here’s the video of my answer:

If you like it, please share it! Also, all my webcast and other videos can be found on my YouTube channel.

Be Grateful for the Hard Questions in Police Investigations

Aug 192011

In the course of preparing for my recent webcast question on the morality of police lying to suspects, I realized that something is deeply wrong with the standard portrayals in crime dramas of the victim’s loved ones.

In those crime dramas, the friends and family of a murder victim are often deeply offended by any suspicion by the police that they might have committed the crime, often to the point of refusing to cooperate after being questioned in a vigorous way. Perhaps that rarely happens in real life: perhaps that’s just a device that television writers like to use to heighten conflict. However, if it does happen, then I think that’s a serious mistake on the part of those people. It’s a failure to understand the epistemic context of the police (and prosecutors) in a criminal investigation.

As I mentioned in the webcast, police officers face a daunting task in any investigation, particularly a murder investigation. Without any ability to speak to the murder victim, they must insert themselves into his life, then extract relevant information from a slew of strangers, many of whom will be unreliable, if not flatly dishonest.

People truly mourning for the murder victim — as opposed to any criminals in their midst — should want justice to be done. They should want the police to catch the killer. As a result, they should want the police to conduct a vigorous and thorough investigation, including of the people close to the victim. Simply based on the natural trajectory of an investigation, plus the statistics on who kills who, the police ought to begin their investigation with the person’s intimate family and friends. And for the police, no one should be above suspicion.

Hence, the people closest to the victim should expect — and even want — to be questioned. They shouldn’t want the police to assume that “no mother would kill her son” and “the wife cried, so she wouldn’t have killed her husband.” Instead, these people should want the police to suspicious of them until provided with some fact-based reasons not to be suspicious. They should want the police to dig — and sometimes, that will require asking uncomfortable, difficult, or pointed questions. Sometimes, that will require lying to test the statement of a witness too.

Undoubtedly, that would be terribly difficult to endure, particularly in the wake of a tragic death. Still, true friends and family should be grateful for a vigorous investigation, so long as the police are ultimately concerned with doing justice. To do otherwise is to ignore the police’s context of knowledge. The police can only learn about the nature and quality of the victim’s relationships by prying into them, and they know that the murderer (if among them) will resist that by feigning grief and lying about crucial facts. Sometimes, the police must press hard to separate the innocent from the guilty — and that’s right and proper! Even people in mourning should recognize that.

Of course, if the police are dishonest or unjust in their investigation — if they make assumptions of guilt or ignore facts, if they’re just seeking an easy conviction rather than justice — then that’s a whole different matter. And I still think that a person shouldn’t talk to the police without a lawyer present.

But overall, a person should be glad to be questioned vigorously about the murder of a loved one, because then he can have some measure of confidence that if justice can be done, it will be done.

Police Interrogations

Jul 292011

In preparation for Sunday’s Rationally Selfish Webcast question on whether police should be allowed to lie to suspects in the course of a criminal investigation, I’ve been researching the standard practices and legal limits of police interrogation. I’ve found that extremely interesting, so I thought I’d share some links before the webcast itself.

First, How Police Interrogation Works from “How Stuff Works.” Basically, police interrogations are designed to exert as much psychological pressure on the victim as the courts allow. This article explains those techniques.

Second, What can the police lie about while conducting an interrogation? from “The Straight Dope.” This article is a fascinating summary of what kind of facts the police are permitted to misrepresent in dealings with suspects — because some and only some kinds of lies violate the suspect’s rights. The basic distinction is between “intrinsic” and “extrinsic” falsehoods. The article says:

Attempting to reconcile [various] rulings [by the Supreme Court], state courts and lower federal courts have come to draw a distinction between two kinds of lying to suspects: intrinsic misrepresentations, or those lies that relate to a suspect’s connection to the crime; and extrinsic misrepresentations, or those that have nothing to do with the suspect’s connection to the crime but attempt to distort his ability to make a rational choice about confessing.

That’s the critical issue here, I think. Police should be able to lie to suspects, but some kinds of lies — such as “you don’t have the right to an attorney” or “we can hold you indefinitely” constitute a kind of fraud, whereas others like “your fingerprints were found at the scene of the murder” and “a witness saw you enter the store” don’t. However, I’m not yet fully clear on the distinction, and I need to do more reading, this time from genuine law sources.

Third, “Don’t Talk to the Police” by Professor James Duane:

Greg blogged about this video back in 2008, but I didn’t watch it at the time. Now that I have, I can agree with Greg’s summary and conclusions:

[James Duane] is speaking to law students, explaining why he uniformly advises his clients (and everyone) that they should they never, ever, under any circumstances, talk with the police — guilty or innocent, a suspect or not, even if they are smarter than Aristotle and Newton combined, articulate as all get out, an expert in the law, and pure as the wind-driven snow. Never. …

He explains how talking to the police can’t ever help, and will in all likelihood hurt even innocents. This last is the part that really stood out: even the most innocuous statements by the most innocent of people could put them in jeopardy — it depends on context they don’t control. An officer misremembering an answer could bring a conviction; so could misremembering the question. Taping interviews is no guarantee, either: even some fuzziness in the contextual information that floated by before the interview could be disastrous!

Fourth, “Don’t Talk to the Police” by Officer George Bruch

In this follow-up lecture, George Bruch completely agreed with James Duane: a person should not speak to the police without his lawyer present.

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