?

Log in

No account? Create an account
Peter Watts convicted - Input Junkie
March 19th, 2010
04:28 pm

[Link]

Previous Entry Share Next Entry
Peter Watts convicted
In case you were wondering, Peter Watts is a science fiction author. His fiction-- Starfish, Maelstrom, Behemoth (spelled with a beta), and Blindsight is extremely intelligent, cynical, and fraught. He's a very good guy and has a lot of friends, which is why this story may be all over your friendslist, or at least why you're hearing about it from me. Ghu knows how often this kind of thing happens to people who aren't as socially connected.

He wasn't perfectly convenient for US border guards when he was returning to Canada, and/or some guards were just in the mood to attack. Peter Watts has not yet been sentenced, so it could be anything from suspended sentence (but he might not be able to travel to the US again ever [1]) to two years in prison.

Contra preconceptions-- Watts is white. One of the violent guards is a woman.

From james_nicoll, just the facts:
Toronto author Peter Watts has been found guilty of assaulting, resisting and obstructing a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer.

Jurors returned the verdict today in St. Clair County Circuit Judge James Adair’s courtroom. He faces up to two years in prison when sentenced April 26.

From coffeeem: Mostly about jury nullification, the inadequately publicized right of juries to acquit regardless of the law.

Jury nullification is one of those ambiguous things, but I believe it's valuable because it means the government will not be worse than the public.

From pecunium:
Big roundup with context and explanations of why the police are getting away with too much.

At this point, the conviction has been announced way down in an open thread at Making Light. I expect that there will be extensive further discussion there [2] or at a new top level post.

[1] Of course, he might not want to.
[2] The thread is almost entirely jokes, starting with bar jokes and spreading into knock knock jokes, elephant jokes, etc.

(24 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments
 
[User Picture]
From:richardthinks
Date:March 19th, 2010 08:56 pm (UTC)
(Link)
seems like you have a theme lately on power and lack of accountability...
[User Picture]
From:asakiyume
Date:March 19th, 2010 09:39 pm (UTC)
(Link)
time_shark has a link to Watts's assessment of the situation, which is very measured.
[User Picture]
From:agrumer
Date:March 19th, 2010 09:53 pm (UTC)
(Link)
βehemoth = βehemoth

Weirdly, that's a lower-case beta. The upper-case beta looks exactly like a B. On the book's cover, the title is entirely upper-case except for the first letter.
[User Picture]
From:agrumer
Date:March 19th, 2010 10:54 pm (UTC)
(Link)
There's a top-level post now.
[User Picture]
From:redbird
Date:March 19th, 2010 11:48 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Tangent to the Watts case, but: jury nullification has also meant all-white juries acquitting white men of racist murders because they don't think it's wrong to lynch a black man or to shoot a civil rights activist.
[User Picture]
From:nancylebov
Date:March 19th, 2010 11:49 pm (UTC)
(Link)
That's what I meant by ambiguous. Jury nullification has been used to acquit the guilty, the innocent, and those accused under unjust laws.

Edited at 2010-03-19 11:50 pm (UTC)
[User Picture]
From:agrumer
Date:March 19th, 2010 11:56 pm (UTC)
(Link)
I have a hard time thinking of anything that isn't ambiguous in this sense.

Jury nullification can save the innocent from unjust law, or shield the guilty from justice.
Violence can be used in self-defense, or in aggression.
Love can motivate one to lend help, or to become a creepy stalker.
[User Picture]
From:nancylebov
Date:March 19th, 2010 11:59 pm (UTC)
(Link)
The thing is, every time I bring up jury nullification around redbird, she mentions the racist part of its history.
[User Picture]
From:uplinktruck
Date:March 20th, 2010 03:55 am (UTC)
(Link)
The thing is that redbird is right. Not only was it used to spring racist criminals, it was also used to convict blacks of sex crimes when the actual offense was showing any attention to a white girl.

But the racist part of that history is just one part of the problems with jury nullification. Juries ignored the law and found in favor of shooting someone caught cheating with the shooter's spouse in New Mexico and Texas. A New York jury found it was ok for a father to beat a young man to death because he believed that young man raped his daughter. A Nebraska jury let a man off that killed a transgender male(?) after he found out that was not a woman's hardware under that skirt.

We have a system of justice that works. Jury Nullification is an urban legend that somehow got a cult following of believers. There are very few states that allow for it their laws. If we are going to start making up the law as we go along, then the country is doomed to anarchy.

What needs to be nullified is the law that offends you. There is a mechanism in place for that. Get hold of your legislators and tell them change it. If they don't then vote in someone that will. If enough people agree with you, your person will get elected and the law will be changed.
[User Picture]
From:agrumer
Date:March 20th, 2010 05:21 am (UTC)
(Link)
Wait, how could jury nullification (acquittal of defendants even when the evidence shows that they've violated the law) have been used to convict blacks of sex crimes?

Jury nullification isn't an "urban legend". It's a longstanding right of juries, established in the English Common Law, and acknowledged in US Supreme Court cases.
[User Picture]
From:uplinktruck
Date:March 20th, 2010 03:54 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Jury nullification (as defined and pushed by the current group of backers) is in fact a an urban legend. It is also illegal in states that do not allow for it in their state statutes.

If it was legal, don't you think every defense attorney on the planet would be preaching it to the juries they face? Has it ever crossed your mind there might be a really good reason neither the prosecution nor the defense brings that up either in opening or closing statements?

Every state has a standard set of jury instructions, most of which have been repeatedly challenged and upheld as high as the United States Supreme Court. The law requires the jury to follow those instructions and the court's instructions. It is the judge's job to see the defendant gets a fair trial and those instructions make sure that happens. That means fair for the prosecution and fair for the defendant. (The system is already heavily weighted in favor of the defense.)

If juries start deviating from that balance, then our court systems will break down. It might suddenly become ok to compromise officer safety. It could become a quasi-legal to beat someone just for being gay, but a death sentence if that gay defends himself with lethal force. Some, thinking no jury in the world would convict them, might be more inclined to defend their homes from sheriff's deputies attempting to execute a repossession order with lethal force.

You get the idea.

Most of our court procedures are designed to take the passion out of the decision making. There is a reason Lady Justice is blindfolded, using only her scales to render the decision.

Jury nullification is a movement based on a poor understanding of how our legal system works. It is dangerous to toss out the rules so carefully crafted to make sure everyone gets a fair trial.

But if you like that idea, go for it. Get hold of your legislators and have it proposed as a law. If enough people agree with you, then it will happen.

But be careful what you wish for. I've attended hundreds of trials in my career. Seen about two thirds that many jury decisions. My experience tells me that a nullification instruction to the jury will eliminate legal protections like disregarding improperly presented evidence, disregarding outbursts from witnesses and those in the court room and even making sure that all the elements of the charges are met before they can convict.
[User Picture]
From:madfilkentist
Date:March 22nd, 2010 01:38 pm (UTC)
(Link)
The point of jury nullification is to refuse to uphold an unjust law. Saying that it's an "urban legend" is a category error; whatever you may think the facts are, the claim doesn't make sense. It's like criticizing rap music by saying it's a mathematical error.

Jury nullification means the refusal to accept a particular law. Selective enforcement is not jury nullification when done by juries, any more than it's "police nullification" when cops don't arrest their friends. Jury nullification is the refusal to enforce a particular law, because that law should not be enforced on anyone.

If I'm ever on a jury where someone is charged with having marijuana, and there are no complicating issues (e.g., distributing it to minors or involvement with violent gangs), I will not vote to convict. Period. I will not send anyone to jail who has not violated another person's rights. I am not a robot, using only an algorithm someone has fed me to arrive at a decision on how to dispose of people's lives.

If someone decides to beat up others for being gay because I refuse to jail someone for smoking pot, that person is so irrational that there's no connection between my action and his. Someone might just as well beat up other pot smokers because some have been sent to jail.

Personal conscience stands above the orders of the State. If that makes the power of the State break down -- that's a DAMN GOOD THING.
[User Picture]
From:uplinktruck
Date:March 22nd, 2010 03:15 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Jury Nullification as it is presented today is an urban legend. Obviously you did not read anything I wrote above about the law, jury instructions and how all of that has been repeatedly upheld all the way to the supreme court.

"If I'm ever on a jury where someone is charged with having marijuana, and there are no complicating issues (e.g., distributing it to minors or involvement with violent gangs), I will not vote to convict. Period. I will not send anyone to jail who has not violated another person's rights."

That brings up a very interesting question. When the judge looks at you and asks if there is anything he should know about that would keep you from rendering a fair verdict, will you perjure your self and say no? When the prosecutor asks you if you could find the defendant guilty of those charges if she proves them, will you look her in the eye and lie to her under oath?

And when the jury deadlocks, 11 to 1, there will be a hung jury and they will have a do-over on that trial. That will be at the expense of the county and/or state. So when the judge starts looking into why this jury dead locked and maybe even traces the problem to you and finds this post or one like it, are you going to quietly accept the penalties for perjury?

You got it in your head that juries are a legislative branch of the government. You seem to believe it is the duty of a jury to find for the defense if the offender broke a law you don't believe in.

You could not be farther from the truth. A jury's only job is to determine if the accused did in fact break the law(s) the they are accused of breaking. They are not charged with determining whether or not a law is just. That is not their job. That is the job of the legislature and the people that elect their representatives.

"If someone decides to beat up others for being gay because I refuse to jail someone for smoking pot, that person is so irrational that there's no connection between my action and his.

Not in the least. It is perfectly rational because there are people out there that have no problem with beating, torturing and killing gays simply because they are gay. Just like you have no problem with pot and think it should be legal (so do I to tell the truth), they feel the same way about gay bashing.

But to once again apply your logic and show you where it can lead, how about if the Man-Boy Love group encouraged their members to serve on juries. Those people could do the very same thing you want to do with pot violations. Hang the jury and let child molesters go free to once again play among the children of their neighborhoods.

Or is there a difference between what you want to do and what child molesters, gay bashers, racists, etc. would want to do?

As for that whole power of the State breaking down thing, I've actually had a taste of that. Most of the areas around New Orleans in the days after Katrina were completely without any services from anyone. We were all on our own. That is the first time I ever wanted to carry a gun on this job.

That is another one of those be careful what you wish for things. You might get it.

Edited at 2010-03-22 03:17 pm (UTC)
[User Picture]
From:nancylebov
Date:March 22nd, 2010 05:54 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Why do you think legislators and prosecutors are that much more trustworthy than the general public?
[User Picture]
From:uplinktruck
Date:March 22nd, 2010 06:30 pm (UTC)
(Link)
I didn't say I thought that. But just because a legislator refuses to vote or act in a manner I don't agree with doesn't make that legislator untrustworthy.

Again, if you want the law changed, vote for people that will do that. Go to their campaign appearances. Ask the candidates how they feel about it. Get involved in the campaigns.

But breaking the system is not the way to change it.

[User Picture]
From:nancylebov
Date:March 23rd, 2010 01:28 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Jury nullification is not an urban legend. It's part of the common law tradition.

The thing is, you only see jury nullification as being used irresponsibly rather than seeing it as a sometimes responsible brake on a sometimes irresponsible justice system.
[User Picture]
From:uplinktruck
Date:March 23rd, 2010 04:13 pm (UTC)
(Link)
I've given you the facts, told you the law and pointed out the supreme court upheld that law. I've given examples of what went wrong and what might go wrong when juries throw out the rules and run with their "conscience" instead.

If you still don't get it, then we have to agree to disagree. There is no law against that.
[User Picture]
From:theweaselking
Date:March 20th, 2010 02:27 am (UTC)
(Link)
And?

The sad and pathetic racist history of the *use* of the right of jury nullification in some cases does not change that the *right* of jury nullification exists.

Put another way, the fact that "states rights" in the USA is a code word for "racism" and that every single "states rights" issue is blatantly racist does not change that the States do have rights, and that it is theoretically possible for the US Federal Government to infringe on the rights of states in a way that a sane person might object rather than celebrate.
[User Picture]
From:nancylebov
Date:March 20th, 2010 02:46 am (UTC)
(Link)
Medical marijuana and decriminalization/legalization are the obvious current examples.
[User Picture]
From:theweaselking
Date:March 20th, 2010 02:58 am (UTC)
(Link)
And yet, nobody says "states rights" when discussing "right to die"[1] legislation.

"States' Rights" is a code word even when the States actually do have the right in questeion.

[1]: To add another one to your list.
[User Picture]
From:nancylebov
Date:March 20th, 2010 03:13 am (UTC)
(Link)
So, is there a better term? "Federal overreach" doesn't have quite the same meaning.
[User Picture]
From:uplinktruck
Date:March 20th, 2010 04:11 am (UTC)
(Link)
The problem is that states got into bed with the feds accepting money that came with an incredible number of strings attached to it. The states got hooked on the money. When the feds came down with unpopular edicts like the 55 mile an hour speed limit of the 1970s, the states had no choice but to go along or loose their federal funding.

Now the federal government comes down to the states with mandates (mostly unfunded or partially funded, almost never fully funded) like Medicaid, social programs, seat belt laws, minimum drinking ages, tamper resistant driver's licenses, conservation laws, etc. etc. No, technically the federal government cannot infringe upon the sovereignty of the state and force these matters. But the federal government can darn sure take back all that free federal money for roads, schools, airports, health care, open spaces, wilderness preservation, etc, etc, etc.

If you look at the legislation for all these federal mandates on the states, you will find that each one is tied to some federal handout. With only a hand full of exceptions, the states go along with the program every time. Like every other junkie, the states just have to have that next fix and they will do anything to get it.
[User Picture]
From:agrumer
Date:March 20th, 2010 05:22 am (UTC)
(Link)
"Federalism" is the usual term.
From:billstewart
Date:March 25th, 2010 01:55 am (UTC)

Not assault or obstruction, just failure to obey

(Link)
Just for the record, while the newspaper said he was accused of several things and found guilty, he wasn't actually found guilty of assault or obstruction, just of [I forget the precise phrasing] failure to obey orders from a cop for the 20 seconds it took for the cops to decide to escalate. (The jurors thought the cops were out of line, but the cops weren't on trial, and they were bullied into deciding that he had technically violated the ill-defined law.)
nancybuttons.com Powered by LiveJournal.com