It has recently come to my attention that there are far too many laws which outlaw harmless activities, simply because they correlate with other harmful illegal activities. It all goes back to the day when they had to get Al Capone for tax evasion. Rather than eliminate incompetency and impotence of the law enforcement, requiring them to work harder, we pass laws to make their jobs all too easy. The side effect is that many grave injustices are allowed to pass.
Take for example this story. A man came to the US from South America to work. As many who follow that same path in life, he was saving money so that one day he could return home and support his family. After years of hard work, he had built up a tidy pile of cold hard cash. We’re talking about many thousands of dollars in paper money.
He was finally on his way back home to see his family, when he was pulled over by police for a traffic violation. They ended up searching his car and finding the cash. Even though there was no evidence of any other wrongdoing, the police confiscated the cash, and they were not legally obligated to ever return it. Why does this law exist? Because drug dealers often have lots of cash on hand. This law lets cops arrest drug dealers, and take their cash away when the drug dealers are too smart to get caught actually dealing.
There is another law, in some places, that makes it illegal to have a large number of small zip-lock bags. Very small plastic baggies, the kind I use to sort out pieces in board games, are also the kind that drug dealers use to sell drugs. Depending on where you are, how many bags you have, and the size of the bags, you could be arrested and convicted even if you have never touched illegal drugs in your entire life.
The United States has a strong interest in preventing the hunting of bald eagles. They are an endangered species, last I heard, and they are a national symbol. Thus, it is illegal to possess any part of an eagle. Veterinary places that handle eagles have to document and send all Eagle parts to a central authority. Native Americans who want Eagle feathers and such for their rituals, and what have you, must officially request them.
If we find a poacher who has some eagle feathers in his truck, but we can’t actually prove that he poached an eagle, this law makes it possible to convict said poacher. I guess that’s a good thing, except for the fact that someone who happens to live near some eagles might be convicted despite a complete and utter lack of wrongdoing.
There are many other laws out there which revolve around the concept of tool possession. Guns are sort of the obvious tool, but what about lock picks, chemistry sets, or bongs? Sure, there are correlations between these objects and illegal activities, but is that really enough? What if someone is honestly a bong historian, and just likes to collect them? What if someone else just likes to pick locks for Houdini reasons? Modern chemistry sets don’t have nearly any of the fun stuff they used to have back in the day.
People like to say that it is better for ten guilty to go free than one innocent to be imprisoned, but I don’t think too many people really believe it. So much of our entertainment media is about beating or catching the bad guys. When it is about a wrongly accused innocent, the audience is always 100% sure that the accused is truly innocent. When an obviously guilty person gets away on a â€œtechnicalityâ€ it is portrayed as a win for the bad guys. I think that some more stories about people of ambiguous guilt will help Blackstone’s formulation really become a part of the public consciousness.
We need to stop letting law enforcement be lazy. If someone is dealing drugs, then catch them dealing drugs. If someone is poaching eagles, catch them poaching eagles. If all you can do is catch someone with a pile of cash and some eagle feathers stored in plastic baggies, then either the criminals are smarter than the cops, the cops just suck at their jobs, or the person is actually innocent.
Lastly, I think we have a major problem coming up in our society in that we will find an ever increasing number of laws absolutely unenforceable. Imagine if you lived in a typical high fantasy setting, with wizards and dragons. How would you enforce laws on the wizards? You really can’t. Sufficiently powerful magic allows for absolute deniability. You know the old saying that sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic? Well, it’s true in this regard. People with access to sufficiently powerful technology will be able to do whatever they please with no possibility of being caught.
If we start living by Blackstone’s formulation now, we can ease ourselves into the future techno-anarchy. If we continue along our current path, it’s going to all come crashing down one day when online money laundering spirals out of control.