05 November 2008

Losing Streak

No, I don't mean the lack of posts here in the past few months.

Today we have a newly elected District Attorney in my home town. Today, too, we have a new group of happy-go-lucky Boulder citizens whose luck ran out Halloween night, when they put pumpkins on their heads, and took off everything else. They did that for Boulder’s 10th annual Naked Pumpkin Run. The Run was written about well in advance in our local paper, the Daily Camera. The Camera even helpfully offered an “If You Go” pointer to the what, when, and where of it. It would have been hard for people offended by such sights to have been caught by surprise, hard somehow not to have planned to be on the Pearl Street Mall when they all streaked by.

Yet the police, while publicly telling the Camera they planned no arrests, somehow contrived to be waiting at the end of the run by the old county courthouse. Police arrested 12 people and nearly incited a riot – not by the runners but by the crowd who joyfully watched them go by.

There’s no joy for the arrested runners. Every one of them is charged with indecent exposure, which under Colorado’s flawed statute means that if they are convicted – or even accept a plea to a non-sexual offense with a deferred sentence – then they will be required to register as sex offenders. They will carry that label the rest of their lives. These people – scientists, a doctoral candidate, a Fiske Planetarium docent, CU students, a cook, and more – the Dirty Dozen?

Never mind that the police are guilty of selective enforcement: 12 of more than 200 pumpkin runners were culled from the patch, and in nine previous years no arrests were made.

Never mind that the indecent exposure law itself says nothing about indecency, unless you’re of the mind that human genitals are in themselves indecent, a view that bodes ill for survival of the race.

Never mind that the law is probably unconstitutionally broad and vague: you only have to cause affront or alarm to the other guy who can’t tear his gaze from your g’s. If I’ve been blessed with sizeable feet and not-so-sizeable other body parts, I may well be alarmed to discover that others are blessed so in reverse. If you have a Star of David tattooed somewhere south of your belly button, you’ve probably affronted the entire Aryan Nation.

It is certainly true that there is something very naked about people who put on Jack-O-Lantern masks and nothing else for a Halloween entertainment (and if you don’t think it was entertaining ask yourself why everyone there was crowding to see the runners, and no one fleeing the legally horrific sight.)

But it could be considered even remotely sexual only by a sentient pumpkin.

Our new District Attorney campaigned to be tough on crime, and at the same time pledged “being tough on crime also means being smart on crime.” Our new District Attorney could help us out here: labeling these people as sexual offenders isn’t being smart on crime or anything else. These charges should be dismissed, and the Halloween runners shouldn’t have to pay lawyers like me a dime defending their so-called indecent exposure.

This particular Dirty Dozen should be released back into the community to continue their young and productive lives. And let’s throw in that poor kid who ran naked across the Boulder High School football field, for good (and decent) measure.

Our new District Attorney faces a choice: We can get tough on crime, or we can get tough on pumpkins.

21 July 2008

Half-Off Sale

Turns out that a glimpse of Janet Jackson's left breast (or was it the right?) isn't worth a half-million dollars after all. According to this CNN story, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected an FCC fine against CBS of $550,000 for the 2004 Super Bowl halftime wardrobe malfunction that apparently left FCC commissioners gasping in shame and perhaps guilty longing.

Most people, of course, wouldn't have paid more than half a buck for the sight.

01 May 2008

A Thorn by Any Other Name

In their new book, Death by a Thousand Cuts, Timothy Brook, Jérôme Bourgon, and Gregory Blue write about a trait shared by Americans and Chinese to this day: we execute human beings. The Chinese used to do it by way of lingchi, slicing off limbs and pieces of flesh. They stopped the practice in 1905.

In the United States today, we mix a cocktail of poison and inject it into people's veins. A week ago the Supreme Court said that's not a bad way to kill a criminal. It doesn't sound so bad as the Chinese method, though the Chinese used to temper the punishment by sedating the criminal with opium, and killing him or her long before lopping off the last ounce of flesh.

We sedate the criminals we kill, too -- at least we think we do. One of three liquids used in our lethal cocktails is supposed to dull the pain of death. Maybe it does, but why so much screaming and contorted and writhing expressions on some of the ones we kill?

The Supreme Court said it isn't cruel. Certainly not like the old Chinese way; certainly not like the disemboweling and dismembering Western nations used to practice, until one by one they gave up killing by any fashion, leaving the United States alone still trying to find a perfect way for the government to take the life of a helpless man or woman or, sometimes, boy or girl.

The authors say of the comparative methods of slaughter, "It is hard to see much distinction in degrees of cruelty." It is hard to see much honor in it, either.

05 March 2008

Misleading Advertising

The American Constitution Society, the left-wing's answer to the right-wing's Federalist Society, has just published an article I rushed to read, titled A Call to Protect Civilian Justice: Beware the Creep of Military Tribunals.

A fine article, though not what I expected: I thought it was about Dick Cheney.

23 January 2008

The Scabs Are Healing Nicely, Thank You

Even though, beginning today, I am posting new material on the blog, I haven't crossed any picket lines. True, the Writer's strike goes on, and last month I mistakenly thought it was over, because I got a letter from a writer. My bad. So, there was another literary drought, I grew a beard, and the whole thing was pretty relaxing, all in all. But just yesterday I reached an independent agreement with the writers: I won't write any movies or television shows, and they won't write about criminal defense.

So. No more drought. Happy New Year.

They Shoot Journalists, Don't They?

Actually, I think they cut their heads off. An Afghani court has sentenced a student journalist to death, according to CNN. His crime? He downloaded an article the court didn't like and shared it with his classmates. Something to do about better treatment for women, a suggestion that can obviously get you killed in some countries.

Even though the United States likewise still executes its young, at least they get the benefit of counsel and open, if not always completely fair, trials before we fry, gas, hang, or shoot them.