FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

State Law Breakers

by KEVIN CARSON

I just read that the parents of an autistic high school student arrested in a drug sting operation in Temecula, California last December have filed suit against the school district. The parents were “initially happy their son had made his first and only friend last year at school,” but became suspicious when his “school friend” kept making excuses for not coming over. The “friend,” actually Riverside County Sheriff’s Deputy Daniel Zipperstein, “pressured their lonely and vulnerable son with more than 60 text messages over about three weeks into buying half a joint from a homeless man.”

The very existence of “sting operations,” by which law enforcement personnel solicit illegal activity — in other words, perform acts which are illegal on their faces in the course of their official duties — speaks volumes about the nature of the state and its laws. When the first professional police forces were created in London and New York in the early 19th century, they were regarded as simply hired functionaries who got paid to perform the same “posse comitatus” functions (preserved in the archaic practice of “citizen’s arrest”)  within the competency of all citizens. The proposition that professional police be granted special status over and above that of their fellow citizens would never have been tolerated.

I’ve never understood the logic by which someone in uniform can commit an act that’s defined as illegal by statute, in the course of a sting operation, without themselves breaking the law. If it’s illegal for a citizen to offer drugs or sexual acts for sale, or to solicit their sale from others, how is it legal for a cop to offer to buy or sell drugs from a citizen?

The answer, of course, is that the state cannot operate on the same logic as its citizens. I once told a coworker that, when it came to drug and sex work sting operations, cops should be subject to the same anti-solicitation laws they’re enforcing on us. Her response: “But then how would they catch people who do that stuff?”

Good question. Obviously, they couldn’t. The state simply can’t function unless it gives its own functionaries, with a wink and a nudge, an exemption from the laws that everyone else is supposed to obey.

The state couldn’t enforce laws against drugs, sex work, or any other consensual activity if it were literally bound by laws like the due process guarantees in the Bill of Rights. Imagine how the Drug War would fare if the Fourth Amendment were enforced literally, without any of the “reasonable expectation of privacy” or “probable cause” or “good faith” lacunae the courts have read into it — if cops actually had to have a warrant specifying the place and what they were looking for before they could set foot on your property? Imagine if civil forfeiture were treated as a violation of the Fifth Amendment, and the state couldn’t take your possessions without first charging you with a crime and persuading a jury to convict you. Under those terms, it wouldn’t matter if the substantive restrictions on drugs were as harsh as those in Singapore — they would be dead letters in practice because they were unenforceable.

Civil forfeiture was first introduced in the revenue collecting arms of government, because it was understood from the beginning that a literal interpretation of the common law prohibition on seizure of property without due process of law would render the tax laws unenforceable. Going through the ordinary criminal law process to collect from tax evaders would cost more than the revenue was worth.

Civil forfeiture by an administrative law body, based on a preponderance of the evidence, was originally a form of prerogative law in England. Prerogative courts like Star Chamber derived their procedural rules from the Roman civil law, as it was codified under Justinian. The proliferation of prerogative courts under the Stuarts was among the things that led to both Charles I and James II losing their thrones. But even after the accession of William and Mary, it was understood that customs and revenue were an exception to the common law’s “universal” due process requirements.

It was customs officials, operating under Admiralty law, who rubbed American colonials the wrong way and helped bring on the American Revolution. But even after the ratification of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, it was quickly established in case law that the prohibition against seizing property without a jury trial didn’t apply to customs and revenue — because it couldn’t.

So in the end, it doesn’t matter what the law says, or even how it explicitly restrains the state on paper. If government needs an unwritten exemption from the law to do what it wants, It will get it.

Kevin Carson is a senior fellow of the Center for a Stateless Society (c4ss.org) and holds the Center’s Karl Hess Chair in Social Theory.

Kevin Carson is a senior fellow of the Center for a Stateless Society (c4ss.org) and holds the Center’s Karl Hess Chair in Social Theory. He is a mutualist and individualist anarchist whose written work includes Studies in Mutualist Political Economy, Organization Theory: A Libertarian Perspective, and The Homebrew Industrial Revolution: A Low-Overhead Manifesto, all of which are freely available online. 

More articles by:
July 27, 2016
Richard Moser
The Party’s Over
John Eskow
The Loneliness of the American Leftist
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Humiliation Games: Notes on the Democratic Convention
Arun Gupta
Bernie Sanders’ Political Revolution Splinters Apart
M. G. Piety
Smoke and Mirrors in Philadelphia
Guillermo R. Gil
A Metaphoric Short Circuit: On Michelle Obama’s Speech at the DNC
Norman Pollack
Sanders, Our Tony Blair: A Defamation of Socialism
Claire Rater, Carol Spiegel and Jim Goodman
Consumers Can Stop the Overuse of Antibiotics on Factory Farms
Guy D. Nave
Make America Great Again?
Sam Husseini
Why Sarah Silverman is a Comedienne
Dave Lindorff
No Crooked Sociopaths in the White House
Dan Bacher
The Hired Gun: Jerry Brown Snags Bruce Babbitt as New Point Man For Delta Tunnels
Peter Lee
Trumputin! And the DNC Leak(s)
David Macaray
Interns Are Exploited and Discriminated Against
Ann Garrison
Rwanda, the Clinton Dynasty, and the Case of Dr. Léopold Munyakazi
Brett Warnke
Storm Clouds Over Philly
Chris Zinda
Snakes of Deseret
July 26, 2016
Andrew Levine
Pillory Hillary Now
Kshama Sawant
A Call to Action: Walk Out from the Democratic National Convention!
Russell Mokhiber
The Rabble Rise Together Against Bernie, Barney, Elizabeth and Hillary
Jeffrey St. Clair
Don’t Cry For Me, DNC: Notes From the Democratic Convention
Angie Beeman
Why Doesn’t Middle America Trust Hillary? She Thinks She’s Better Than Us and We Know It
Paul Street
An Update on the Hate…
Fran Shor
Beyond Trump vs Clinton
Ellen Brown
Japan’s “Helicopter Money” Play: Road to Hyperinflation or Cure for Debt Deflation?
Richard W. Behan
The Banana Republic of America: Democracy Be Damned
Binoy Kampmark
Undermining Bernie Sanders: the DNC Campaign, WikiLeaks and Russia
Arun Gupta
Trickledown Revenge: the Racial Politics of Donald Trump
Sen. Bernard Sanders
What This Election is About: Speech to DNC Convention
David Swanson
DNC Now Less Popular Than Atheism
Linn Washington Jr.
‘Clintonville’ Reflects True Horror of Poverty in US
Deepak Tripathi
Britain in the Doldrums After the Brexit Vote
Louisa Willcox
Grizzly Threats: Arbitrary Lines on Political Maps
Robert J. Gould
Proactive Philanthropy: Don’t Wait, Reach Out!
Victor Grossman
Horror and Sorrow in Germany
Nyla Ali Khan
Regionalism, Ethnicity, and Trifurcation: All in the Name of National Integration
Andrew Feinberg
The Good TPP
400 US Academics
Letter to US Government Officials Concerning Recent Events in Turkey
July 25, 2016
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
As the Election Turns: Trump the Anti-Neocon, Hillary the New Darling of the Neocons
Ted Rall
Hillary’s Strategy: Snub Liberal Democrats, Move Right to Nab Anti-Trump Republicans
William K. Black
Doubling Down on Wall Street: Hillary and Tim Kaine
Russell Mokhiber
Bernie Delegates Take on Bernie Sanders
Quincy Saul
Resurgent Mexico
Andy Thayer
Letter to a Bernie Activist
Patrick Cockburn
Erdogan is Strengthened by the Failed Coup, But Turkey is the Loser
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail