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.

More articles by:

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. 

January 16, 2018
Mark Schuller
What is a “Shithole Country” and Why is Trump So Obsessed With Haiti?
Paul Street
Notes From a “Shithole” Superpower
Louisa Willcox
Keeper of the Flame for Wilderness: Stewart “Brandy” Brandborg
Mike Whitney
Trump’s Sinister Plan to Kill the Iranian “Nukes” Deal
Franklin Lamb
Kafkaesque Impediments to Challenging Iran’s Theocracy
Norman Solomon
Why Senator Cardin is a Fitting Opponent for Chelsea Manning
Fred Gardner
GI Coffeehouses Recalled: a Compliment From General Westmoreland
Brian Terrell
Solidarity from Central Cellblock to Guantanamo
Don Fitz
Bondage Scandal: Looking Beneath the Surface
Rob Seimetz
#Resist Co-opting “Shithole”
Ted Rall
Trump Isn’t Unique
January 15, 2018
Rob Urie
Democrats and the End(s) of Politics
Paul Tritschler
Killing Floor: the Business of Animal Slaughter
Mike Garrity
In Targeting the Lynx, the Trump Administration Defies Facts, Law, and Science Once Again
Thomas Hon Wing Polin
Hong Kong Politics: a Never-Ending Farce
Uri Avnery
Bibi’s Son (Or Three Men in a Car)
Dave Lindorff
Yesterday’s ‘Shithole Countries’ Can Become Classy Places Donald, and Vice Versa
Jeff Mackler
Lesser Evil Politics in Alabama
Jonah Raskin
Typewriters Still Smoking? An Interview with Underground Press Maven John Campbell McMillan
Jose-Antonio Orosco
Trump’s Comments Recall a Racist Past in Immigration Policy
David Macaray
Everything Seems to Be Going South
Kathy Kelly
41 Hearts Beating in Guantanamo
Weekend Edition
January 12, 2018
Friday - Sunday
George Burchett
Wormwood and a Shocking Secret of War: How Errol Morris Vindicated My Father, Wilfred Burchett
Roberto J. González
Starting Them Young: Is Facebook Hooking Children on Social Media?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Between the Null and the Void
Andrew Levine
Trump After Bannon: What Next?
John Davis
Mud-Slide
Ajamu Baraka
The Responsibility to Protect the World … from the United States
Robert Hunziker
Global Warming Stirs the Methane Monster
Paul Street
Lazy Liberals and “the Trump Effect”
Carmen Rodriguez
Trump’s Attack on Salvadoran Migrants
Mike Whitney
Oprah for President, Really?
Francisco Cabanillas
The Hurricane After Maria
Luciana Bohne
World War I: Crime and Punishment
Steve Martinot
The Ideology of Pepper Spray: Force and Violence in a Can
Martin Billheimer
Beyond the 120 Days of the Silicon Valley Dolls
Patrick T. Hiller
An Olympic Glimmer on the Horizon – North Korea and South Korea Stepping Down the Escalation Ladder
Ron Jacobs
The Vietnamese War: a Different Take
Binoy Kampmark
Fuming in the White House: the Bannon-Trump Implosion
Joseph Natoli
What to Worry About and What Not to Worry About
Colin Todhunter
Monsanto, Bayer and Neoliberalism: A Case of Hobson’s Choice
Brian Cloughley
Trump’s Bullying of Cuba
Kenneth Surin
Bigger in Texas
Arturo Desimone
The Untouchable Leader Who Stood Up to Gandhi
Peter Crowley
To Cheerleaders of Iran Protests: Iran is Not Our Enemy, a Sponsor of Terror or a Tyranny
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail