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The Law: Not a Matter of Right, Wrong
Police Confiscating a Car
Putting a john Under Arrest
New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's new policy of "drive drunk, lose your car" is making the New York Civil Liberties Union downright woozy.
Giuliani's policy, the subject of a legal challenge by the CLU, is only another example of something that's become far more common in the United States than we might have hoped: Taking the easy way out!
In Norwalk (Connecticut) and throughout the state, we've done virtually the same thing. State Rep. Alex Knopp, D-Norwalk, championed legislation that enables police to confiscate the automobiles of johns accused of soliciting prostitutes.
And for years now federal and state governments have been confiscating cars, homes and other assets of people charged with drug dealing -- all this with court approval.
Legal only by default
Insofar as these egregious practices have not been judged to be unconstitutional by the courts, they are legal. The problem is they shouldn't be! Although it does so rarely, the Supreme Court can change its collective mind. I hope and trust that, eventually, it will do so.
There's no doubt that Giuliani and Knopp and other supporters of these laws are trying to do what's right about these nagging and, often, serious problems.
No one endorses drunken driving, and few approve of lowlifes roaming city streets in search of prostitutes. But shooting an ant with an elephant gun is rarely good policy.
It is shortsighted and never wise to ignore or, worse, trample over anyone's rights even when we're convinced it's the better of two evils. Rights are always difficult to come by, but easy to lose. Once lost, a right, or privilege, is unlikely to be recovered.
Justice Can't Be Guaranteed
Those two issues illustrate my belief that many people are confused about the distinction between law and justice. While presidents, governors, mayors and legislators all surely hope that laws they support and help enact make justice easier to achieve, the reality is that achieving it is rarely that easy. Passing laws, alone, cannot guarantee justice.
That's why our country's founders added the Bill of Rights to our Constitution.
When we think we've come up with an easy solution to a complex problem -- like drunken driving or prostitution -- we'd be wise to take a close look at all of its implications before setting them in stone.
Red Flags Raised
Almost daily as I read newspaper stories, or see television reports, relating to criminal or legislative proceedings, I see lots of reports that raise red flags to me. Here's just three:
- When judges use "discretion" to pressure defendants to do something other than a specific sentence (,i.e., anything from carrying a sign that says, "I'm a bad driver" to trading jail time for castration in rape cases.) This is a potentially good idea gone awry!
- When offenders are forced to pay the cost of investigations into their indiscretions (Newt Gingrich comes to mind.) This is a bad idea!
- When legal activities are turned into government fundraisers (,i.e., cities or companies are forced to pay "punitive" fines that go well beyond what's reasonable.) That's legal extortion!
Of course we're always required to do what's legal, but shouldn't we also do what's right?