Wednesday, August 29, 2007

What is a felony?

There's an interesting discussion running over at Oleg's LiveJournal regarding felons and rights.

Most folks have a knee-jerk positive reaction to taking rights, such as voting and gun ownership, away from felons. However in a world where carrying a slingshot in New Jersey or selling a dildo in Texas are felonies, does this make sense?

How can someone commit a felony without even knowing that they are committing a crime? In red-tape swaddled America, this is easier and easier to do, and while a hardened violent felon probably has no qualms about re-arming himself shortly after leaving prison, the otherwise law-abiding Texan dildo seller is probably, er, screwed when it comes to self-defense. Is this right?

EDIT: Digital Falcon with further riffs on the topic.


Bonnie said...

If you committed a violent crime in which you sought to harm another person or being for a reason other than self-defense, I'd say it's a pretty safe bet that you don't really need your 2nd Amendment rights, since you chose to use them to harm another. Other than that, I have no ideas. But *JUST* because you committed ANY felony? Uh, that's a little short-sighted.

Tam said...

Here's my thing:

If they're so dangerous that we can't risk them getting their hands on a gun, why are they out of prison? There are lots of other dangerous things out here: cars, knives, gasoline, matches, fertilizer and fuel oil...

Ken said...

David Codrea of the War on Guns blog has an interesting formulation: Anyone who cannot be trusted with a gun should not be without a custodian.

There are lots of BS felonies out there these days. Worse yet are the Lautenbergian laws in some jurisdictions that can disarm a body on a misdemeanor domestic violence complaint.

Between those and the ill-considered deinstitutionalization of the seriously mentally ill, I think Mr. Codrea is on to something.

Matt G said...

I agree with the concept that we've over-Felonized this planet.

I myself have filed quite a few felonies that absolutely should be misdemeanors. Howzabout the frickin' RESIDUE on the inside of a meth pipe, which will get the guy more time than the stolen vehicle that I found it in? What's that all about? It's a substance. It's mere possession. It's not even a half a gram.

It's a felony.

I didn't mind tacking it on that guy, because he fell under the title of People Who Really Need To Be Locked Up. But it's a meritricious fix to a fundamental problem.

We find that bad guys aren't spending enough time in prison for their misdeeds. Part of that problem is that we have to spring them due to overcrowding, to make room for more bad guys.

To address the fact that bad guys who should be in prison are out running amuck, we pass more laws with heavier penalties to Put Them Back Where The Belong.

This, unsurprisingly, does nothing to aleviate prison overcrowding, or to put the bad guys away for good. Actually, it springs more, puts more on parole, builds more beds and makes bigger budgets for guards, social workers, subcontractors....

Look, just because I'm *in* the CJS doesn't mean that I think it's working well. It is, by the way, working. Just not very well.

So back to the felony deal: Violent felons in my kingdom lose their access to weapons for 10 years after serving their sentence *except while at home.* 2nd conviction, they lose access to weapons forever. Third? Well, they'e in for life, then, so there's no problem.

Possession of a super-addictive feelgood that makes good men crazy and bad men homicidal? Uh, it gets confiscated, and they get arrested with a ticket, then a Class B misdemeanor, then a Class A misdemeanor. To get to felony, you're pretty much going to have to give it to a kid under 17.

Good ol' white-collar theft like embezzlement? I have no problem agreeing that stealing people's lifesavings from a bank or shareholder's investments from a portfolio is a felony-- but we can get mighty creative with sentencing for those guys. GPS bracelets, home detention, large judgements for their payback of all concerned (including the State), and they have to keep their job. But they can keep a gun, and vote, when they're done with their sentences. (Unless they committed voter fraud, which would be a misdemeanor, but cost them their voter registration.)

Ken said...

Matt's suggestions are sensible across the board, though I'd also listen to arguments that the super-addictive feelgood becomes a matter for the State only when a good man does something crazy involving harm to another person or property, a bad man does a homicide, or someone gives it to someone else under 17.

7.62x54r said...

If someone has so little disregard for the law to commit a violent crime like murder, does anyone really think they'll obey a prohibition on owning firearms? As for voting, it's a waste of time anyway.

Comrade Misfit said...

Well, yes. You're right. Having a felony conviction and then owning a firearm or even one stinking cartridge will get you about ten years in the Federal slam.

We ought to make a distinction between crimes of violence and other crimes. I don't see a whole lot of sense in saying "no guns for you" to someone who cheated on their taxes or blabbed a stock tip.

But I don't see our polluticians doing anything sensible when it comes to gun laws.

Or anything else, for that matter.

Mark said...

Meanwhile, I have a convicted felon representing me in the Senate (and the other one is an admitted War Criminal. Part of the joy of living in the blue paradise of Massachusetts).

It wasn't a vibrator felony, the son of an admitted drug dealer managed to kill someone and thanks to a bought and paid for judge, walked.

Ken said...

My sympathies, Mark--in fact, the "other one," let alone being an admitted war criminal, might be eligible to swing from a lamppost on Constitution Avenue, for the crime of high treason, by virtue (if that's the words) of his actions in Paris in 1971.

Countertop said...

Was arrested (but luckily released - small town and my mom was tennis partners with the chief of police's wife) 2 weeks after I turned 18 for possession of a firearm without a firearm owners ID card.

Was squirrel hunting with a Crossman 720 pump gun (with pellets) with some friends. We went up to the local dam/water authority and then hiked down from the dirt road onto a neighbors property to hunt squirrels. Water authority guy saw us, flipped out (he was from Jersey City, we were from the mountainous woods of north west jersey) and called the cops.

When we emerged a couple of hours later, cops were waiting for us with guns drawn.

Turns out, a bb gun is a firearm in NJ. who knew???

(I had a hunting license, so they couldn't get me for that. I was the only one over 18 so I was basically screwed until the family friend stepped in - yep, like you and me, only a little better :) )

Anonymous said...

Tam said...
"Here's my thing:

If they're so dangerous that we can't risk them getting their hands on a gun, why are they out of prison?"

Aye. I've often thought there should be two types of prisons: Rehabilitation and removal. Those bound for the latter should be given the option of choosing execution.

Either way, all prisons should be as self-supporting as possible, like Angola.

Anonymous said...

And then there is the amount of effort being put into pursuing certain feelgoods which aren't super-addictive or make bad people homicidal. In fact, I'd wager that there aren't a lot of bad people (in the sense of violating other laws) using any 2C-T-7 or 5-MEO-DiPT but there are felony prosecutions for the distribution of them.

Feanaro said...

I don't sees why a violent felony declaims one of their right to bear arms. If the argument be that a violent felon needs, by way of his past, to be restricted in how much he can further harm others, why should we stop at firearms? They should not be allowed to carry knives. Or heavy blunt objects, except about the home or workplace. Perhaps these felons should not be allowed to body build, either to a set strength limit or at all.

And while we are at it, why don't we allow periodic inspections of their homes by LEOs? We constantly argue that firearms are needed for defense. Protection from the government, protection from predators, at home or away. In other words, it is part of our right to life. We say that we should be able to defend that life, effectively. If you would not permit felons this, why respect their lesser rights?

Memphis said...

It seems that anything and everything is a felony now. I really think that this is a serious abuse of legal authority, but politics being as it is, it isn't likely to be reformed any time soon. It has gone too far. And whatever happened to "criminal intent"? That seems to have gone by the wayside, too.