“The essence of government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands will ever be liable to abuse” James Madison
“. . . punish the guilty as they deserve. Acquit the innocent because of their innocence” 1 Kings 8:32 NLT
My friend Alan was arrested on state charges of ‘illegal videotaping’ – taking digital videos of nude woman in a tanning salon without their knowledge. Alan had no prior criminal record of any kind and – as part of the investigation – there was nothing illegal found on his home computers when they were seized.
What would have gotten him – at best – a couple of years probation at the state level that quickly turned into a federal case and became a nightmare for Alan and cost his family their home, a business, many personal items and ~$180,000 – just on the material side. On the human side it cost his family and friends a husband, father, brother, son, and friend for the 20 months he was incarcerated.
That 20 months was just the beginning of a 15 year sentence he received in his trial. But when the 5th District Court of Appeals heard his appeal they reversed his conviction stating that he was not guilty of the crime with which he was charged and the case never should have gone to a jury.
But wait a minute!! How did this matter become a federal crime in the first place?
One of the short, 44-second videos found on the camera seized by police was of a young woman who – it was learned by police – was 16 years old at the time she was videotaped.
The U.S. Attorney stepped in because her pubic region was visible on the right edge of the frame for 1.5 seconds as she laid down in the tanning bed and decided that this constituted ”the production of child pornography”, and became the genesis of the charge. Alan was convicted and sentenced to a mandatory 15-year sentence by a misguided jury in West Texas – after he had been offered and refused a plea deal of 8 years. He, his attorney, and his family were all convinced no jury would see it for more than the distasteful voyeurism that it was.
Alan’s attorney (as well as Alan and his family) were stunned at the charge and at the government involvement and when he asked the US Attorney why they were getting involved and prosecuting this as a federal crime, was given the response “because we can!!”
It seems the mere fact that the digital camera used was manufactured in China, it enabled the US Government to step in and superseded the state and prosecute the case.
The exact “because we can” statement was reflected by another US Attorney several months ago in an extensive “USA TODAY” article on abuses by federal prosecutors.
Was Alan wrong in what he did? Absolutely! But his behavior certainly did not warrant the government’s position of ‘let’s completely and utterly destroy this man’s life, his family’s lives, and take a productive (although certainly morally misguided man at the time) member of society out of circulation at considerable taxpayer expense’, and let’s do it for say – 15 years – and when logistically thinking, people ask why, we’ll just answer, “because we can”.
Now, I am sure (at least I hope I’m sure) that the vast majority of federal prosecutors, judges and federal law enforcement professionals are conscientious hardworking people who work many cases hand-in-hand, and risk their lives to protect the public from the violent terrorists, drug cartels and armed bank robbers, combined with the people who defraud the government – and in the end the public – out of billions and billions of dollars annually. This group of public servant as a whole must keep all of the aforementioned individuals busy, and their efforts to stop the people are appreciated.
But when it comes to legislating morality, what a conundrum they face! The public clamors for more and more sex of everything we see, hear, and do. It is everywhere, always just around the corner. Sex, nudity, vulgarity, and immortality are now commonplace and accepted as a part of daily life as eating and breathing, and often comes before the former and makes the latter a little more difficult.
The monster is out of the cage and the US Government tries to convince people that they can get it back in the cage by locking up every person with a breakdown in morality – and do it under the guise of protecting the public from sexual predators.
The reality is that the only thing that is being accomplished is that we are filling our federal prison beds with formally productive members of society who could be dealt with much more effectively – and inexpensively – through therapy conducted in conjunction with home confinement.
Innocent families are being destroyed by the thousands as fathers and husbands (and in some cases, mothers) are being given prison terms of 5, 10, 15 years – even 25 years – for simply looking at pictures. While many of these pictures are sickeningly horrific at worst, and shameful at best, the attraction often lies in an addiction to online pornography in general that turns into a morbid curiosity in regard to child pornography specifically.
This is by no means an attempt to exonerate myself or anyone else guilty of possessing pictures that shouldn’t exist in the first place, but then you don’t really believe you can eliminate the drug problem by locking up all of the drug users, do you?
Typically, the federal government passes out sentences from 5-10 years for simple possession of child pornography. Now, to put things in perspective, consider this: Recently, in Carbondale, Illinois a man was sentenced to 5 years in state prison for setting fire to a house in which 4 children were killed.
The news media is filled with despicable violent acts which are punished by ridiculously low sentences while otherwise non-violent people are filling federal prison beds at an alarming rate.
In January of 2009, I was working at the motel I would eventually live at. My mom and step-dad had both passed away the previous year and I was still living at their home while we waited to sell it. I had not been arrested yet, but my computer had been seized by the FBI almost a year earlier.
In the early morning of January 12, I was robbed at the motel and was beaten severely with a baseball bat. The person who did it was caught and was arrested shortly before he went to trial. Leading up to his trial it was necessary to disclose my situation to his lawyer and to the state prosecutor who was, of course, representing me.
When I met with her and explained everything, she was quite understanding. I remember she asked what I was “looking at” as far as time, and I told her about 4 years. She said, “well, if you have to go to prison, you’re better off in a federal prison. The bad news is, had this been a state charge, you’d get probation – you would never see the inside of a prison”.
Along those same lines, Jackie Onassis’ half-brother, James Auchincloss pleaded guilty in Medford, Oregon to two counts of a state charge equivalent to federal charges of possession of child pornography. He received a sentence of 6 months in jail and 3 years probation. Of course, he will undergo therapy and that is as it should be. If a bigger problem is discovered, it can be dealt with.
(Editor Note, derived from several credible internet sources: “Jamie” as he was known to his friends is a repeat offender who was finally indicted on federal charges of child pornography, including two felony counts of first-degree encouraging child sexual abuse.” Recently Jamie was arrested for violating his probation, and is it is believed to have violated the terms of his supervision yet again. The article goes on to say that “as part of his negotiated plea agreement with Jackson County prosecutors, Auchincloss acknowledged possessing and distributing photographs of prepubescent children, images prosecutors described as lewd and lascivious in nature).
“Because we can!” should never be a reason, or a motivation, for doing something, no matter how good the intent may or may not be.
“Because we should!” would be more in line with what the country stand for and what is morally right as a motivating factor.
After all, if we are going to destroy people for being morally wrong, shouldn’t we at least morally right in doing it?
Numbers 6:24-26 NLT