To further clarify my opinion on no-knock warrants and overcriminalization

by wfgodbold

Linoge and Old NFO bring up a couple of points in the comments to my post on no-knock warrants, so I’m going to take more space here to hash out some things.

I mainly think that no-knock warrants in and of themselves are more a symptom of the problem than the actual problem itself; the root cause is the criminalization of damn near everything.

We are often told that ignorance of the law is no excuse; this statement has two main problems.

First, it ignores mens rea, one of the key components of common law.

And the main problem with the claim that “ignorance of the law is no excuse,” is that Title 18 of the United States Code (the criminal & penal section) is 2,725 sections long.

Two thousand. Seven hundred. And twenty-five.

For the most part, ignorance of the law is rational!

Search warrants are required to be reasonable and specific; if you look at the warrant the Dept. of Ed. used to justify their SWAT raid the other day, it’s quite specific.

It specifies practically every item that someone’s house would contain (especially when it gets down to the electronic equipment)!

If everything but the clothes on your back (probably) and your furniture (maybe) are to be seized by the police, then practically anything you do between the announcement that the cops are there with a warrant and when you answer the door could be destruction of evidence.

So obviously, the police have no choice but to bust down your door and charge in with rifles at the ready; you’re destroying evidence!

I don’t see any effective way to reduce the number and scope of the laws on the books; any time something bad happens, there’s a big clamor for new laws to make this tragedy (whatever it is) the last of its kind, so won’t you please make bullying illegal, or making fun of people on the internet illegal, or whatever, it’s for the children!

And since everyone loves children, the laws get enacted, even though they’re badly written and vague and overbroad.

Then the rest of us are stuck rationally ignorant, hoping that we’ve done nothing to draw Johnny Law’s attention to ourselves, and that no SWAT team will kick in our doors in the middle of the night.

If the man goes through your life with a fine-toothed comb, he’ll find something that you did that broke the law, and then he’ll crucify you for it. The war on drugs has made this painfully evident, and with the ever-increasing number of federal agencies with police powers and SWAT teams, the war on everything else will take care of the rest of us.


6 Responses to “To further clarify my opinion on no-knock warrants and overcriminalization”

  1. Actually, I would say that no-knock warrants have come about not from the criminalization of everything (although the Dept of Ed scenario makes it look that way) but rather from the blatant disregard political power-heads of LE have for average citizens.

    This attitude doesn’t trickle down the ranks–it cascades, as in like a waterfall.

    I saw it back in the 80’s when I was with a DOJ agency. Our “chiefs” were all political appointees, and most had never even been a cop in their entire lives. Majority of them were bankers, investors and other money-makers who had donated lots of money to the winning party’s candidate, and thus, now get to enjoy some recognition and in a position where they really can’t affect any sort of national policy or foreign policy.

    Same goes with big-city police chiefs, big county sheriffs, heads of state police, SACs, etc. The closer one is to the corridors of power, the more corrupt they become. The more ass-kissers one has on the force, the more they’ll do whatever it takes to make the big cheese happy.

    Dramatic arrests make for dramatic headlines which make for dramatic appearances for SACs and police chiefs and sheriffs on the local tv stations.

    Oh, and those pesky little mistakes where they hit the wrong house and kill the wrong person? Well, statistics show we get it right more than we get it wrong, and we apologize for the death of Joe Citizen, but we have a dangerous job and sometimes these things happen. . .

    It’s about power. All about power.


    • I didn’t even consider that.

      Given the never-ending stream of scandals in the news, you’d think it would have been fresh in my mind.

      I have no idea how we can fix that problem, though. If we give political appointees no power at all, we’re just stuck with a bureaucracy accountable to no one.

      I don’t think anyone who actually seeks out office should be trusted with it; unfortunately, that doesn’t describe our political class at all. I don’t know that it ever has.

      If political appointees are going to have power, then they have to be held responsible for the use and misuse of that power.

      You point out that most appointees are bankers, etc.; given the … late unpleasantness, they ought to be more carefully watched when they’re at the controls of the banks, let alone government agencies.

  2. To make things worse, the limited scope of search warrants has become effectively meaningless. If they can think up a reason to look for “electronic storage devices” or “illegal drugs” they effectively have the power to completely dismantle your house, because things like micro SDcards and pills are so small they could be hidden pretty much anywhere – and if they find evidence of some other crime that wasn’t specified in the warrant they’re allowed to use it because it was found in the process of a legal search. So Joe American who has never knowingly violated a law gets a 6am SWAT team wake up call for a fishing expedition, and if he reacts the way most law-abiding people should when violently awakened at 6am, he’s very likely to not survive the experience.

    There’s a third problem with the idea that “ignorance of the law is no excuse”, and that is that it’s not applied to those responsible for actually enforcing the law. Cops and prosecutors who do something in violation of the law’s limitations on their powers are routinely excused because it would be “unreasonable” for them to know “every subtle nuance” of how the laws apply to them. Whereas citizens who carry a lobster in a plastic bag rather than paper are brought up on felony charges and told that it doesn’t matter that they didn’t know it was illegal, because “ignorance of the law is no excuse”.

    Our nation has, for all practical purposes, become not a constitutional republic of democratically elected representatives, but a plutarchy, governed by a political class to which entry generally requires significant personal wealth.

    If we haven’t passed the point of no return yet, we’re on the tipping point now.

    • Even when cops and prosecutors who break the law are aware of it, they get qualified immunity and walk anyway.

      Must be nice.

      If you can break the law without consequence if you’re in one set of people, and not when you’re in another, then we’ve come a long way; we’re a nation of men and not laws once more.


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