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VoteSpotter Deep Dive: Treason

Talk of “treason” is in the air. President Donald Trump has floated the idea that Rep. Adam Schiff committed treason for allegedly misrepresenting the details of the president’s call with the Ukrainian prime minister. Many people, including a former CIA director, have questioned or outright suggested that president Trump has committed treason for a variety of things, including his ties to Vladimir Putin.

 

While these calls of treason are mainly motivated by political differences, there is a defined federal crime of treason. In this Deep Dive, we’ll take a look at how treason is defined, who has been tried for treason, and what, if anything, could come from today’s accusations of treason.

 

Treason Defined

 

Treason is the only federal crime that is defined by the Constitution. In Article III, Section 3, the Constitution says:

 

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court.

 

The Congress shall have power to declare the punishment of treason, but no attainder of treason shall work corruption of blood, or forfeiture except during the life of the person attainted.

 

While the Constitution gives Congress the power to punish treason, it limits how Congress can define it. This limitation can be seen in the U.S. Code (18 U.S. Code § 2381), which takes the constitutional definition of treason, adds some details, then imposes a punishment:

 

Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.

 

The legal definition of treason is very narrow. It is limited to circumstances where the U.S. is at war with another nation or has clearly defined enemies. It specifically excludes factors such as disagreeing with the president or having foreign policy views that are friendly towards another nation.

 

Treason Trials

 

Because of the high bar to convict someone of treason, there have been few trials involving this charge throughout U.S. history. Only 17 individuals have been convicted of treason.

 

Perhaps the most famous person convicted of treason was John Brown, the man who led an 1859 slave revolt in Virginia. The most recent convictions for treason came during the World War II era. U.S. citizens who had assisted the Nazis or Japanese during this time, including one soldier who defected to Germany, were convicted of treason and imprisoned. Many of these individuals were later pardoned.

 

There has been one treason trial for a political figure in the United States, but it was unrelated to his official actions in office. Vice President Aaron Burr was tried for treason in 1807, two years after he let office. President Thomas Jefferson had pressed for Burr to be charged with treason for his alleged role in a scheme to form a new nation in the western United States. However, prosecutors at his trial failed to produce the witnesses to the alleged crime as required by the Constitution so the presiding judge acquitted Burr.

 

In recent years, there have been treason charges during the military actions in the Middle East. A federal court in California charged Adam Yahiye Gadahn with treason in 2006. He was the English-language spokesman for Al-Qaeda. However, Gadahn was never arrested or brought to trial. Instead, the U.S. government killed him during a 2015 drone strike.

 

Treason Today

 

Talk of treason has been revived in discussions over the actions of the president and his critics.

 

On September 30, President Trump tweeted, “Rep. Adam Schiff illegally made up a FAKE & terrible statement, pretended it to be mine as the most important part of my call to the Ukrainian President, and read it aloud to Congress and the American people. It bore NO relationship to what I said on the call. Arrest for Treason?”

 

This has reignited an examination of what constitutes treason, but it is far from the only time that this charge has been brought up during the Trump Administration. The president has claimed that other individuals opposing him were committing treason, and observers have also levied the same charge against him.

 

In late September, Trump’s rival for the GOP presidential nomination in 2020, former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld, suggested that Trump had committed treason. Weld said, “Talk about pressuring a foreign country to interfere with and control a U.S. election. That's not just undermining democratic institutions. That is treason. It's treason pure and simple, and the penalty for treason under the U.S. code is death. That’s the only penalty.”

 

In 2018, former CIA Director John Brennan said, “Donald Trump's press conference performance in Helsinki rises to & exceeds the threshold of 'high crimes & misdemeanors. It was nothing short of treasonous.”

 

While people can make claims about treasonable activities, as seen above it is very hard to make a case that such activities meet the definition of “treason” under the U.S. Code. Ultimately it is up to attorneys working for the federal Justice Department to determine whether or not to bring charges of treason against someone. There is little chance they will do so for any of the actions in the Trump Administration or Congress that have been described as being treasonous.

 

 

 

House Committee Considers Gun Magazine Ban, Red Flag Laws

Today the House Judiciary Committee is meeting to consider three gun control bills:

 

H.R. 1186 – To ban the import, sale, manufacture, transfer, or possession of an ammunition device that holds more than 10 rounds of ammunition. Such devices that are already in the possession of an individual could be retained but could not be transferred to anyone else.

 

H.R. 1236 – To create a federal grant program for states to use to support activities concerning extreme protection orders. These orders, sometimes called "red flag" orders, allow law enforcement to seize someone's firearms if a court determines that a person poses a danger to himself or others. Such orders can be issued without conducting a hearing with the person in question under some circumstances.

 

H.R. 2708 – To prohibit anyone who has been convicted of a misdemeanor hate crime from possessing a firearm.

 

These bills are being advanced in the wake of two mass shootings in Texas. Congressional Democrats have been calling for stricter gun control since they took control of Congress earlier this year. The House of Representatives has passed legislation that extends the application of federal instant background check laws to private gun sales, but the Senate has failed to act on this legislation.

 

One of the most controversial proposals is H.R. 1236, which provides federal incentives for states to enact so-called “red flag” laws. These laws create a new class of protective order that allows law enforcement to seize someone’s guns without a court hearing in cases where there is an allegation that the person is a threat to himself or others. Supporters say this is a vital tool to prevent dangerous people from committing harm with firearms. Critics say it is a way for government to seize guns without due process.

 

If passed by the Judiciary Committee, these bills will likely come for a vote in the House of Representatives soon. However, there is little chance for action on them in the Senate.

 

Do you support laws that allow police to confiscate someone’s firearms if they believe the person poses a threat? Should these confiscations occur without a court hearing allowing the person to contest the confiscation?

 

O’Rourke Proposes Mandatory Gun Buyback

 

In the wake of recent mass shootings, Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke thinks he has the answer – the government mandating that gun owners relinquish certain guns in return for a payment.

 

O’Rourke, a former member of Congress from Texas, proposed this buyback plan after two mass shootings in that state. He said that “weapons of war” should not be on the street, and that the owners of what he calls “assault weapons” should have to turn them over to the government. In return, the government will compensate gun owners.

 

Various cities have operated gun buyback programs for decades. However, these are voluntary operations, with individuals bringing in guns to receive cash or gift cards. There has never been a mandatory gun buyback program in the United States.

 

O’Rourke says that this is the only way to remove these guns from public use. He argues that this will reduce mass shootings. Critics counter that only law-abiding gun owners will comply, which would not affect crime. They also note that this plan would face legal challenges for violating the Second Amendment.

 

Various Democratic candidates have proposed stricter gun control laws as they jockey for the 2020 presidential nomination. High-profile events where a gunman has killed numerous people with a semi-automatic firearm has galvanized activists who are pushing for stricter limits on gun ownership. The House of Representatives has passed bills that would impose background checks on private gun sales, but the Senate has yet to act on this legislation.

 

Do you think that the government should force gun owners to give up “assault weapons” in return for compensation?

Sanders Focusing on Criminal Justice Reform

Ideas to reform the criminal justice system have been embraced by both Democratic and Republican politicians. Now Sen. Bernie Sanders, the self-described socialist running for the Democratic presidential nomination, is announcing a crime plan that pushes the limits of the bipartisan consensus for reform.

 

Here are some of the proposals that Sen. Sanders is championing:

  • Legalizing marijuana
  • Expunging records for those convicted of marijuana-related offenses
  • Prohibiting private prisons
  • Ending cash bail
  • Re-instating parole
  • Expanding youth diversion programs and alternatives to incarceration
  • Ending civil asset forfeiture
  • Legalizing safe injection sites for drug users

 

In addition, Sanders wants to create a “prisoner’s bill of rights” and require a federal investigation every time a prisoner dies in police custody.

 

These ideas would re-shape the federal prison system in ways that Sen. Sanders hopes would cut the prison population in half and address what he sees as institutional racism in the system. The proposal would only affect the federal prison system, however. States would still operate their own systems for non-federal crimes.

 

Sen. Sanders’s criminal justice proposal differentiates him from some of his rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination. Sen. Kamala Harris, a former prosecutor and California Attorney General, has come under attack for her tactics in those offices. Former Vice President Joe Biden has also faced criticism for his votes on criminal justice issues during his time as senator.

 

Do you think that marijuana should be legalized? Should cash bail be banned? Is it a good idea for the federal government to re-instate parole?

Mayor Pushes for Mandatory Gun Insurance

While Democrats and Republican politicians debate whether to enact new gun laws on a national level, one local elected official wants to act. San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo is proposing a mandate that gun owners must carry liability insurance, a move he says will help the city deal with the cost associated with gun violence.

 

Under Mayor Liccardo’s plan, gun owners would be forced to carry insurance that would cover the accidental discharge of their firearm or the intentional acts of someone who steals that person’s firearm. He has also proposed a new tax on guns and ammunition to fund gun safety courses.

 

Liccardo has acknowledged that it would not stop gun violence, but he says it would relieve taxpayers of some of the cost of dealing with the results of gun violence. This proposal comes in the wake of a shooting at the Gilroy garlic festival.

 

Gun owners argue that this is simply another burden on law-abiding gun owners. They point out that criminals are unlikely to carry this mandatory insurance, so it will have little effect. Groups representing gun owners have vowed to fight the idea in court.

 

This insurance mandate would be the first in the nation if approved by the city council.

 

Do you think that the government should mandate that gun owners carry liability insurance?

Sanders Backs Pot Legalization via Executive Order

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has long backed legalizing marijuana. Now, during his second campaign for the presidency, he is saying that he could get this done through executive order.

 

Running for the Democratic presidential nomination, Sen. Sanders facing a crowded field of rivals. Many of these contenders support legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana, but Sen. Sanders is the only one saying this does not need to occur through legislation. Instead, in a recent interview he said that he thinks the president has power to do this unilaterally.


Currently marijuana is on the list of federal controlled drugs. It is classified the same as heroin and other hard drugs, a situation that Sen. Sanders says is absurd. He is proposing that the president could act to take the drug off this list and remove federal penalties for possession and use. State laws regarding marijuana would be unaffected by such a move, however.

 

Other candidates running for the Democratic nomination also support reclassifying marijuana on the federal controlled substances list. Some have also introduced legislation that would relax federal prohibitions in states that have laws allowing recreational or medicinal use of marijuana. President Trump has also signaled support for a legal approach that allows states more leeway on marijuana policy, but he has not championed legislation to accomplish this.

 

Do you think that the federal government should end its blanket prohibition of marijuana use and possession? Should the president change federal marijuana policy by executive order?

Biden Wants Buyback, Ban of Assault Weapons

Former Vice President Joe Biden has unveiled his proposal to deal with mass shootings. He said that he wants to reinstitute the federal ban on assault weapons and couple that with a buyback program for these guns.

 

Biden announced his proposals in the wake of three recent mass shootings. He joins his rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination in pursuing stricter controls on who can own guns and what types of guns can be sold.

 

Assault weapons are semi-automatic firearms that have cosmetic features resembling military rifles. They have been used by many of the individuals who have committed mass shootings in recent years. From 1994-2004, there was a federal ban on their sale, though not the possession of them. This ban expired and Congress did not move to reauthorize it.

 

Under Biden’s plan, that ban would once again be put in place. In addition, the federal government would buy assault weapons that are currently legal to own. He did not commit to confiscating these guns, but that is what some activists are pushing to do.

 

Biden justified his plan on the grounds that it would improve public safety. He noted that the government already restricts some types of weapons from the public, so it could do so with these weapons that he considers especially dangerous. Critics of targeting assault rifles point out that they differ only cosmetically from other firearms. They also note that studies have shown that the previous assault weapons ban had little to no effect on crime.

 

Any such ban and buyback program would not only need the president’s signature, but also must pass Congress.

 

Do you think that assault weapons should be banned? Should the federal government institute a buyback program for these types of guns?

Federal Government to Resume Executions

After a hiatus of 16 years, the federal government is set to resume executing prisoners on death row.

 

Attorney General Bill Barr announced this week that the Bureau of Prisons had set dates for the execution of five men who had exhausted their appeals. These executions will take place in December and January.

 

Supporters of the death penalty argue that some crimes deserve the most severe punishment. The five prisoners who are scheduled to be executed by the federal government each committed multiple murders and other serious crimes.

 

Opponents of the death penalty point to the growing number of people who have been exonerated. They also note that there is no evidence that the death penalty deters crime. States have increasingly been repealing the death penalty or scaling back its use.

 

The last time that the federal government executed someone was 2003. The federal death penalty was reinstated in 1988, and has only been used 3 times since that time. There are currently 62 federal prisoners on death row.

 

Since these men have used all the appeals available to them in federal court, it appears there is no further impediment to their executions proceeding.

 

Do you support resuming executions for federal prisoners on death row?

California Sets Limits on Police Shootings

In the wake of controversy over the shooting of unarmed suspects by police, California legislators have passed a law that would make a big change to the law governing when law enforcement officers may fire their guns.

 

Around the nation, there has been increasing attention to police shooting and killing unarmed suspects. In California, protests erupted when Sacramento police shot and killed Stephon Clark. He was unarmed but was holding a cell phone that officers said looked like a gun.

 

Current law allows police leeway to shoot suspects if they think they have a reasonable fear of imminent danger. This standard has led to few police officers being charged and convicted in these types of shootings.

 

Under a bill that passed both houses of the California legislature by large margins, police would only be able to shoot someone if it is necessary to defend themselves from imminent harm. This would make it easier to prosecute officers for killing unarmed suspects.

 

Some critics say that this legislation would make it more difficult for police to do their jobs. They say that it will put them in harm’s way since officers will be worried about using their firearms for fear of being prosecuted if they make a mistake. Supporters counter that it would end the situation where officers can kill unarmed people with no chance of accountability.

 

Governor Gavin Newsom is expected to sign this legislation.

 

Should there be stricter standards for when police can use deadly force? Should it be easier to prosecute police who shoot unarmed suspects?

High Court Continues Allowing Indefinite Detention at Guantanamo

It’s been 18 years since the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in the wake of the September 11 attacks. Some enemy combatants from the early days of this conflict are still being held in Guantanamo Bay without being charged with a crime. The Supreme Court recently declined to hear a case that would challenge such detentions, meaning that there is no release in sight for these individuals.

 

As part of the war against Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, the U.S. government had detained some individuals at the military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, even though they have not been charged with crimes. These are labeled as enemy combatants, and the U.S. government says they are too dangerous to be released.

 

One of those detainees, a Yemeni named Moath Hamza Ahmed al-Alwi, has been in Guantanamo since 2002. The Supreme Court recently declined to hear a legal challenge of his indefinite detention, leaving him locked up. In a 2004 case, Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, the high court ruled that the government could indefinitely detain enemy combatants as long as the Authorization for the Use of Military Force for action in Afghanistan was still in effect.

 

Critics of this indefinite detention argue that the current military action in Afghanistan bears little relation to what Congress initially authorized in 2001. They say that the government should not have the power to detain someone for an indefinite period of time, potentially for the person’s entire life, without bringing charges against him or her. Supporters counter that the U.S. is still engaged in a war on terror and that these enemy combatants would be dangerous if released.

 

Do you think that the U.S. should be able to hold enemy combatants without bringing charges? Should there be a time limit on these indefinite detentions?

Red Light Cameras Banned in Texas

Many drivers don’t like red light cameras that lead to fines for violating traffic signals. Texas Governor Greg Abbott doesn’t like the cameras, either, as he recently signed legislation to ban their use in the state.

 

Under the bill signed by Gov. Abbott, local governments in Texas cannot sign contracts to operate red light cameras after September 1. Private companies operate these cameras, and they split any revenue generated with the government. Contracts that are already in effect could be continued, but not renewed. The state would also be prohibited from refusing to register a vehicle on the basis of that vehicle’s unpaid camera fines.

 

Cameras that enforce traffic signals and speed limits are controversial. Critics of them contend that they are a violation of constitutional provisions that require someone accused of a crime to be able to confront his or her accuser. They also say that the cameras are primarily aimed at gaining revenue, not public safety. Supporters of the cameras counter that they are indeed about safety, since people adjust their behaviors when they know cameras are present. They also say that these cameras allow law enforcement officers to concentrate on more serious crime.

 

Do you think that governments should be operating cameras to enforce traffic laws? Or should red light and speed cameras be banned?

Illinois Set to Legalizing Marijuana

Legislators in Illinois are rushing to finish their work before adjournment on Friday. One piece of business that appears headed to the governor’s desk is a bill to legalize the recreational use of marijuana.

 

Under this bill, Illinois residents could possess 30 grams of marijuana. Sales of marijuana would become legal in 2020, but people could only grow their own marijuana for medicinal purposes. The state would impose either a 10% of a 25% tax, depending on potency. The state would tax edible products at a 20% rate. Anyone who has a conviction for a marijuana offense involving 30 grams or fewer would receive a gubernatorial pardon, while those with offenses relating to larger amounts of marijuana could petition for an expungement.

 

Ten other states permit people to use marijuana recreationally. The federal government still lists marijuana as a prohibited drug, but most marijuana arrests for possession are at the state level. There are efforts in Congress to adjust federal law to recognize marijuana businesses in states where they are permitted. President Trump has indicated support for such legislation.

 

Do you think that states should legalize marijuana for recreational use? Should people be allowed to grow marijuana at home? What should the federal government do regarding marijuana?

Oregon Cops Can’t Search Trash without Warrant

If the police want to search your trash in Oregon, they are going to need a warrant.

 

The State Supreme Court ruled yesterday that the state constitution protects individuals’ expectation of privacy, and that individuals expect their garbage to remain private. It was a 6-1 decision.

 

The case concerned a couple from Lebanon, Oregon, who were convicted of drug crimes resulting from police searching their trash. The police had worked with the couple’s trash collector to divert the trash and search it, where they found evidence of drug activity.


Oregonians may be free from the fear of warrantless trash searches, but this decision does not extend nationwide. The state court ruled that the state constitution has this level of privacy protection. The U.S. Supreme Court has found differently for the U.S. Constitution. In 1988, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the U.S. Constitution’s ban on warrantless search and seizure does not apply to trash left outside the home. In that decision, California v. Greenwood, a 6-2 majority ruled that if someone leaves garbage outside to be picked up for removal, then that person has relinquished all expectations of privacy for the contents of the trash.

 

Do you think that the police should be able to search someone’s garbage without a warrant?

Executions Halted in California

Governor Gavin Newsom of California has issued an executive order granting a reprieve to death row inmates and closing the state’s execution chamber. While the death penalty is still the law of the land in California, no executions will happen under this governor.

 

Although no executions have taken place in California since 2006, there was the possibility that Gov. Newsom would be asked to approve a new capital punishment protocol soon. This would then allow executions to resume.

 

In 2016, California voters rejected a ballot measure that would have abolished capital punishment in that state while also approving a ballot measure to expedite the execution process. Governors do not have the power to alter state law, but they can refuse to sign execution warrants and can commute death sentences to life in prison without parole.

 

There are 737 people on death row in California.

 

Do you support capital punishment?

Booker Pushes for Marijuana Legalization

Cory Booker is running for president. He’s also a senator, and in that role he is pushing for a major overhaul of federal drug laws. He is introducing legislation that would legalize marijuana, and he’s being joined by four of his fellow senators who are running for president.

 

Under Sen. Booker’s bill, not only would marijuana be removed from the federal Controlled Substances List, effectively legalizing it, but those convicted of federal marijuana possession crimes would have their convictions expunged.

 

Sen. Booker introduced similar legislation in 2017, but it never received consideration by the Senate. This year’s bill is also being co-sponsored by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Kristen Gillibrand, and Sen. Kamala Harris. All of these senators are running for the Democratic nomination for president.

 

Do you support legalizing marijuana at the federal level?

Senate Confirms Trump Attorney General Pick

President Trump has a new attorney general.

 

By a vote of 54 to 45, senators confirmed Bill Barr as attorney general on Thursday. Barr, a former attorney general under George H. W. Bush from 1991 to 1991, is the second attorney general to serve under President Trump.

 

His first, Jeff Sessions, resigned last year. President Trump had criticized Sessions numerous times for recusing himself from overseeing the investigation into possible illegal activities undertaken by the Trump campaign. Some Senate Democrats had voiced concern that Barr will not allow this investigation to continue.

 

Every Senate Republican supported Barr’s nomination except one, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky. He expressed concerns about Barr’s support of warrantless wiretapping and opposition to criminal justice reform. Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Doug Jones of Alabama, and Kristyn Sinema of Arizona broke with Senate Democrats by voting “yes” on the Barr nomination.

 

Do you support Senate confirmation of Bill Barr to be attorney general?

Felon Voting Rights Proposal Dies in Virginia

Virginia is just three states permanently bar felons from voting. Thanks to a recent vote in a legislative committee, it won’t be restoring felons’ voting rights any time soon.

 

On Wednesday, a Senate committee voted down a proposed change to the state constitution that would have removed the ban on felon voting. Currently, the Virginia constitution bars felons from being able to vote unless their rights have been restored by the governor.

 

This issue has been an area of contention for Virginia in recent years. The state’s former governor, Terry McAuliffe, attempted to use an executive order to restore the rights of felons who had completed their sentences. That effort was stymied by the legislature and the state’s Supreme Court. He then undertook efforts to restore these voting rights on an expedited case-by-case basis. 

 

Critics of the ban on felons voting note that nearly every other state allows some form of voting rights for felons. Some states even allow those in jail to vote. They say that this van is an impediment to rehabilitation and reintegration into the community. Supporters of the ban note that it is proper to punish those who commit serious crimes by imposing serious penalties.

 

In the 2018 election, Florida voters overturned their state’s ban on felon voting. Beginning this month, felons in that state have begun to register to vote.

 

Do you think that felons who have completed their sentences should see their voting rights restored?

Senate Passes Criminal Justice Reform

Something rare happened in the U.S. Senate last night – major legislation advances with overwhelming bipartisan support. While Democrats and Republicans disagree on many things, it appears that overhauling the federal criminal justice system is not one of them.

 

The First Step Act passed by a vote of 87-12. It had broad support across the political spectrum, with liberal groups focused on justice reform allying themselves with libertarians like the Koch brothers and conservative religious groups to support it. President Donald Trump also urged Congress to pass it.

 

Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) led the opposition to the bill. He said that it would release potentially violent criminals from federal custody. He argued that it was a return to the “soft on crime” policies of the past. Sen. Cotton and other senators who shared his concerns offered a series of amendments that would made the bill tougher on federal inmates, but these amendments failed to pass.

 

Among other things, this bill would:

  • Prohibit the shackling of pregnant inmates while giving birth
  • Apply changes that removed the disparities between penalties for crack cocaine and powder cocaine retroactively
  • Require that prisoners be incarcerated within 500 miles of their families
  • Provide incentives for prisoners to undertake job training and rehabilitation programs
  • Reduce the “three strikes and you’re out” penalty for drug trafficking to 25 years (instead of life)

 

The House of Representatives passed a different version of this legislation earlier this year by a vote of 360-59. However, that body is expected to endorse the Senate’s version and pass it later this week. If it does so, the bill will head to President Trump for his signature.

 

Do you support reform of the federal criminal justice system? Should pregnant prisoners be shackled during birth? Should inmates be housed within 500 miles of their families? Do you agree with inmates being released from prison early if they complete job training programs?

Kasich, Legislators Clash over Gun Self-Defense Bill

Gun control is once again proving to be a divisive issue between Ohio Governor John Kasich and his fellow Republicans in the legislature.

 

Lawmakers recently passed a bill that would change a key aspect of the state’s self-defense law. Under this legislation, a prosecutor in a case where a shooter is claiming self-defense would have the burden of proving that the shooter did not act in self-defense. Under current law, this burden is on the shooter.

 

Governor Kasich has said that he is not comfortable with this legislation, though he has not yet decided whether to sign the bill or veto it. The governor had also pushed for this measure to include a provision that would have allowed the government to seize the guns of people who are accused of being a danger to themselves or others. Other states have passed similar “red flag” bills, but Ohio legislators did not include such language in their bill.

 

While Gov. Kasich wanted a “red flag” provision but did not get it, legislators did follow his lead in opposing language that would have allowed someone to use deadly force in public to defend himself. Also known as a “stand your ground” law, many states have such measures, although they are controversial. Some legislators pushed for such a law in Ohio, but the governor’s opposition helped doom these efforts this year.

 

This self-defense legislation passed last week. Governor Kasich has 10 days to decide whether to sign it or veto the bill.

 

Do you think that Ohio should make it easier for people to use self-defense as a justification in shootings? Should the state adopt a “stand your ground” law that allows people to use deadly force if threatened in public?

Supreme Court May Curb Property Grabs by the Government

If someone commits a crime, the government may be able to seize any property connected to that crime – regardless of the crime’s severity or the value of the property. Today the Supreme Court is considering a case that may rein in a practice that people across the political spectrum argue is being abused.

 

The case involves Tyson Timbs, convicted of selling $225 worth of heroin to undercover police officers. His sentence for that crime was a year of home detention and five years of probation. The state of Indiana also seized his Land Rover, worth $42,000.

 

Lawyers for Timbs are not disputing that he sold the drugs. Instead, they are arguing that the seizure of the Land Rover violates the Constitutional prohibition on excessive fines. While the Eighth Amendment was originally written to apply only to the federal government, courts have held that the Fourteenth Amendment applies some of the Bill of Right’s protections to state governments. The prohibition on excessive fines, however, has not been one of those protections.

 

The practice of asset seizure and forfeiture is widely practiced by both states and the federal government. This is when the government confiscating property that is connected with crime, generally involving drugs, and keeping the property to use or sell. This can occur upon conviction of a crime or even upon the mere suspicion of criminal activity.

 

Timbs’ lawyers contend that the seizure of his $42,000 vehicle amounts to a fine. As such, they say, it is excessive to fine someone $42,000 for a crime that did not even involve jail time. They say that the Constitution forbids states from doing this. The lawyers for Indiana counter that this is not a fine, but is instead the seizure of property connected to drug trafficking. They say that states have broad authority to pass laws to combat such crimes.

 

Asset forfeiture has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years from groups on both the conservative and liberal side of the ideological spectrum. They argue that this practice gives governments an incentive to “police for profit,” using their power to look for lucrative assets to seize rather than focusing on other crime. They also contend that asset forfeiture disproportionately targets minorities and individuals in other disadvantaged groups. Timbs is represented by the Institute for Justice, a libertarian law firm, and groups as diverse as the Chamber of Commerce and the American Civil Liberties Union are supporting him.

 

Justice Clarence Thomas has signaled in past decisions that the Supreme Court should look into asset forfeiture, noting that there have been many abuses of this practice.

 

Do you think that the government should be able to take the property of people convicted – or even suspected – of crimes, regardless of the value of the property or the level of crime?

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