mackknopf: (Justice)

For those who don't know, the United States Supreme Court recently ruled on the federal right to hold sex offenders after they have completed their sentence.  Now they can be held indefinitely if they are deemed dangerous.  For those who say, "So what?", consider that the definition of sex offender has changed dramatically in the past decade or so.  A 15-year-old girl with a 17-year-old boyfriend?  That boyfriend is now considered a sex offender.  Streaking, running naked without any clothes on?  Sex offense.  Also consider the very slippery slope we are on when a jail sentence that has been completed can be extended, not based on any new charges, but under a general feeling of "we just don't trust you and we don't want to let you out."  Sex offenders are already stringently punished and must report regularly to the authorities, as well as report any new changes of address.  If they can't find a place to stay within three days of leaving jail, they are re-imprisoned.  I don't think we're lax on these offenders, unless you think they can never serve enough time to pay for their crimes and can never be rehabilitated (which is an entirely separate question).  

The rationale of a "broad authority" by Congress to pass laws "rationally related" to constitutional goals will likely be used from this case to also mandate that people buy healthcare insurance, even though we've never forced people to pay for services directly before (aside from taxes).  The power of the federal government is being greatly expanded.  I'm also having second thoughts about the Obama healthcare plan in its present form, which I have so far been a strong supporter of.  When conservative Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas are the dissenting voices in favor of small government and Congress only having specifically enumerated powers, I feel queasy about aligning myself with them.  But I'm starting to feel some worry here.

Have I ever defended a sex offender as a lawyer in a criminal case?  Yes, and I would do so again, even if it made me uncomfortable.  Everybody, at least in America, deserves a fair trial and the right to be heard.  Allow me to leave you with a quotation from Martin Niemoller, German priest and activist who opposed Hitler:

First they came for the communists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

 

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mackknopf

March 2012

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