Legalizing Crime

The state has a monopoly on behaviour usually deemed criminal. It murders, kidnaps, and locks up people. Sovereignty has come to be identified with the unbridled – and exclusive – exercise of violence. The emergence of modern international law has narrowed the field of permissible conduct. A sovereign can no longer commit genocide or ethnic cleansing with impunity, for instance.

Many acts – such as the waging of aggressive war, the mistreatment of minorities, the suppression of the freedom of association – hitherto sovereign privilege, have thankfully been criminalized. Many politicians, hitherto immune to international prosecution, are no longer so. Consider Yugoslavia’s Milosevic and Chile’s Pinochet.

But, the irony is that a similar trend of criminalization – within national legal systems – allows governments to oppress their citizenry to an extent previously unknown. Hitherto civil torts, permissible acts, and common behaviour patterns are routinely criminalized by legislators and regulators. Precious few are decriminalized.

Consider, for instance, the criminalization in the Economic Espionage Act (1996) of the misappropriation of trade secrets and the criminalization of the violation of copyrights in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (2000) – both in the USA. These used to be civil torts. They still are in many countries. Drug use, common behaviour in England only 50 years ago – is now criminal. The list goes on.

Criminal laws pertaining to property have malignantly proliferated and pervaded every economic and private interaction. The result is a bewildering multitude of laws, regulations statutes, and acts.

The average Babylonian could have memorizes and assimilated the Hammurabic code 37 centuries ago – it was short, simple, and intuitively just.

English criminal law – partly applicable in many of its former colonies, such as India, Pakistan, Canada, and Australia – is a mishmash of overlapping and contradictory statutes – some of these hundreds of years old – and court decisions, collectively known as “case law”.

Despite the publishing of a Model Penal Code in 1962 by the American Law Institute, the criminal provisions of various states within the USA often conflict. The typical American can’t hope to get acquainted with even a negligible fraction of his country’s fiendishly complex and hopelessly brobdignagian criminal code. Such inevitable ignorance breeds criminal behaviour – sometimes inadvertently – and transforms many upright citizens into delinquents.

In the land of the free – the USA – close to 2 million adults are behind bars and another 4.5 million are on probation, most of them on drug charges. The costs of criminalization – both financial and social – are mind boggling. According to “The Economist”, America’s prison system cost it $54 billion a year – disregarding the price tag of law enforcement, the judiciary, lost product, and rehabilitation.

What constitutes a crime? A clear and consistent definition has yet to transpire.

There are five types of criminal behaviour: crimes against oneself, or “victimless crimes” (such as suicide, abortion, and the consumption of drugs), crimes against others (such as murder or mugging), crimes among consenting adults (such as incest, and in certain countries, homosexuality and euthanasia), crimes against collectives (such as treason, genocide, or ethnic cleansing), and crimes against the international community and world order (such as executing prisoners of war). The last two categories often overlap.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica provides this definition of a crime: “The intentional commission of an act usually deemed socially harmful or dangerous and specifically defined, prohibited, and punishable under the criminal law.”

But who decides what is socially harmful? What about acts committed unintentionally (known as “strict liability offences” in the parlance)? How can we establish intention – “mens rea”, or the “guilty mind” – beyond a reasonable doubt?

A much tighter definition would be: “The commission of an act punishable under the criminal law.” A crime is what the law – state law, kinship law, religious law, or any other widely accepted law – says is a crime. Legal systems and texts often conflict.

Murderous blood feuds are legitimate according to the 15th century “Qanoon”, still applicable in large parts of Albania. Killing one’s infant daughters and old relatives is socially condoned – though illegal – in India, China, Alaska, and parts of Africa. Genocide may have been legally sanctioned in Germany and Rwanda – but is strictly forbidden under international law.

Laws being the outcomes of compromises and power plays, there is only a tenuous connection between justice and morality. Some “crimes” are categorical imperatives. Helping the Jews in Nazi Germany was a criminal act – yet a highly moral one.

The ethical nature of some crimes depends on circumstances, timing, and cultural context. Murder is a vile deed – but assassinating Saddam Hussein may be morally commendable. Killing an embryo is a crime in some countries – but not so killing a fetus. A “status offence” is not a criminal act if committed by an adult. Mutilating the body of a live baby is heinous – but this is the essence of Jewish circumcision. In some societies, criminal guilt is collective. All Americans are held blameworthy by the Arab street for the choices and actions of their leaders. All Jews are accomplices in the “crimes” of the “Zionists”.

In all societies, crime is a growth industry. Millions of professionals – judges, police officers, criminologists, psychologists, journalists, publishers, prosecutors, lawyers, social workers, probation officers, wardens, sociologists, non-governmental-organizations, weapons manufacturers, laboratory technicians, graphologists, and private detectives – derive their livelihood, parasitically, from crime. They often perpetuate models of punishment and retribution that lead to recidivism rather than to to the reintegration of criminals in society and their rehabilitation.

Organized in vocal interest groups and lobbies, they harp on the insecurities and phobias of the alienated urbanites. They consume ever growing budgets and rejoice with every new behaviour criminalized by exasperated lawmakers. In the majority of countries, the justice system is a dismal failure and law enforcement agencies are part of the problem, not its solution.

The sad truth is that many types of crime are considered by people to be normative and common behaviours and, thus, go unreported. Victim surveys and self-report studies conducted by criminologists reveal that most crimes go unreported. The protracted fad of criminalization has rendered criminal many perfectly acceptable and recurring behaviours and acts. Homosexuality, abortion, gambling, prostitution, pornography, and suicide have all been criminal offences at one time or another.

But the quintessential example of over-criminalization is drug abuse.

There is scant medical evidence that soft drugs such as cannabis or MDMA (“Ecstasy”) – and even cocaine – have an irreversible effect on brain chemistry or functioning. Last month an almighty row erupted in Britain when Jon Cole, an addiction researcher at Liverpool University, claimed, to quote “The Economist” quoting the “Psychologist”, that:

“Experimental evidence suggesting a link between Ecstasy use and problems such as nerve damage and brain impairment is flawed … using this ill-substantiated cause-and-effect to tell the ‘chemical generation’ that they are brain damaged when they are not creates public health problems of its own.”

Moreover, it is commonly accepted that alcohol abuse and nicotine abuse can be at least as harmful as the abuse of marijuana, for instance. Yet, though somewhat curbed, alcohol consumption and cigarette smoking are legal. In contrast, users of cocaine – only a century ago recommended by doctors as tranquilizer – face life in jail in many countries, death in others. Almost everywhere pot smokers are confronted with prison terms.

The “war on drugs” – one of the most expensive and protracted in history – has failed abysmally. Drugs are more abundant and cheaper than ever. The social costs have been staggering: the emergence of violent crime where none existed before, the destabilization of drug-producing countries, the collusion of drug traffickers with terrorists, and the death of millions – law enforcement agents, criminals, and users.

Few doubt that legalizing most drugs would have a beneficial effect. Crime empires would crumble overnight, users would be assured of the quality of the products they consume, and the addicted few would not be incarcerated or stigmatized – but rather treated and rehabilitated.

That soft, largely harmless, drugs continue to be illicit is the outcome of compounded political and economic pressures by lobby and interest groups of manufacturers of legal drugs, law enforcement agencies, the judicial system, and the aforementioned long list of those who benefit from the status quo.

Only a popular movement can lead to the decriminalization of the more innocuous drugs. But such a crusade should be part of a larger campaign to reverse the overall tide of criminalization. Many “crimes” should revert to their erstwhile status as civil torts. Others should be wiped off the statute books altogether. Hundreds of thousands should be pardoned and allowed to reintegrate in society, unencumbered by a past of transgressions against an inane and inflationary penal code.

This, admittedly, will reduce the leverage the state has today against its citizens and its ability to intrude on their lives, preferences, privacy, and leisure. Bureaucrats and politicians may find this abhorrent. Freedom loving people should rejoice.

Violent Crime Statistics in 2010

Violent crimes are classified in four categories consisting of murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault. Crime statistics are initially collected by individual police departments at the time a criminal defendant is booked at a police station however this data is collected and compiled nationally by the FBI in what is called the UCR (Universal Crime Reporting Program). This allows the nation and individual law enforcement agencies to assess how effective their tactics are working to combat particular crime types as well projecting crime trends to show where new strategies need to be employed.

Violent crimes have been on a downward trend overall for 2010 totaling at an estimated 1,246,248 reported violent crimes throughout the nation. Of the violent crimes reported during 2010 the largest majority occurred in aggravated assaults which made up for 62.5% followed by robberies which made up for 29.5% of the violent crimes reported. Rape was reported to make up 6.8% and lastly murder made up for 1.2% of the nation’s violent crime occurrences for the year.

Overall the nation’s number of violent crimes has decrease 6% from 2009 and has been on a steady decrease for the past 5 and 10 year comparisons. When referring to violent crimes, it is implied that a weapon is generally used to commit these offenses. As such statistics on the weapon type used in these crimes is recorded and published by the FBI with the exception of rape reports which do not record and publish statistics on the type of weapon used.

Firearms are of particular concern to law enforcement agents so data on weapons used in crimes and in specific regions of the nation are important to ensuring that our law enforcement agents are properly prepared for any situation they may encounter. Nationwide firearms were used in 67.5% of the nation’s murders, 41.4% of the nation’s robberies and 20.6% of the nation’s aggravated assaults.

Homicide Weapon Statistics:
67.5% of murders used a firearm.
13.1% of murders used a knife or cutting instrument.
13.6% of murders used an unknown or dangerous weapon.
5.8% of murders involved unarmed assailants.

Robbery Weapon Statistics:
41.4% of robberies occurred using a firearm.
7.9% of robberies occurred using a knife or cutting instrument.
8.8% of robberies occurred using other weapon types.
42.0% of robberies were classified as “strong-arm” robberies.

Assault Weapon Statistics:
20.6% of aggravated assaults occurred using a firearm.
19.0% of aggravated assaults occurred using a knife or cutting instrument.
33.1% of aggravated assaults occurred using other weapons (clubs, blunt, etc).
27.4% of assaults were reported by unarmed assailants.

These statistics are further broken up to indicate weapon percentages which occurred in generalized areas of the country typically consisting of the Northeast, Midwest, West and South. The data collected in these reports can help fuel legislation such as gun control laws, concealed weapon laws and police search and seizure laws for particular states.

Northeastern United States:

Firearm stats:
64.4% in homicides reported, 33.4% in robberies reported, 14.9% in assaults reported.

Knife and cutting instrument stats:
16.5% in homicides reported, 10.2% in robberies reported, 22.4% in assaults reported.

Other weapons (blunt, unknown) stats:
14.5% in homicides reported, 8.6% in robberies reported, 34.2% in assaults reported.

Unarmed stats:
4.6% in homicides reported, 47.7% in robberies reported, 28.4% in assaults reported.

Midwestern United States:

Firearm stats:
71.9% in homicides reported, 45.0% in robberies reported, 23.6% in assaults reported.

Knife and cutting instrument stats:
8.7% in homicides reported, 5.4% in robberies reported, 17.1% in assaults reported.

Other weapons (blunt, unknown) stats:
14.1% in homicides reported, 9.2% in robberies reported, 29.5% in assaults reported.

Unarmed stats:
5.3% in homicides reported, 40.3% in robberies reported, 29.8% in assaults reported.

Western United States:
Firearm stats:
65.0% in homicides reported, 31.8% in robberies reported, 17.5% in assaults reported.

Knife and cutting instrument stats:
14.9% in homicides reported, 9.1% in robberies, 17.4% in assaults.

Other weapons (blunt, unknown) stats:
13.6% in homicides, 9.4% in robberies, 34.0% in assaults.

Unarmed stats:
6.6% in homicides, 49.7% in robberies, 31.1% in assaults.

Southern United States:
Firearm stats:
68.1% in homicides, 49.5% in robberies, 17.5% in assaults reported.

Knife and cutting instrument stats:
12.8% in homicides, 7.0% in robberies, 17.4% in assaults.

Other weapons (blunt, unknown) stats:
13.0% in homicides, 8.2% in robberies, 34.0% in assaults.

Unarmed stats:
6.1% in homicides, 35.3% in robberies, 31.1% in assaults.

Animal Abuse and Domestic Violence – A Correlated Generalized Deviance

I believe it is safe to say that a majority of defendants charged in our courts with animal abuse have prior domestic violence convictions as well. It is because of the “generalized deviance” that domestic violence and animal abuse are correlated. Anti-social behavior of different levels can happen in one individual but how that individual came to exercise the deviance is more complicated as there are many pathways that lead to it. An example of one of these exercises is the individuals use of violence or other anti-social manipulations to “solve” problems which is called “modeling” and explains why violence is often intergenerational. Although animal abuse and domestic violence are correlated, it varies as to which occurs first.

But are there any numbers we can connect here; any studies conducted to make this deviance a little more tangible? A study done in New Jersey found that in 88% of households where children were physically abused, there were records of animal abuse as well. In Wisconsin, four out of five battered women cases revealed the partner had been violent toward pets. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence conducted a study of abuse victims after arriving at domestic violence shelters and found that 85.4% of women and 63.0% of children reported incidents of pet abuse. The Chicago Police Department’s Domestic Violence Program compiled a history of arrestees for animal fighting/animal abuse for the period of 2000-2001 and found that approximately 30% had a conviction of domestic violence on their record. Animal abuse is often associated with other serious crimes such as drug offenses, gangs, weapons violence, sexual assault, and domestic violence and the individuals committing these acts of violence against animals are viewed as a danger to the public and therefore, must be addressed. The whole premise of an animal abuser is to demonstrate power. The abuser will batter an animal to hold control over his family, to isolate them and enforce submission. He will abuse a pet to perpetuate a fearful environment; to prevent a victim from leaving or coerce them to return. They will batter an animal to punish a victim for showing independence.

First responders and professionals who investigate abuse should be aware and trained to observe the cycle of violence. Some states practice this observance and take it a step further by implementing cross-reporting laws. When an animal control officer is called to investigate animal abuse in a home with children, they are mandated to report child abuse when animal abuse is confirmed. Children are generally more willing to discuss what happened to a pet than they are to their own victimization. In Ohio, any child under the age of 18 years of age who commits cruelty to a pet, is required to undergo psychological evaluation to determine individual or family counseling as necessary. The legislation also permit’s the court to include a protection order for any companion animal in the home of the person seeking a criminal protection order, domestic violence protection order, a civil stalking order, a sexual offense protection order, or the approval of a civil domestic violence consent agreement. Often a partner will abuse a pet that is in the home as a tactic to keep the victim under control. It is understood that many victims will not leave when it puts their pets in harm’s way. When questioning victims and their children, first responders should be alert for signs of child and/or pet victimization. They should ask if the abuser or anyone else threatened to harm their pet and ask if they need help finding a safe place for their pet to go if they leave. Many victims will not prosecute their abuser however, animal cruelty prosecution can result in incarceration or treatment that is equal to results from a domestic violence prosecution.

Domestic Violence Shelters, Animal Shelters, and Humane Organizations can do much to offer protection for animal victims. When working with abuse victims in their safety planning, be sure they include their pets. Question them about any threats or injuries to their pets. Work with legislators to include pets in orders of protection and educate judges on the necessities of these inclusions. Team up with your local animal control and humane organizations and local domestic violence shelters to establish emergency housing of pets coming from homes experiencing violence. If there is no space available, establish a network of homes that provide emergency care for these pets through foster care agencies then incorporate these connections in school programs where they might reach children who are at risk of family violence. Also, many YWCA’s have pet shelter programs that are in partnership with the humane society, local clinics, kennels, stables, and veterinarians.

Unfortunately, victims of domestic violence often choose to stay in abusive relationships to protect their pets. A study shows that 71% of women seeking “safe haven” in domestic violence shelters had companion animals threatened, hurt, or killed by their abuser. Many victims never even go to a shelter because of this fear for their pets. It is in recognition of this fact that many states have passed laws including pets in court-issued orders of protection and to include any animal that is harmed or threatened with harm in the state’s definition of “domestic violence.” Society doesn’t consider animal cruelty as severe as violence against humans but it is increasingly viewed as a serious issue by professionals in law enforcement and mental health. Effective prosecution of animal abuse can provide early and timely response to those who are, or who are at risk of becoming, a threat to the safety of others. It is a tool for protection for victims of family violence, developing new skills and understanding which will help build a truly compassionate society.

Reducing Gun Crime

Facts and Figures

Gun crime in the UK makes up less than 0.5% of all crime recorded by the police. Although this is a small statistic, the use of guns leads to severe bodily harm or death, of which there were 455 of these last year.

Punishment

In order to reduce gun crime there are several laws in place to act as punitive and deterrent measures. Possession of an illegal firearm alone, incurs a minimum of 5 years in jail. The use or possession of an air weapon or imitation firearm in public is also now illegal and the manufacture of imitation firearms has become prohibited too. The age at which an air weapon can be purchased has been increased to 17 years of age and some air weapons that can easily be converted into firing weapons have become prohibited. Most of these laws come under the 1996 Violent Crime Reduction Act.

Reducing Supply

Further actions taken to reduce gun crime are to reduce the supply of guns to the UK. According to the Lord Chief Justice, it is because guns are so readily available that there is still gun crime in the UK and we need to tackle this problem more effectively. This can be done by tightening security at UK airports to prevent smuggling past customs and also monitoring parcels that are shipped into the UK.

Gun Culture

A lot of gun crime is associated with gang culture and illegal drug trade and so by addressing these problems there is hope that this will also reduce the use of guns. ‘Connected’ is a government initiative to support communities in standing up against the use of guns in their local areas.

Search Results