You’d think that, of all people, the president would be held to a higher standard than the rest of us. And yet, Jacob Sullum, writing for reason‘s October 2016 issue, makes a viable point when he notes that the FBI recommended not bringing charges against Hillary Clinton because her actions were not intentional–essentially, that she did not know she was acting against the law. Sullum also reminds us that the federal code has 5,000 criminal statues and 30,000 regulatory violations, so it’s more than plausible that, especially for some of the more arcane statues on the book, we’ve only accidentally transgressed. In these situations, especially with our overburdened legal system, the courts should choose not to prosecute unless there is abundant evidence of willful misconduct (for instance, it’s a second infraction, or something the defendant has been previously warned about).
Incidentally, the argument used against mens rea (“guilty mind”) reform is that rich, white-collar criminals and executives would much more easily be able to escape prosecution; and yet, they already seem to have no trouble doing exactly that, at great expense (of time and money) to our overtaxed legal system. Lawyers may benefit, but the rest of us are far worse off.
This issue also brings up another, compounding issue, with Lauren Krisai writing about the largely overlooked and recidivism-contributing fines associated with a criminal sentence. As one “legal debtor” puts it:
The way our criminal justice system works, you know, there’s too many people making money out of corrections, and the corrections isn’t correcting anything. It’s more creating people who are unable to get jobs, who are unable to deal in society.”
Prison is and must be the punishment. If there is any sort of fine or remuneration (say, court fees) owed by the convict, they must have the option of fairly paying it off with labor performed while in prison, which must be voluntary and, of course, fairly compensated. We make it very difficult for ex-cons to find employment after they’ve been released from jail, and while that might be OK for those with a large support network of friends and family who can help them get back on their feet, or those who were well-off to begin with (to whom these fines would be essentially meaningless), forcing cons to somehow go on a debtor’s payment plan without a prospect for employment or even housing is insane. As with the Clinton example, it’s not how we treat all citizens, which means it is therefore clearly unfair.
One final example, from the same issue, from Anthony L. Fisher, cites the fact that taxpayers (through the Department of Justice), actually fund a lot of the security and expense that goes into the pomp and circumstance of the Democratic and Republican Conventions. We have no oversight, no ability to curtail their expense or to request a more austere setting, nor do we have the right, apparently, to demand that corporate sponsors not be allowed to brand the event and potentially garner future favors from presidential candidates or party platforms. This conversation came up once before, with regards to the free healthcare that an elected official receives–why can an ordinary citizen not qualify for such a useful plan? It’s important to mention it again: If you or I were to throw an event, some sort of political speech or rally, we would not be afforded nearly the same amount of money as our presidential candidates. In fact, depending on the nature of our speech, some police might even refuse to provide basic security, as they’ve recently been seen doing for certain football games at which players refuse to stand for the anthem. We must have equality; barring that, we must at least have better transparency, so that when we laugh on Buzzfeed about the many memes in which Bill Clinton marvels at giant balloons and confetti, we know exactly how much we spent paying for it.