What You Can Learn From O.J.

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O.J. Simpson's
latest legal troubles have dominated the news this week.

The truth
about what happened may never be ascertained, because all of the
evidence is circumstantial and it's a classic "he said, he
said" story.

According
to the police report, an acquaintance of Simpson's, auction house
owner Tom Riccio, found out somehow that two Las Vegas sports memorabilia
dealers had items that he believed belonged to Simpson, and he informed
Simpson of this.

Simpson came
to Las Vegas from his home in Florida last week for a wedding, so
he decided to retrieve his items while he was there.

Conspiring
with Simpson, Riccio lured the two dealers to a motel room last
Thurs., Sept. 13, by saying he had a buyer looking to spend a lot
of money on Simpson items. As they waited for the "buyer,"
Simpson burst into the room with several men, including two brandishing
guns from the onset; upon entering the room, one of the armed men
claimed to be a police officer. They frisked the two memorabilia
dealers for weapons, then Simpson instructed his accomplices on
what to take as he berated the two dealers for stealing from him.

(Neither the
police report nor any of the news reports have made it clear why
Riccio thought the items were Simpson's; why Simpson thought the
items were his, other than based on the say-so of Riccio; or how
the dealers allegedly stole the items, or from where or when.)

After Simpson
and his accomplices left, the two dealers called the police and
reported the incident.

The next day,
Simpson was questioned in his hotel room by the police. He admitted
the details of the incident, including taking what he estimated
as $100,000 worth of memorabilia. But he asserted that he had not
committed an armed robbery, but was just retrieving his own property
that had been stolen from him.

Simpson also
admitted to the Associated Press that day that he conducted his
own "sting operation" the night before.

"Everybody
knows this is stolen stuff," Simpson told the AP. "Not
only wasn't there a break-in, but Riccio came to the lobby and escorted
us up to the room. In any event, it's stolen stuff that's mine.
Nobody was roughed up."

According
to the victims, Simpson promised the victims that, after going through
the items, he would leave anything he believed not to be his for
them at the hotel's front desk, which tends to validate Simpson's
version of the story.

In spite of
Simpson's claims, he was charged with one misdemeanor and 10 felonies.

Even when
he was arrested Sunday, Simpson continued talking to the police,
and his demeanor with them, in the car driving to the jail, was
described by them as "chatty and amicable."

(Simpson likely
tried to retrieve the items himself, rather than going to police,
because he lost a $30 million-plus civil judgment to the family
of Ron Goldman, one of the two people he was acquitted of killing
in his criminal trial. Almost all of that remains unpaid, and any
of Simpson's income, aside from his pensions and residence, are
supposed to be seized by the California court to help pay down the
debt.)

It's understandable
that many have little sympathy for Simpson, whom they believe (probably
correctly) got away in 1995 with brutally killing two innocent people
the previous year.

It's even
more difficult to feel sorry for Simpson when it's so obvious that
he's an arrogant, likely-sociopath with poor judgment and poor impulse
control.

However, there
are a number of lessons that this case illustrates about the nature
of the state and its hegemonic relationship to its citizens.

(Hopefully
you'll never need this advice; if you do, please understand that
this is for general information and that I'm not an attorney, and
you should consult with one for any personal legal problems.)

(Also, please
understand that I am not advising anyone to break any law.)

1. It makes
no difference whether you think you broke the law, nor does it matter
what your reasons were for your conduct.

Prosecutors
arbitrarily determine, on a case-by-case basis, whether any laws
have been broken, what laws have been broken, whether to file charges,
what charges to file, and how many charges to file.

While there
are probably some fair prosecutors who truly believe they're pursing
justice for victims, many prosecutors are corrupt.

You may have
charges piled on you because the prosecutor has political ambitions;
because he or she is having financial, medical or marital problems
and needs someone to take it out on; or because he or she is just
in a bad mood that day.

As Michael
Nifong showed, some prosecutors will even go after people they know
are innocent, if they think they can get away with it.

Prosecutors
also often pile on as many charges as they can, because that makes
it more likely that the defendant will accept a plea bargain, to
have some charges dropped in exchange for pleading guilty to others.
The vast majority of criminal cases in the U.S. end this way, never
making it to a jury trial. For a great example of this, see Rudy
Giuliani's despicable persecution of Michael Milken.

Over one incident,
lasting probably two or three minutes, Simpson has been charged
with one misdemeanor: conspiracy to commit a crime, and 10 felonies:
conspiracy to commit kidnapping; conspiracy to commit robbery; first
degree kidnapping with use of a deadly weapon; burglary while in
possession of a deadly weapon; robbery with use of a deadly weapon;
assault with a deadly weapon; and coercion with use of a deadly
weapon (the total comes out to 10 because some charges have more
than one count).

This is clearly
a case of piling on charges, although it may not be unusual.

"Conspiracy"
laws are ludicrous. Yes, every case has to be judged on its own,
and there are mitigating factors, such as whether something was
planned or committed in the heat of the moment.

But, in a
free society, there should be only two standards for illegality:
That someone's body or property has been violated, and that there's
a victim (or his or her beneficiaries, in the case of murder) filing
a complaint.

In theory,
conspiracy laws make it possible for the government to prosecute
people for planning crimes that never even occurred, and I'm sure
that has happened.

But their
main function is to allow prosecutors to double charges.

In reading
the criminal complaint, the burglary charge involves entering a
location with intent to steal, while robbery involves the actual
stealing (and probably that the victims were present). So they're
basically the same thing.

The kidnapping
charges are quite serious, and it's not clear from either the criminal
complaint or any news reports that either of the victims were forcibly
removed anywhere. So these charges seem dubious.

According
to the description of the assault with a deadly weapon charges,
no actual assault took place; the intruders just made the victims
fear that they might be assaulted.

The coercion
with a deadly weapon charge involves forcing the victims to give
up their property. So it's also hard to distinguish this from the
actual robbery.

While I'm
not accusing the DA of this, it's reasonable to wonder whether he
piled these charges on Simpson because he, too, believes that Simpson
got away with murder 12 years ago – and, since the constitution
forbids double jeopardy, he's trying to put Simpson away for life
as retribution for the state.

Of course,
prosecuting this case will also make him a superstar.

2. You have
nothing to gain, and a great deal to lose, by "cooperating"
with the "authorities."

The government
is not your friend, especially if you or someone you care about
is being investigated for a possible crime. There are numerous points
to make here:

A) If you
think what's being investigated is too minor to worry about, re-read
rule one. You won't decide whether charges will be filed, what those
charges will be, or how many they will be; or what the sentence
will be if you or your loved one is convicted. Something you admit
to that you didn't think was illegal could turn out to be a severe
misdemeanor; something you thought was a misdemeanor could turn
out to be a felony – or five or ten.

B) If the
police had enough evidence to arrest you or get a search warrant,
you'd already be arrested or they'd already be searching. They're
fishing for a confession or for you to lead them to evidence to
obtain an arrest or search warrant. You can't be forced to talk
without a subpoena, so volunteer nothing, shut the door in their
faces and immediately call your attorney.

C) Don't think
you have nothing to fear because you're innocent; the Duke lacrosse
players were innocent, and they almost went to prison for life.

D) You will
not gain "brownie points," such as reducing charges or
your sentence, by cooperating. The best thing to do is to make it
as hard as possible for the state to bring charges in the first
place.

E) Don't believe
the police if they make promises about what you'll be charged with
or what your sentence will be, if only you'll cooperate. They have
no say in such matters; they gather evidence and present it to the
prosecutor, who determines whether to file charges, and if so, what
charges to file. Upon conviction, the judge imposes sentence based
on the sentencing guidelines enacted by the state legislature (or
Congress, in the case of federal crimes).

F) If you
are arrested, the advice is the same: Volunteer nothing and demand
to speak to your attorney.

3. The state
is a predator looking out for its own interests, not yours – even
if you're the victim of a crime.

When someone
is charged with a crime, they're being charged because they broke
one of the state's laws, not because they violated someone's property
rights. Today, of course, many crimes (like drug possession) have
nothing to do with property rights; if anything, the state is the
one violating the defendant's property rights (such as by confiscating
drugs that the defendant paid for and owns).

That's not
a trivial distinction. Generally, civil courts exist to avenge victims;
criminal courts exist to avenge the state. Prosecutors even sometimes
go forward with trials against the alleged victim's wishes.

The state
likes to have as many laws as possible, to charge as many people
as possible, so it can employ as many judges, prosecutors, social
workers, police, guards, etc. as possible. This has nothing to do
with justice or making the victim whole; it has only to do with
justifying the state's existence and enriching those who work for
it or with it.

It also "punishes"
those it successfully convicts for its own purposes, so politicians
can appear to be "tough on crime" and so it can continue
to create jobs, make money and pay off political debts through expanding
its prison-industrial complex.

In the Simpson
case, he and his accomplices are alleged to have stolen about $100,000
worth of merchandise. It appears that the entire incident lasted
a couple of minutes and that no one was physically assaulted. Assuming
he's convicted of all 11 charges, Simpson will go to prison for
at least 60 years (in other words, for the rest of his life).

While the
victims will likely get at least some of the merchandise back, no
rational, reasonable person could think this is a fitting punishment
– not the least of which is due to the victims suffering the indignity
of being forced to help pay with their tax dollars to feed, clothe
and house their assailants for the rest of their assailants' lives.

In a system
of competing, private courts, the one goal would be making the victims
whole (in other words, satisfying their paying customers).

In a case
like Simpson's, a private court would seek to determine who is the
rightful owner of the property, and that the owner obtained it (or
was compensated if it was missing or destroyed) and received any
damages, and that the thief pay the bill. (While this is obvious
with property crimes such as this, where the defendant would have
to pay for what was stolen, damaged or destroyed, it could work
for bodily crimes as well.)

Losing defendants
who couldn't pay would have their wages garnished, through innovative
market means of which we can't conceive, until their debts were
paid. This would motivate them to work harder to regain their freedom,
and it would literally be a system in which crime didn't pay.

(Yes, there
are chronic violent criminals, like serial killers, who are not
fit to be free among peaceful, civilized people. I don't know what
innovations the market would come up with to handle such cases,
but it couldn't work any worse than the current statist system.
Besides, such cases are rare; while they're tragic, they don't justify
the existence of the state.)

In contrast,
the state strives to lock up as many people as possible for as long
as possible, and for its own purposes – not for those of the victims
(when there even are any).

Conclusion

Let me reiterate
that this is not a defense of O.J. Simpson or his conduct. He may
well be a double-murderer (and, if so, his trial is another example
of a failure of the state). And, even if the items he retrieved
in this latest incident were his, there's no question he went about
things in a wrong and criminal way. And, again, he appears to be
an all-around bad human being with poor judgment and anger control,
and who probably has a sociopathic personality.

But
that's not the point; the point is that this case is another reminder
of how the state operates and treats people, and that it's a far
more dangerous predator to peaceful, civilized people than O.J.
Simpson and his ilk could ever hope to be.

September
21, 2007

Johnny Kramer
[send him mail]
writes from Wichita, KS.

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