15 Years in Prison

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Louis Frobe is facing hard time. Fifteen years in prison – the sort of sentence typically handed out for crimes such as second-degree murder and rape. Frobe’s crime?

He recorded a traffic stop.

Stopped for speeding in Lindenhurst, Illinois, Frobe attempted to document the event, including the conversation between himself and the traffic cop. After all, the cop was recording him and the cop’s video/audio record of the traffic stop could and probably would be used as evidence against Frobe in court, if Frobe decided to contest the speeding ticket. Moreover, Frobe was out in public – where the courts have ruled there is no expectation of privacy, period – and the cop who pulled Frobe over is a public official, performing his official duties.

But in some states, they – that is, the cops – see themselves as a protected class, entitled to special privileges, including a legal double-standard that says certain laws apply to us but not to them. This includes audio and video recording of them performing their (cough) “duties” – which in a truly masterful display of Orwellian Newspeak and doublethink – they equate with eavesdropping – and for which they will try to slap you with a felony and destroy your life.

Here’s what happened to Frobe, from the actual audio recording of his traffic stop:

Cop: “That recording?”

Frobe: “Yes, yes, I’ve been …”

Cop: “Was it recording all of our conversation?”

Frobe: “Yes, officer.”

Cop: “Guess what? You were eavesdropping on our conversation. I did not give you permission to do so. Step out of the vehicle.”

The happy malevolence – the sadism – of the cop can be detected merely by reading the transcript. You can imagine how Frobe probably felt at this moment.

Frobe was handcuffed, carted off to jail and charged under state law with felony eavesdropping, which could lead to a prison term of fifteen years. He is now in the position of having to spend a large sum of money on legal representation, and meanwhile, his life is in limbo. Until the nightmare ends, he must endure every moment imaging the prospect of spending possibly a third of his life among the OJs and Scott Petersens of this world. His life is effectively ruined – even if he is ultimately vindicated by the courts.

The law, written for obviously different purposes (ironically, to protect unwary citizens who have had their phones tapped by investigators) is being used as a brutal tool of intimidation against ordinary citizens such as Frobe – or you and me – who dare to question the absolute, unaccountable authority of cops.

The prospect of a felony conviction – ruinous to a person’s reputation, their ability to find or maintain employment – let alone the prospect of being sent to prison, possibly to live for years among violent thugs – certainly gets the job done.

There’s already a big, hairy thumb pressing down one side of the scales of justice. In court, the word of a cop is considered almost holy writ,merely by dint of his being a cop. Meanwhile, the word of a citizen is essentially worthless. Even if the citizen is a person of unimpeachable character. The cop says the citizen did (or said) “x.” The citizen disputes this. Whose version will the court accept?

We all know the answer.

And we also know that cops can be corrupt, lying thugs. The video and audio evidence of this is irrefutable. YouTube has become a sort of public forum for revealing the actual conduct of some cops, in a way that cannot be denied or explained away by such bromides as “he was resisting arrest.” A recent, horrid example being the case of the homeless schizophrenic who was literally beaten to death by a gang of cops; the incident was – fortunately – recorded and it’s clear – thanks to the video evidence – that beat-down was egregiously unjustified; a murder, in plain English.

Which is precisely why some cops – and some states – are so determined to use any tactic, including the threat of a decade or more in prison, to keep what they do off the record and unaccountable to anyone other than themselves.

“They had audio and they had video on me, but I’m not allowed to do it (record) to them,” Frobe said later. “I’m in a private car on a public street and it’s a public official. Why shouldn’t I be able to record what’s going on to prove my innocence?” he asks.

Why, indeed.

In law, there was once a precept known as malicious (or criminal) intent. This was an essential attribute as far as defining any given action as criminal. Eavesdropping laws, for example, were written to protect people from having their private conversations recorded (absent a court order) without their knowledge or consent, for purposes of using those recordings against them – whether in the context of a court proceeding or otherwise (such as blackmail).

Where is the malicious/criminal intent in the case of a citizen documenting his own arrest? How, in any way, is the citizen perpetrating a harm against the cop?

The answer, clearly, is that the harm at issue is the “harm” not merely of possibly revealing that cops are not always saints (and sometimes, worse than devils) but, more deeply, of taking that big hairy thumb off the scales of justice. Of equalizing things between citizens and cops.

A video or audio recording means it’s no longer John Q’s (legally worthless) word against the legally near-unchallengeable word of a cop.

A video recording of a cop berating (or beating) a citizen – especially if it gets out on YouTube – well, we can’t have that. It undermines respect for The Law.

Higher courts have repeatedly thrown out arrests of citizens based on this twisted misuse of eavesdropping statutes, declaring them unconstitutional violations of the First Amendment, among other things. But that hasn’t prevented endlessly insolent police departments in Illinois and Maryland and elsewhere from continuing to threaten people with arrest and imprisonment – the mere prospect of which is sufficient to cow most people into abject, cringing submission, since for most people, even the thought of being charged with a felony, no matter how legally unsupportable and even if it will ultimately be thrown out, is a chilling prospect.

And that’s precisely what’s wanted: Fear – and submission.

The Law is irrelevant – not just what the courts rule The Law to be but right down to the core of it, the Constitution of the United States itself. It is effectively null and void. Authority does what it wills – because it is Authority.

The malignant precedent for this was set at the national level by The Chimp, who brazenly deeeecided he was not bound by any law and would rule by decree. It was called “executive order” or “executive privilege” – and the public blithely accepted it. Now it is routine practice, performed casually by The Chimp’s successor and every Little Chimp on down the line.

It will take a few brave souls such as Louis Frobe, willing to put themselves in harm’s way in defense of a principle, to put an end to this. If it is even possible to still do so at this late hour.

I hope it’s not too late.

But I fear it may be.

Reprinted with permission from EricPetersAutos.com.

Eric Peters [send him mail] is an automotive columnist and author of Automotive Atrocities and Road Hogs (2011). Visit his website.

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