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Our Insane 'Justice' System

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Yesterday, ABC’s morning “news” show Good Morning America ran a story about a San Francisco woman named Karen Lodrick, a victim of identity theft. This particular case was different than most because, by chance, the victim encountered the perpetrator and actually chased her through the streets, until the police finally appeared and made an arrest. The full story was reported in the S.F. Chronicle, and can be found here. In essence, the perp had a key to the victim’s mailbox, then:

“Using the stolen keys, Lodrick believes, [the perpetrator] made off with an unsolicited mailing from [her] bank. Lodrick said it contained two debit/credit cards she had not requested and, worse, a statement for a certificate of deposit that included her Social Security number. Personal identification numbers for the cards were in a separate envelope.”

While the bank’s mailing was idiotic in the extreme, the government’s actions strike me as being ultra-idiotic, even for our incompetent bumblecrats. First, shortly before the credit card thefts began, Lodrick’s postman informed her that the master keys to the “neighborhood’s” mailboxes had been stolen. Not lost, but stolen. This would seem to be a pretty serious problem, since a known thief would now have access to the mail of scores of residents.

Did the postal service formally inform all its affected customers that their mailboxes were no longer secure? This is not mentioned in the story, but it can be inferred that the answer is that it did not. Did the postal service at least change the locks on the mailboxes and issue new keys to residents? This also goes unmentioned; however, in this case the answer is a definite “no,” since the story does state that “Lodrick changed bank accounts and identification numbers, only to find that [the perpetrator] had again broken into her mail and stolen the new information and was still after her accounts.” This was after the victim had already lost $9,000 in phony withdrawals and credit card purchases. (She would later estimate that she also lost $30,000 in self-employment income during the five months before the perp’s capture, due to time spent trying to clean up the mess.)

Possibly, the Postal Service was negligent in allowing its master keys to be stolen. Clearly, it was negligent in not changing the locks immediately after the theft was discovered. (Naturally, P.O. regulations prohibit customers from installing their own locks on mailboxes.) If these had been the actions of a private company, it would either be insured against such things or sued for damages. But the government-run P.O. is apparently immune from such mundane problems.

About six weeks after her arrest, the perpetrator pleaded guilty to one felony count of “using another person’s identification fraudulently.” As part of a plea agreement, she received a jail sentence of 44 days for time already served in custody, plus three years of probation. She was also ordered to make financial restitution; the amount is “to be determined by the court.” The story noted that the guilty party had been “chastised” by the judge for her lack of remorse and frivolous attitude, and also that she was already on probation for “one of eight previous fraud convictions,” and had been previously convicted of theft.

Is our justice system insane? The guilty party had already committed at least nine prior frauds/thefts, was already on probation when she committed the new crime, yet she gets sentenced to… more probation! Does anyone seriously think such a wrist-slap is going to be a deterrent? Additionally, why wasn’t this nonchalant recidivist prosecuted for other crimes, such as felony theft of property and mail? (One youthful summer I worked at a P.O. processing center, and we were warned that if we so much as pocketed a loose 10-cent stamp we’d be sent to prison for twenty years!)

A more sensible justice system would have sentenced this criminal, as Rothbard proposed, to triple-restitution – in this case, approximately $120,000. Should the amount not be forthcoming, the guilty party would have to work it off in prison, assembling toys or something, until the debt was paid – and probably assume the costs of her confinement, as well. This would take around a dozen years or so. Yep, triple-restitution: now that is a deterrent.

According to the Chronicle’s story, there were 8.4 million victims of identity fraud in 2006. This number will doubtless increase in the years to come, due to several factors – not the least of which is the government’s ridiculous handling of convicted perpetrators of this hard-to-prevent crime.

December 8, 2007

Andrew S. Fischer has worked in various fields.

Andrew S. Fischer