Recently my mind has been extremely occupied by strategizing and preparing to respond to a speeding ticket I got last month. I thought my approach was perfect. I sent a couple of extremely well researched legal motions to the court asking for some legal confirmation of the validity of the case against me (ie. subject matter jurisdiction if you want to look it up). I know people think I am so crazy for getting so worked up (and spending so much time) over a $190 ticket that eventually got reduced to $143. But, at this point, principle is purely the motivating force for my actions. You see, I have been questioning the legitimacy of criminal/civil prosecutions that do not follow the guidelines the U.S. Constitution sets forth for due process in this country.
There are actually a few issues I have right now; 1. State and local governments have created a dubious category of crime known as a violation. This "crime" technically does not meet the requirements for due process that traditional criminal prosecutions/accusations do. This is essentially a way for local governments to earn additional revenue without having to spend money on incarceration or jury trials or any of that other stuff that due process requires. The fine is also seen as a punitive deterrent that discourages the behavior in the future. On the face of it, it seems like it could be a win-win situation. In other words, if I get pulled over for speeding (or any other "violation" for that matter) no crime has technically been committed, however, the state or local government can assess me with a fine that helps their revenue a little bit and acts as a deterrent so I don't decide to speed again in the future. (Personal interjection of opinion: We really are just sheep because we respond so well to this psychological manipulation of behavior by authority figures, generally speaking.) The local government can require me to appear in a court of no record (where nothing is recorded - I even asked the judge for permission to record the proceeding. He quickly said no. I should have recorded it anyway). In addition, they can find me guilty without the accuser having to produce any evidence whatsoever. They can ignore any legal argument (that would normally be valid in a court of record) that you might come up with that should cause the case to be completely thrown out. These are just some of the issues I have with this new category of "crime". They do not follow normal legal procedures that act to ensure objectivity and protect people from unlawful breaches by the government.
In doing my research, I have discovered that courts that do not follow due process (jury trials, etc.) only have jurisdiction through sufficient pleadings. In other words, both parties agree to the jurisdiction of the court and agree that the court represents a fair place to settle the question of your guilt or innocence. In order to keep from being subject to the court's jurisdiction, you need to ask the court to offer some evidence that it represents a place you can receive due process according the U.S. Constitution, or you can submit to a new category of criminal-like prosecution where you essentially have no rights of due process whatsoever (except what the accusers decide is fair for your situation). If you do not agree to submit to this new category of criminal-like prosecution what are you to do? What can you do? Apparently, according to the accusers (local government law enforcement and authorities), you can not do anything but attempt to prove your innocence in a setting where you have no rights.
In my case, they found me guilty in their court of no rights and now I am left with an alternative of having my case tried in a court where I will have some rights (court of record) that will cost double what the penalty is for just submitting to the first court's jurisdiction (verdict of guilty). I can refuse to accept that their court represents what I am entitled to receive and choose to not voluntarily submit to their form of due process and I can pay for it out of pocket - Double! Since I am a United State citizen and am protected by the Constitution, I should be able to object to what they are doing since it doesn't qualify as due process, so there is a standoff that is occurring. I am anxious to find out what their next move will be. I am currently in the middle of this standoff. I have notified them that I do not feel that their court had any jurisdiction in the question surrounding my circumstances.
The court found me guilty (where a court of record would have had to throw the case out due to a lack of subject matter jurisdiction) where I repeatedly asked the court to justify its jurisdiction to validate it according to the rules of law. It did not and would not do that, so the court did not have any jurisdiction over the matter. Sufficient pleadings means that the accusing party represents that they have a valid case against you and you agree that the court the accusing party is using to settle the matter meets with your approval as a place you can get fined from (or get a fair hearing, haha!). But what happens if I don't agree to that. Apparently, they fine you anyway and you have to spend more money to get a fair trial in a court of record. The court gave me a letter after they found me guilty where they said I could either pay a fine of $143 or I could pay $307 to appeal the matter (but it's really not an appeal, it's a whole new trial - trial de novo. How ridiculous is that?!?)
2. What is a crime and how should it be enforced? To better understand crimes, we need to first have a better understanding of civil actions. The purpose of government (as it is setup in this country) is to protect and maintain individual rights. If you injure me directly or cost me money because of your negligence, I have the right to sue you. In other words, I should be able to ask the government to act as an intermediary in our dispute and not represent either side, but weigh the evidence we both present to objectively work things out between us.
With criminal actions there really is no individual party that has been wronged, but rather, it is assumed that crimes represent actions that are generally discouraged or not approved by society at large. An example of this is murder. We all find the behavior of killing someone to be socially unacceptable, so instead of having to go and take the murderer to court to try and obtain justice we just have the government do it for us. This works because in society we value the rights of the dead to be represented to pursue justice for wrongs against society (the deceased in this case, along with everyone else that could potentially become a victim). We say there are some crimes that affect society so much that, in order to properly administer justice, we have the government step up for us and prosecute crimes against society. The penalties may be fines, jail time or even death where the people have decided that is acceptable. Whereas the only current penalties that can be assessed in civil cases is a monetary fine. So we discourage behavior by saying if you act against the laws we have established to provide peace and prosperity in our society we can punish you for it.
What should be done if the people decide to prosecute for crimes where no one is actually hurt? Should we allow the punishment of actions that represent the breaking of the rules, but do not actually result in an injury to society? Should we be punishing people for 'potential' harm to society? Let's say, for example, I am on a road in the middle of nowhere, no cars can be seen for miles around and I decide to run a stop sign. I could see in all directions of the intersection for miles and there are no cars anywhere. Should I have to pay a fine for running that stop sign? Shouldn't I be credited with being able to make a decision based on the current traffic conditions and situation at that particular stop sign? Shouldn't I have the ability to do that? If not, how much should I have to pay for running that stop sign? Can I just pay in advance? Can I get a discount for pre-paying?
What if I am coming to a stop sign and I see a tree is in the act of falling right where I would have to stop, so I decide to take evasive maneuvers to avoid the falling tree. Should I get a fine in this situation? Maybe or maybe not. I don't have the answers to these questions, but the law does say that there needs to be a demonstrated injury to someone for an action to be classified as a crime. Unless, of course, we just ignore that and allow statists to do whatever they want and start calling anything they want criminal behavior. Where does it stop?
It seems to me that if the people want to punish crimes with the potential for society being injured we need to be awfully sure that those behaviors do actually result in the negative side affects being alleged before we can go ahead and punish those that engage in the behavior. I'll try to remember to follow up and fill everyone in on how my case turns out. Should be interesting.