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In (Jail) For A Penny

Prison: not just for criminals anymore.

By Petrarch  |  December 12, 2013

What's a police state?  Whole academic conferences have argued over the definition, but a good rule of thumb is: a place where an ordinary person can be thrown in jail for doing something that no ordinary person would think was a crime.

A Georgia man discovered the hard way that he didn't live in the sort of country he thought he lived in:

Police in Georgia recently arrested a man for "stealing" electricity from a school where he plugged his car in for 20 minutes during his son's tennis match...

"He said that he was going to charge me with theft by taking because I was taking power, electricity from the school," Kaveh Kamooneh told a Georgia television station. Kamooneh says he had charged his car for 20 minutes, drawing about a nickel's worth of juice. Don Francis of Clean Cities Atlanta, an electric vehicle advocacy group, says the estimate of five cents is accurate...

The Chamblee police - having apparently eradicated real crime in their community -- actually "investigated" and once they discovered that Kamooneh did not have permission to plug in, went to his home and arrested him. Eleven days after the alleged theft. Made him do the perp walk. And the man spent more than 15 hours in county lockup.

Electricity rates are going up; we elected a president who promised that they would.  They're still pretty cheap, though; it's not physically possible for an ordinary electric outlet to provide more than a tiny amount of electricity.  That's why most electric cars have special cables to connect to high-voltage jacks so it doesn't take all week to get a full "tank."

Here's a cop who has so little to do that he performed a full investigation and arrest, including the "perp walk," over a nickel's worth of juice!

Many Internet commentators feel that the cop was totally off his rocker and that the prosecution will surely be quashed.  Maybe so, but the prosecutor has ample precedent to present to the court: arresting people for plugging into open electrical outlets is not uncommon.  Yes, the arrestees are usually homeless people whom everybody wants off the streets and nobody cares about, but the law is supposed to be blind.  If a vagrant can be made to serve time for plugging in his cellphone, so, in theory, should the wealthy owner of a new and trendy electric car regardless of its green virtues.

Let's not stop there.  Have you ever grabbed a few extra ketchup packets from McDonald's to take home for future use, or maybe some napkins to stock in your glove compartment?  That's "theft" just as surely as the juice-jacking incidents above - those materials were put there for your use with the food you just bought, not for you to stockpile for later.

Logically, there ought to be a common-sense limitation.  We all understand that if you hijack a ketchup tank-truck heading towards McDonald's, that's a felony - Grand Theft Auto.  If you swipe a whole keg of ketchup, that too is a crime, but probably not as serious a one.  Detectives will chase down the missing 18-wheeler, not so much the keg.  Can you imagine a cop going after you for a couple of napkins?

The problem is that our laws have lost all sense of proportion, sanity, or natural justice.  There are more and more horror stories of people thrown into prison for "crimes" they can barely understand even after detailed explainations, much less known about beforehand.  Pity the poor shop owner imprisoned for two years for purchasing lobsters in plastic bags as opposed to the required cardboard boxes even though the law hadn't taken effect when the supposed "crime" occurred.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, of course, we see high-powered elites violate all kinds of laws and never even get a call from the police; Mr. Obama's cabinet appointees are notorious for being unprosecuted felons.  Then there are the banksters who appear to have fradulently filed foreclosure paperwork; none of them are behind bars either, not even close.

What happens when ordinary citizens are locked up for nothing but the well-connected get away with massive fraud?  Put another way, what happens when "the rule of law" no longer applies to everyone equally?

A congressional committee asked that question of the Cato Institute's Michael Cannon recently, and his response was sobering.

There is one last thing to which the people can resort if the government does not respect the restraints that the constitution places on the government.  Abraham Lincoln talked about our right to alter our government or our revolutionary right to overthrow it.  That is certainly something that no one wants to contemplate.  If the people come to believe that the government is no longer constrained by the laws then they will conclude that neither are they.

That is a very dangerous sort of thing for the president to do, to wantonly ignore the law, to try to impose obligations upon people that the legislature did not approve.  [emphasis added]

No American legislature passed a law prescribing jailtime for putting lobsters in plastic bags; an administrative agency in another country did.  No legislature created the crime of Grand Theft Electricity.  No legislature granted provisional green cards to youthful illegal immigrants; Mr. Obama did that on his own, both before and after saying that he couldn't.

Yes, Obamacare was passed by the legislature, sort of, allowing for massive legislative fraud and bribery.  As awful as the bill was, however, it did not gave Mr. Obama the authority to whistle up delays or exemptions out of thin air.

Yet he's delayed the requirement for companies to buy health insurance for all employees by a year, refused to delay the requirement for individual people to have insurance even though the website selling those individual insurance policies doesn't work, and granted exemptions from the entire mess to hundreds of politically-connected unions and donors' companies.

The net result is exactly what Cannon observed: people clearly see that there's one oppressive, impossible, illogical, obscure, bankrupting, and inconceivably harsh law for them, and "anything goes" for government lifers and bigshots.

Historically, that leads to revolutions.  Is that what Mr. Obama wants?  If any of us peasants can be imprisoned on the whim of an arrogant bureaucrat, well, sooner or later enough people will decide they'd rather take a chance with force of arms.