Animal rights bill gives more rights to dogs than to kids

BlocksEvery proposed bill in the legislature addresses a pressing need, at least in someone’s eyes. The proponents of Senate Bill 73 would seem to be big animal lovers. I like dogs and cats myself, but here is the deal:

Under the old law, a person could be convicted of animal neglect if he

  1. Intentionally failed to provide adequate care and control over any animal in his care; and
  2. thereby caused substantial harm to the animal.

Under Senate Bill 73, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Jolie Justus, animal owners will be looking at a possible fifteen days in jail if–through negligence–a person fails to provide adequate care or adequate control of their animal, even if no harm whatever comes from it.

Bottom line: if your dog chews through the rope and gets loose; or if some busybody neighbor thinks its too hot (or cold) out for Spot; or if the cat escapes because the door stayed open too long, then you can have a criminal record and and maybe a jail sentence. And that’s even if nobody (including the animal) suffers the slightest harm.

In case you’re wondering, Missouri law sets a looser standard regarding the care and control of your kids. Thank heaven, otherwise I’d have doubtless been jailed myself by now.

FreeWhen I was a child we had an expression that seemed true enough at the time. People still say it. We used it whenever someone was doing something that seemed foolish. We would shrug and then remark: “Well, it’s a free country.” Sometimes I still say it, but today it seems less a comment on foolish behavior, and more a sad irony.

Back in law school, I remember fellow students complaining that people did lots of stupid and mean things and how come those things weren’t against the law? The professor pointedly said: “Not every wrong is a crime, nor does every bad behavior have a legal remedy.” He explained that this was a given in any free society.

The contrary view is that with enough tweaking of the law, we can reach the paradise of perfect conduct. Even our words and our thoughts can be controlled and criminalized. There is nothing a more restrictive law can’t fix.

So we have this divide–or disconnect–between those who think a little freedom can be left to us; and those who would legislate so much of life as to make criminals of us all.

Senate Bill 60 gets a boost from Mythbusters

blocks Senate Bill 60 (criminalizing “celebratory” gunfire) stirred my memory. I recalled that a Mythbusters show (on the Discovery channel) had questioned whether a bullet fired straight up into the air could hurt someone when it came down.

I checked. The answer seemed to be “no.” If the bullet went straight up it would come down with a speed of a really hot fastball (about 100 MPH), not enough to penetrate skin.

On the other hand, bullets fired at lower angles had hurt and killed people. These were likely fired at low enough angles that they retained their spin and ballistic trajectory (and speed). Mythbusters declared the myth busted, but also confirmed and plausible. So Senate Bill 60 may save somebody somewhere. Meanwhile keep those barrels pointed straight up.

Ending holiday gunfire doesn’t go far enough

Senate Bill 60 would expand the crime of Unlawful Use of a Weapon to anyone who “discharges or shoots a firearm into the air for celebratory purposes in an urban area.”

SamThis will be a felony and will doubtless increase civility and safety among city-dwellers. Happy New year and Fourth of July!

I submit, however, there is more to be done. Today I was watching a movie, Back to the Future, Part III, when I was reminded of a remaining loophole in the Missouri weapons statute. Many of you will recall this pitiless scene:

BUFORD: Mad Dog? I hate that name. I hate it, you hear? Nobody calls me Mad Dog. ‘Specially not some, duded-up, egg sucking, guttertrash.

Buford starts shooting at the floor around Marty’s feet. Marty jumps and cries out.

MARTY: AHH!

BUFORD: Dance! Come on! Come on, runt, you can dance . . . (fires another shot) better than that!

Marty keeps moving his feet, finally ending up in a Michael Jackson “moonwalk.”

danceI wanted to cry.

Not to criticize Senator Yvonne Wilson’s efforts, but it would have been simple matter to add language making it a crime to “discharge or shoot a firearm into the ground for the purpose of making another person dance.” Maybe next year.

The trial where nobody lied

Iconic columnI attended a criminal jury trial today. The defendant was charged with the sale of methamphetamine. The MUSTANG drug task force had set up a sting in a Jefferson City motel and set the room up for video and sound. The police used an undercover informant who arrived at the motel with a list of phone numbers believed to belong to drug dealers. The informant called through his list and asked the dealers and to come over and sell him drugs (not mentioning, however, that the sale would be for the cameras).

The defendant showed up with another guy. The jury watched and listened to the drug sale on videotape. The defendant–who was facing ten years to life as a prior offender–took the stand to testify. He told the jury that it was him on the tape and yes, he sold the meth to the undercover informant.

Why was he not guilty? Because, he said, he only sold the drugs because he needed the money. That was his defense.

ArgumentIn closing argument, his lawyer asked the jury to ignore the law and find the guy not guilty. He conceded his client may be guilty under the law, but he only did it for the money. Besides, it wasn’t quite fair that the police tricked him into coming over to the motel and then videotaping him.

The jury went out. While the jury deliberated, the court asked the defendant if it had been his decision to take the stand and testify. Did he know he didn’t have to testify if he didn’t want to? The defendant said he hadn’t talked much with his lawyer and the only advice he had been given was to plead guilty.

By this time, everyone in the room was thinking that the pleading guilty advice was probably pretty sound. A few minutes later this was confirmed when the jury sent back a message saying that they couldn’t find the “guilty” form for the foreperson to sign. The form was quickly found and the inevitable guilty verdict was read.

“Whizzinator” makes passing drug test a felony

IconicA companion statute to Missouri’s forgery statute is section 570.100: “Possession of a forging instrumentality” which makes it a crime to possess anything for the purpose of committing forgery. Like forgery itself, possession of a forging instrumentality is a class C felony.There was once a search warrant issued to search a residence and during the search the police turned up a gadget called the “Whizzinator” in the suspect’s dresser drawer.

The “Whizzinator” is worn inside the trousers and is constructed so as to be able to deliver a drug-free urine sample at body temperature. It’s claim to fame, however, is that The “Whizzinator” can fill a specimen jar under the watchful eye of a probation officer without the deception being discovered.

TestThe Whizzinator comes in a rainbow of colors: White, Tan, Brown, Black and Latino. I’m not kidding.

You just load up with certified, drug-free, re-hydrated, simulated urine, activate the included heater pack and strap this baby on.

You are ready for the drug test.

So Back to the story . . . This fellow who had his house searched was already was on probation and required to take regular drug tests. He made the mistake keeping the Whizzinator at home, in the original package which—of course—had his name and address on the outside. That was all it took. He was charged with the possession of a forging instrumentality.

Possession was not an issue, so his attorney attempted to defend her client by asserting that he did not intend to use it for a forgery; i.e that the Whizzinator had other uses. This seemed unlikely, but after scouring the Whizzinator website, she found an obscure testimonial left by one satisfied customer:

I used the Whizzinator at work and it saved my job, and then later that night, I used it on my wife and it saved my marriage.”

That was good for a laugh, but not much else. And being quite guilty of other, unrelated charges, and on his way back to prison, the poor guy pled guilty for concurrent time. Too bad. It would have been an interesting trial.

Forgery: a crime for all seasons

BlcoksAs a kid I always admired the forger. He was the Donald Pleasence character in the movie The Great Escape. Even though the forger was going blind, he skillfully created fake documents for the good guys so they could get away from the Germans. Even when the forger was a crook, he still carried the romantic aura of an artist, a master of deceit, skilled but misguided.

After law school, it took me about a week’s worth of criminal dockets to smash that glamorous misconception. The truth is that most forgeries are committed by people whose creative forgery skills range from primitive to non-existent.

Very simply, they somehow obtain a check that doesn’t belong to them, sign the the owner’s name to it, and then pass it off on someone innocent enough to take it without checking the forger’s ID. Although I’m sure that the forgery seems a good idea at the time, the forger eventually gets caught.

CheckNow that would be a drab picture for what could be a daring & cerebral crime, but where the criminal mind has largely failed us, the forgery law turns out to be a versatile tool in the hands of some prosecutors, particularly a friend I used to work for, retired Audrain County Prosecuting Attorney Tom Osborne.

Missouri’s forgery statute is found at section 570.090. Forgery is serious, a class C Felony.

A person commits a forgery if–with the purpose to defraud–the person:

  • makes or alters a writing so that it is not genuine, not what it seems to be (e.g. phoney author, incorrect date or place or number indicated) or
  • destroys a writing (a “writing is any method of recording information, money, coins, negotiable instruments, tokens, stamps, seals, credit cards, badges, trademarks and any other symbols of value, right, privilege or identification.)
  • It’s also a forgery to knowingly use (or transfer) such a phoney item with the purpose to defraud another person.

Now if your prosecutor is both creative and somewhat hard-nosed (as some have accused Tom), a person might find themselves faced with a forgery charge for:

  • altering a driver’s license to get into bars, or
  • for using crayons to to make one of those little organge stickers that show you license plate is still valid, or
  • changing the date on a new car’s temporary tag, or
  • signing your brother’s name to your speeding ticket.

In one case in particular, Audrain County deputies were called by a frantic mother whose little daughter had come home and advised her that a neighbor lady had given the girl money to urinate in a cup for her. The mother and the deputies were thinking “pervert” but it turned out that the neighbor liked her controlled substances and just needed a clean urine sample, which she gave to her employer.

Since the neighbor had passed off the urine sample as her own for the purpose of deceiving her employer. Tom naturally charged her with a forgery; and it stuck. It wasn’t long after the urine forgery that Tom had his greatest forgery moment. I’ll save it for the next post.