Should The Punishment For Falsely Accusing People Of A Crime Match The Punishment For The Crime Itself?
from the false-accusations-everywhere dept
Two very different stories, but both with some startling parallels.
First, Radley Balko’s story about how police and attorneys in Louisiana apparently flat out lied to claim that a process server “assaulted” a police officer he was serving (in a police brutality case, no less). There are lots of details there, but suffice it to say, the process server, Douglas Dendinger, did not assault Chad Cassard at all — even though he was soon arrested for it, and Cassard managed to present seven witnesses (including police officers and two prosecutors who witnessed Dendinger serving the papers on Cassard). Dendinger went through two years of hell because of this, before the case was dropped when cell phone videos made by Dendinger’s wife and nephew showed that there was no assault at all. Police and prosecutors lying to protect one of their own? Sure, it happens. But now that it’s been exposed, Balko has an important question:
Why aren?t the seven witnesses to Dendinger?s nonexistent assault on Cassard already facing felony charges? Why are all but one of the cops who filed false reports still wearing badges and collecting paychecks? Why aren?t the attorneys who filed false reports facing disbarment? Dendinger?s prosecutors both filed false reports, then prosecuted Dendinger based on the reports they knew were false. They should be looking for new careers ? after they get out of jail.
If a group of regular citizens had pulled this on someone, they?d all likely be facing criminal conspiracy charges on top of the perjury and other charges. So why aren?t these cops and prosecutors?
I could be wrong, but my guess is that they?ll all be let off due to ?professional courtesy? or some sort of exercise of prosecutorial discretion. And so the people who ought to be held to a higher standard than the rest of us will once again be held to a lower one.
Second, we have last week’s story about Total Wipes sending an automated takedown notice to Google demanding tons of perfectly legitimate, non-infringing web pages be taken out of Google’s index for infringement. Total Wipes blamed it on a “bug” in its program, which would be more convincing if it hadn’t happened before.
This second story has Rick Falkvinge, quite reasonably, wondering why the penalties for false takedowns aren’t equivalent to the penalties for infringement, saying that this is the way it works in other parts of the law:
The thing is, this should not even be contentious. This is how we deal with this kind of criminal act in every ? every ? other aspect of society. If you lie as part of commercial operations and hurt somebody else?s rights or business, you are a criminal. If you do so repeatedly or for commercial gain, direct or indirect, you?re having your ill-gotten gains seized. This isn?t rocket science. This is standard bloody operating procedure.
The copyright industry goes ballistic at this proposal, of course, and try to portray themselves as rightsless victims ? when the reality is that they have been victimizing everybody else after making the entire planet rightsless before their intellectual deforestation.
The irony is that at the same time as the copyright industry opposes such penalties vehemently, arguing that they can make ?innocent mistakes? in sending out nastygrams, threats, and lawsuits to single mothers, they are also arguing that the situation with distribution monopolies is always crystal clear and unmistakable to everybody else who deserve nothing but the worst. They can?t have it both ways here.
Of course, his claim that this is true in “every” other area is proven somewhat false by the first story above. But the underlying factors in both cases are nearly identical, and it actually goes back to a previous concept that Falkvinge has written about: the “high court” and the “low court.” The “nobility” gets a special court when they break the law, with limited consequences. The lowly commoners have to go to the “low court” where the consequences are quite severe. Falkvinge’s original point is that we still seem to have the same thing today, and that’s clearly shown in both stories above.
If you’re in power, you can lie about things to accuse others of serious things that can have serious consequences for them, and there’s no real punishment. Instead, it’s brushed off as not being important — sometimes with expressions of understanding about how “these things can happen.” I’m reminded of the phrase that we “judge ourselves according to our intentions, but others based on their actions,” and that seems to be partly at work here as well (though I question the “intentions” of the prosecutors who lied above). The lies are written off as minor “mistakes,” whereas those accused are given no such benefit of the doubt. It’s a big problem in the copyright space, certainly, but it’s true in many other areas of society as well.