Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Scary law

I was reading slashdot today, an article about a guy getting arrested for taking a photo of some police officers arresting someone else. One of the posts pointed out this gem of a law from Montana.

45-7-302. Obstructing peace officer or other public servant

The first clause says that it's a crime to interfere or obstruct criminal investigations, preservation of the peace and government functions. Understandable. Government functions might be pushing things if it's interpreted widely.

The third clause just establishes the penalty. No more than $500 and/or 6 months in prison. Although 6 months in prison is a lot harsher than $500, jail time is probably for the more malovent justice obstructors.

The second clause is the scary and very dangerous part. It is not a defense if the officer in question is acting illegally in trying to accomplish their duty. This is bad. This I would go so far as to say, is unconstitutional in America. This law makes it an offense to demand that the police abide by the 4th and 5th ammendments. For example, if a cop comes to your house and wants to do a search but doesn't have a warrant, if you insist that they have to get a warrant before searching, you're now obstructing justice, and the fact that the cop was trying to do something illegal isn't going to help you when you try and plead your case.

It's also bad because it allows a group of people to ignore certain aspects of the law. One of the keystones of modern democracies is that the law applies equally to everyone. This law states that peace officers can ignore certain laws. This is a bad precedent. No one should be exempt from the consequences of breaking the law. Especially not the group of people entrusted with enforcing the law.

There is also the fact that when officers use illegal means to get evidence, that evidence, nor any evidence derived from it, can not be used in court. This does mean some people will get off charges where the police have not acted properly. This is needed to stop the police abusing power. There have been incidents where people have insisted that police get warrants and so forth before they would divulge information to the police, and these have usually had people in government deriding the people who insisted on the police following the law. This is not a good approach from those in power.

Ultimately, people have certain rights that should not be denied except under extraordinary conditions. This law from Montana makes it harder for individuals to defend their rights, and because of that is a bad law.

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