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New Times / Shredder

The following article was posted on August 6th, 2008, in the New Times - Volume 23, Issue 1 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from New Times [newtimesslo.com] - Volume 23, Issue 1

Don't mess with Uncle Sam

This week’s cover story on the trial and trials of medical marijuana dispenser Charles Lynch offers a lesson I’ve been trying for years to find an excuse to offer: Boys and girls, if federal prosecutors ever get you in their sights, for anything at all, perform the following actions:

1. Cop a plea, to anything, whether you did it or not.

2. Immediately put your head between your knees, think of Jesus, and kiss your ass goodbye.

That last bit was actually the advice given to me by a surly stewardess on a flight when I asked her what I should do if those oxygen masks drop. But the advice is relevant, even if the seat cushions in a federal court don’t double as flotation devices.

Federal prosecutors pretty much always get whomever they want, one way or another. And they really, really, really don’t like to have to go to trial to do so.

The prisons are full of people who gambled that they could beat the feds in a jury trial, and lost. All of those people said they were innocent, and many of them probably were, which is why they were willing to take the risk of going to trial.

But trust me, people, trials only make federal prosecutors mad. They throw the book at you if you piss them off. The lesson is: Take a deal, serve your time whether you did it or not, and pick up the shambles of your life.

Why are they so damn effective? There are two reasons I can think of.

First, these are political jobs taken by ruthless, ambitious people.

It used to be that only the head prosecutors were appointed based on their political beliefs, and even then it was considered impolite to ask them their views outright; it was more of wink-wink proposition.

Under the Bush administration, however, nearly all Justice Department jobs, even those ostensibly for nonpolitical, civil-service slots, have been first subject to a political litmus test.

This isn’t me saying so. The Justice Department’s inspector general has found that the White House’s person assigned to the department illegally screened judges and attorneys based on their sexual preferences, moral beliefs, and political leanings. One of her questions: “What is it about George W. Bush that makes you want to serve him?”

This is not a crew that’s been encouraged to look for shades of gray. They get their guys.

The second reason the feds are so damn effective is because they have so many, many laws at their disposal. If they can’t get you for what they think you did, they just go down the list until they find something that might stick, and then they stick it right up your amicus briefs.

There are some 27,000 pages of federal law. Can you be sure you’re not breaking one of them?

Here’s an example of a law on the federal books that was discussed by Prof. James Duane, of the Regent University School,

in a video posted on reason.tv, the Libertarian-leaning Drew Carey project, which did a fantastic job covering Lynch’s trial:

“It is unlawful for any person … to import, export, transport, sell, receive, or acquire any fish or wildlife or plant taken, possessed, transported, or sold in violation of any law, treaty, or regulation of the United States, in violation of an Indian tribal law or regulation of any state or any foreign law.”

Got that?

Doesn’t matter if the plant you own was purchased at your local nursery and is legal under U.S. and your own state’s laws; if it’s illegal under another state’s law, or under a tribal law, or under Papau New Guinea’s law, then you’re in violation of federal law.

And don’t even get them started if the plant in question was marijuana, and it was purchased legally under California law.

So take the advice, folks, and take the plea.

One more thing …

While I’m on the Lynch case, I’d like to just take a moment to note that your handy dandy, locally owned and operated alternative weekly seems to have more resources to throw at actual news coverage these days than your “local” daily, which happens to be owned by the second largest newspaper chain in the country.

When New Times decided the Lynch case was worth covering, we sent Kylie Mendonca to L.A. to do the covering, where she did a hell of a job. The local newspaper of record? Used another newspaper’s story. They probably had to, because they’ve been leaving reporter’s jobs unfilled, laying off dozens, and moving other jobs overseas.

New Times? We just hired an extra reporter, so we can do more and better news.

This is not to say that we don’t suck.

We definitely do sometimes, and I’ll be the first to admit it. But these days, in comparison?