Friday, February 02, 2007

A crime of consent

victimless crimes copy"Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add 'within the limits of the law' because law is often but the tyrant's will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual."
-- Thomas Jefferson

Years ago when I was still shedding the ideas my private school of 13 years burdened me with, I, participating in an act of youthful rebellion, was sharing a joint with my best friend in his parent's garage. At that time I considered myself a "liberal conservative" and told my friend, an O'Reilly-worshipping neocon, this fact. He damn near choked; I had self-applied the dirtiest of possible labels - liberal. He asked me what possessed me to say such a thing, so I went on to describe a few conservative positions I held, like preserving the "Culture of Life" a.k.a. anti-abortion, but I also had budding liberal tendencies such as advocating a moritarium on the War on Drugs. Always quick with an answer my friend jumped in saying I'm right about my Pro-Life stance, a position I assume he holds to this day, however the entire illicit substances debate isn't left or right.

Somehow I suspect he's correct, not just about the decriminalization of drugs but about the larger issue of victimless crimes. Sometimes called "consensual crimes" a victimless crime is self-explanitory. Victimless crimes are most often identified with drug use, yet prostitution, sodomy, pornography as well as plenty of other consensual pursuits are prohibited by this kind of legislation.

What is the justification for victimless crimes? Often these laws are propped up on a moral basis. If individuals were permitted ready access to weed and hookers the moral foundation of society would erode and break apart. Many times religious undertones decorate these arguments. Also, the collateral damage of these activities are weighed. For instance, without seat belt laws insurance rates spike and everybody pays a higher premium.

It is this specious reasoning that constricts personal freedom. I categorical reject the first argument. The purpose of the law is not to legislate morality, if this were true 99.9% of Congress would be exchanging their three-piece suits for single-piece orange ones. The purpose of the law is to prevent the violation of an individual's civic rights and to prevent the damage of another's property. By this definition a victimless crime is oxymoronic. The second point also seems flimsy. If we're worried about driving up insurance costs why not make cigarettes and alcohol illegal? What of the destruction done by drunk drivers every year, is this not reason enough to consider this type of law? You need to look no further than the chapter on Prohibition during the 1920s in your closest history text book to find out that prohibition of every kind doesn't work.

I don't just contend that victimless crimes are pointless, they bare pernicious consequences for a community. 4 million Americans will be arrested for consensual crimes and 350,000 from this group will be convicted. Our tax dollars are going toward housing and feeding these people. Too much manpower is being devoted to the investigation and apprehension of "criminals" who hurt no one, more rapists and murders would be brought to justice if the local prostitution ring became a legitimate service. Drug dealers are empowered by anti-drug laws because they become the sole providers of the product. If it were legalized and taxed then drug dealers would be rendered obsolete.

As it turns out my friend was right, this shouldn't be a question of left or right, it's a question of control. People should be free to indulge in their vices and utilize their leisure time the way they deem fit as long as they do not encroach upon another's ability to do the same. This is another method of control by legislators. Artificial boundaries pull double duty giving the illusion of a caring governance while limiting the range of its people. You can't child-proof the planet. One of the best tests of a nation's freedom is to examine the number of arbitrary restrictions it imposes on it's electorate.

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