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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Baseball Bat As Unlawful Weapon: Overcharging As Coercion

A New Jersey woman was arrested after a seemingly routine traffic stop, and charged with the unlawful possession of ... a baseball bat.

http://hudsontv.com/bat-crazy-or-crazy-cops-secaucus-pd-arrests-woman-for-possession-of-a-bat/

This seems like an over eager officer trying to overload a file, and overcharge a young woman, by throwing every conceivable charge.

Whether the charges are ultimately prosecuted by a municipal prosecutor is a different story, and municipal (town) judges also can dismiss the charge. However, prosecutors have government power and government resources behind them and the average private citizen facing even a minor criminal charge (misdemeanor) can be wiped out by the cost of hiring a competent lawyer.

One would hope that the imbalance in fighting ability is not encouraging police officers to meet quotas by overloading charges in order to overwhelm a hapless defendant and coerce, through the imbalance in resources, a guilty plea to at least one charge, regardless of the merits of any charge or whether any charge is furthering the protection of the public or deterrence of actual crime.

Here, we have a case of a woman basically arrested for charges including the possession of a baseball bat. So what objects these days risk being considered weapons?

In a day of the pressure cooker bomb, many everyday objects are conceivably dangerous -- if used for purposes clearly not intended by their manufacturers, wholesalers or retail sellers. But our authorities are entrusted with great power. It seems more discretion -- and basic common sense -- is in order.

Otherwise, such cases will weaken the legitimacy of the authorities and weaken the overall sense of justice. That would not further law and order; in fact, such cases risk justifying the meme that the authorities are out of control, that many prosecutions are illegitimate ab initio and that many people in government are crooked, corrupt or bent on violating basic civil rights.

It all starts with the discretion to use government power. Most of the time a scalpel will do, not a chain saw.

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