Horrifying civil liberties predictions for 2015
By Radley Balko
Sometimes, real life can be stranger than parody. This can be particularly true when it comes to the beat we cover here at The Watch, civil liberties. With that in mind, I’ve gone out on a limb to make some predictions about what might happen on the civil liberties front in 2015. I realize that some of these prognostications may seem a wee bit hyperbolic, a bit paranoid, maybe even a little nutty. But I think we can all agree that we should hope none of them actually do come to pass.
So on with the predictions. In 2015, I foresee the following:
• A state judge will quite reasonably suggest that prosecutors shouldn’t suborn perjury, shouldn’t retaliate against political opponents, shouldn’t suppress evidence, and that we should discipline those who do. That state’s prosecutors will revolt, accuse the judge of bias and demand that the judge recuse himself from all criminal cases.
• In the name of “preparation,” school officials will stage terrifying active-shooter scenarios on children in which cops and other community leaders storm school buildings with guns. In some cases, neither parents nor children will be notified ahead of time that the scenario is a drill. In others, kids will be recruited to play victims, complete with bloody bullet holes and gaping wounds.
• We’ll see a record number of wrongly convicted men and women get exonerated, including some on death row. We’ll also see some horrifying executions gone wrong. Perversely, some death penalty states will respond by speeding up their executions — and making them less transparent.
• A large percentage of those wrongly convicted people will never be compensated for their arrests, convictions and time in prison.
• Officers at a major metropolitan police department will get caught breaking the law by fabricating tickets in order to steal overtime pay from taxpayers. However, a court will rule that because the officers’ supervisors were also breaking the law, the officers can’t be held accountable.
• The indiscriminate police raids will continue, with aggressive, door-kicking raids on people suspected of increasingly petty crimes, such as credit card fraud and underage drinking. In a rare moment of sanity, at least one federal appeals court will decide that maybe SWAT raids are an unconstitutionally excessive way to conduct regulatory inspections. But such raids will continue elsewhere.
• At least one former politician will come to appreciate how dangerous this trend really is, but only after he gets raided himself.
• 2015 will also show that you can be subjected to a violent police raid for merely shopping at a gardening store.
• The government will dispense with “due process” and just start seizing property from people without even charging them with a crime, much less convicting them of one. The proceeds from these seizures will then go back to the police departments and prosecutor officers that did the seizing.
• Some cities will hand out free condoms . . . then arrest women who are in possession of them, on the theory that only women involved in sex work carry condoms.
• The Supreme Court will rule that the government is allowed to charge you with a crime, then seize all of your money before trial, on the argument that it is connected to that crime — thus preventing you from paying for your defense.
• The federal government will offer snazzy new surveillance equipment to local police departments. But those departments will then use that equipment in investigations that have nothing to do with national or homeland security. To protect the technology, the federal government will then instruct those police departments to lie to judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys about when and how the technology is used, even if that means committing perjury.
• In the never-ending drive to “get tough on sex offenders,” cities will continue to demand that people convicted of some sex-related crimes register with the government. But they’ll make it increasingly difficult for them to do so, and then punish them when they fail to comply.
• Governments at all levels will continue to prosecute people for destroying evidence in criminal cases, but brazenly conclude that government officials at all levels can destroy evidence with virtual impunity.
• The federal government will stop pretending to care about individual rights . . . and decide that pretty much everyone is a terrorist.
• The federal courts will rule that the government no longer needs to actually convict you of a crime in order to punish you for it.
• After getting caught failing to turn over exculpatory evidence, some prosecutor will decide that it’s better to let potentially dangerous felons go free than allow for the transparency that might reveal that they have broken the rules.
• Some interest groups will argue that people accused of committing crimes against a particular class of well-educated, upper-income people are afforded too many constitutional protections, and thus aren’t getting convicted enough. They’ll demand extrajudicial tribunals run by people with no experience in law. They’ll also demand that the whole process be governed by lower evidentiary standards and a watered-down Bill of Rights — but again, only for people accused of crimes against this particular group of people. These tribunals will be implemented, often with predictable, unjust results. Nevertheless, prominent pundits will speak out in support of the idea, arguing that because the punishment for a conviction in the tribunals is something less than prison, due process isn’t really all that important.
• In a new low for the drug war, the Drug Enforcement Administration will get caught using a woman’s real name, photo and photos of her children — all without her permission — in order to facilitate drug deals with criminals.
• Some U.S. cities will pay out tens of millions of dollars in police brutality claims. In all but a handful of instances, the individual officers involved will not be held accountable.
• In some places, arrestees will sit in a jail cell for more than a year before they’re charged or permitted to see a judge.
• We’ll learn about more cases in which police have subjected innocent people to anal penetration and forced colonoscopies in order to search for drugs.
• Someone will die in jail after getting arrested for pot possession.
• Some jurisdictions will drop any pretense of fairness, and just start letting cops serve on grand juries — including grand juries that investigate shootings of and by other cops.
• We’ll start arresting working parents for the “crime” of letting their kids play in public places without supervision. Some of these parents will face felony charges and the possibility of losing custody of their children.
• In the latest panic over teen “sexting,” local law enforcement officials somewhere will hit a new low, arguing that a court should allow them to forcibly induce an erection in a teenage boy in order to prove that the boy’s penis is the one depicted in a photo sent to a teenage girl.
• To demonstrate the dangers of marijuana, prosecutors will push on with the trial of a man accused of cultivating the drug for his own use, despite the fact that his deteriorating health required him to be rushed from the court to a hospital in mid-trial.
• Police will detain and handcuff some poor guy because of . . . Nickelback.
• As the country continues to debate police militarization, one state’s police SWAT teams will bizarrely claim that they are private corporations, and therefore immune to open-records laws.
• And some town will grow so fearful of its own police department that it will ask a state police agency for help.
• Some drug cops will blow a hole in a toddler’s chest in order to nab a guy suspected of selling $50 worth of meth.
• The government will send a guy off to fight a pointless war, fail to adequately treat his post-traumatic stress disorder when he gets back, and, when his PTSD inevitably causes him to lash out, send a SWAT team that will kill him.
• Poverty itself will become a crime in the United States.
• Some poor guy will face a potential life sentence for selling pot brownies.
• We’ll continue to arrest children. I predict that this year, some police department will arrest and handcuff . . . let’s say a 9-year-old girl.
• We’ll also start Tasering children.
• Some poor kid who’s getting bullied at school will try to record the bullying (and lack of help from the faculty). That will get him arrested and charged with disorderly conduct.
• Some city council will get upset enough about repeat incidents of police lying and misconduct, and that despite the fact that while citizen complaints have gone up, investigations of those complaints have gone down. It will consider a law mandating termination for any cop caught lying under oath. But it will then vote down the law after getting assured by the police chief that his officers are trustworthy.
• The Justice Department will decide that the public doesn’t deserve to know when federal prosecutors commit misconduct, despite studies showing that misconduct at the federal level is rampant.
• Some dumb city officials will order a police raid, arrests and criminal charges because a parody Twitter account hurt the mayor’s feelings.
• Law enforcement officials in a major U.S. city will argue — apparently with a straight face — that cops must be allowed to have sex with prostitutes in order to properly investigate them.
• In some places, it will become a crime for a pregnant woman to have a miscarriage or stillbirth.
• In other places, it will become a crime to feed the homeless.
If you’ve made it this far, you’ve probably already figured out the joke. None of these are predictions for 2015. They’re all things that actually happened in 2014.
Happy New Year!