Tag: Alex Kozinski

False Statements, Free Speech, and Sniper Fire

Congress has made it a crime for persons to falsely claim, verbally or in writing, that they earned military medals.  Some federal courts have declared that law, the Stolen Valor Act, unconstitutional because it violates free speech.  Judge Alex Kozinski warns of the danger of having prosecutors decide which tall tales warrant eye rolls, disgust, or jail time.  Here’s an excerpt from the Kozinski opinion:

Saints may always tell the truth, but for mortals living means lying. We lie to protect our privacy (“No, I don’t live around here”); to avoid hurt feelings (“Friday is my study night”); to make others feel better (“Gee you’ve gotten skinny”); to avoid recriminations (“I only lost $10 at poker”); to prevent grief (“The doc says you’re getting better”); to main- tain domestic tranquility (“She’s just a friend”); to avoid social stigma (“I just haven’t met the right woman”); for career advancement (“I’m sooo lucky to have a smart boss like you”); to avoid being lonely (“I love opera”); to eliminate a rival (“He has a boyfriend”); to achieve an objective (“But I love you so much”); to defeat an objective (“I’m allergic to latex”); to make an exit (“It’s not you, it’s me”); to delay the inevitable (“The check is in the mail”); to communicate dis- pleasure (“There’s nothing wrong”); to get someone off your back (“I’ll call you about lunch”); to escape a nudnik (“My mother’s on the other line”); to namedrop (“We go way back”); to set up a surprise party (“I need help moving the piano”); to buy time (“I’m on my way”); to keep up appear- ances (“We’re not talking divorce”); to avoid taking out the trash (“My back hurts”); to duck an obligation (“I’ve got a headache”); to maintain a public image (“I go to church every Sunday”); to make a point (“Ich bin ein Berliner”); to save face (“I had too much to drink”); to humor (“Correct as usual, King Friday”); to avoid embarrassment (“That wasn’t me”); to curry favor (“I’ve read all your books”); to get a clerkship (“You’re the greatest living jurist”); to save a dollar (“I gave at the office”); or to maintain innocence (“There are eight tiny reindeer on the rooftop”).

And we don’t just talk the talk, we walk the walk, as reflected by the popularity of plastic surgery, elevator shoes, wood veneer paneling, cubic zirconia, toupees, artificial turf and cross-dressing. Last year, Americans spent $40 billion on cosmetics—an industry devoted almost entirely to helping people deceive each other about their appearance. It doesn’t matter whether we think that such lies are despicable or cause more harm than good. An important aspect of personal autonomy is the right to shape one’s public and private persona by choosing when to tell the truth about oneself, when to conceal and when to deceive. Of course, lies are often disbelieved or discovered, and that too is part of the pull and tug of social intercourse. But it’s critical to leave such interactions in private hands, so that we can make choices about who we are. How can you develop a reputation as a straight shooter if lying is not an option?

The entire ruling can be found here (pdf).  Jonathan Turley debates Eugene Volokh on the constitutional issue here.

Legal issue aside, we can of course draw our own conclusions about the character of any person caught lying about military medals or military service.   I also recall Hillary Clinton’s claim, during her presidential campaign, that she received sniper fire while traveling to Bosnia.  When confronted by news organizations with evidence to the contrary, Clinton confessed her “mistake.”   Her false statement did not fall within the ambit of the federal law, but we can draw our own conclusions about whether Clinton is a straight-shooter.

(h/t Turley blog)

Law Professor Confesses ‘I’m a Criminal’

Law Professor Michelle Alexander:

Lately, I’ve been telling people that I’m a criminal. This shocks most people, since I don’t “look like” one. I’m a fairly clean-cut, light-skinned black woman with fancy degrees from Vanderbilt University and Stanford Law School. I’m a law professor and I once clerked for a U.S. Supreme Court Justice – not the sort of thing you’d expect a criminal to do.

What’d you get convicted of? people ask. Nothing, I say. Well, then why do you say you’re a criminal? Because I am a criminal, I say, just like you.

Read the whole thing. (H/T Sentencing Law and Policy).  Judge Alex Kozinski and Misha Tseytlin make a similar point in an essay in my book entitled, “You’re (Probably) a Federal Criminal.”

More here and here.

Are You a Criminal? Maybe You Are and Don’t Know It

Yesterday, Michael Dreeben, the attorney representing the U.S. government, tried to defend the controversial “honest services” statute from a constitutional challenge in front of the Supreme Court.  When Dreeben informed the Court that the feds have essentially criminalized any ethical lapse in the workplace, Justice Breyer exclaimed,

[T]here are 150 million workers in the United States.  I think possibly 140 [million] of them flunk your test.

There it is.  Some of us have been trying to draw more attention to the dangerous trend of overcriminalization.  Judge Alex Kozinski co-authored an article in my book entitled “You’re (Probably) a Federal Criminal.”  And Cato adjunct scholar, Harvey Silverglate, calls his new book, Three Felonies a Day to stress the fact that the average professional unknowingly violates the federal criminal law several times each day (at least in the opinion of federal prosecutors).  Not many people want to discuss that pernicious reality. To the extent defenders of big government address the problem at all, they’ve tried to write it all off as the rhetoric of a few libertarian lawyers.  Given yesterday’s back-and-forth at the High Court, it is going to be much much harder to make that sort of claim.

For more on this subject, go here, here,  and here.

Senate Hearings on Prison Reform

The Senate Judiciary Committee is holding hearings today on Sen. Jim Webb’s (D-VA) bill to create a National Criminal Justice Commission. Senator Webb is a long-time student of what has gone wrong with American criminal justice.

The bill provides for an 18-month review of the nation’s criminal justice system and recommendations for reform. I plan to attend, and the proceedings will be available on video here. Click here to read The Sentencing Project’s endorsement of the legislation.

My colleague Tim Lynch recently published a book on crime and punishment, In the Name of Justice. Notable authors such as Court of Appeals Judges Alex Kozinski and Richard Posner, Professor James Q. Wilson, and veteran defense attorney and law professor Harvey Silverglate weigh in on how the American criminal justice system has deviated from its moral foundations.