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Posts Tagged ‘Op-Ed’

SCOTUS Decision: I’m Pleading the 5th

By William Ng | Counterpoint | June 26th, 2013 | SHOW COMMENT(1)

On June 17th, the Supreme Court decided to pass a “landmark decision” in regards to Salinas v. Texas which impacts how one can go about claiming the right to not incriminate oneself (otherwise known as “pleading the fifth”).  The decision essentially stated that when an individual is not placed under arrest, the individual must explicitly evoke their 5th amendment right and that simply remaining silent does not mean their right has been evoked.  Depending upon the circumstances, this silence can be used to infer possible guilt of the party in question.

To really understand the context of this ruling, let me first start with a quick background to this decision.

This all started with a murder case conducted in a Texas state court.  In 1992, Houston police officers found two homicide victims.  The investigation had then led officers to Genovevo Salinas. Salinas voluntarily agreed to accompany the officers to the police station, where he was then questioned.  At this time, Salinas was not under arrest and had not been read his Miranda rights.  Salinas had the ability to leave at any point while he was being questioned.

Salinas answered every question until an officer asked him whether the shotgun shells found at the scene of the crime would match the shotgun found in Salinas’ home.  At this point, the defendant fell silent and “looked down at the floor, shuffled his feet, bit his bottom lip, clenched his hands in his lap, and began to tighten up” (according to the statements made by the state prosecutor).

A ballistics analysis later matched Salinas’ gun with the casings at the scene.  Police also found a witness who said Salinas admitted to killing the victims.  In 1993, Salinas was charged with the murders, but he could not be found until 15 years later.

During the trial, the prosecution introduced the evidence of Salinas’ silence and body language in response to the question about the gun casings.  Salinas objected, arguing that he could invoke his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination.  The trial court admitted the evidence and Salinas was found guilty and sentenced to 20 years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

The question boiled down to whether or not Salinas’ body language is allowed to be presented as evidence.

I say YES!

First of all, Salinas had the ability to leave the questioning period any time he liked.

All of his answers from this questioning period were applicable to be used in court as evidence.  Since he did not leave nor claim his right to not self incriminate, I believe that the answer his body language gave is also admissible in court.

There’s been plenty of dissenting chatter in the public sphere about Supreme Court’s decision to allow this piece of evidence stand.  Personally, I think it’s time for these chatters of dissent to stop. Ladies and gentlemen please plead the fifth!

Now we are all very familiar with our fifth amendment rights.  Just to recap a bit, the pertaining part of the 5th amendment in this case is “No person shall be…compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself”.  There are other things the amendment guarantees such as our right in regards to double jeopardy, due process, and eminent domain. The important thing here to focus on is the ability to not self incriminate.

Some people will argue that to not self incriminate is a natural right.

I think they are only partially right.

If one really focused on the language of the Constitution, the key word is compelled.  We are allowed the right to not be forced into incriminating ourselves but that does not stop you from doing it freely.

The Miranda rights are read to you because you are in custody, and you can’t just get up and leave.  If you had incriminated yourself without explicitly knowing your rights under these conditions, the law enforcement officers are essentially forcing incriminating evidence out of you.

Under a different circumstance where you basically waltz into a police department and partake in a questioning period willingly then… anything you say or may do are going to be used against you! (sound familiar?)

There has been all types of people have used their 5th amendment rights in the past, and some of them have gotten off clean while others haven’t.  People such as Don King, Colone Oliver North, Casey Anthony, and even O.J. Simpson have all claimed their right to not incriminate themselves when they were questioned, as well as they should have (and O.J. I’m talking about you especially).

Look, we have all watched enough Law and Order and CSI to know that when you are being questioned, and you get asked that one question where you might start to incriminate yourself…

What do you do?

You shut up and ask for a lawyer.

Salinas paid for his slip up during the questioning period, and he couldn’t answer because he got nervous.  The police had hit the nail on the head.  If he was really trying to evoke his 5th amendment right, we would definitely all be made aware of it (it’s really not that hard).  He got nervous and couldn’t answer because the bullet casings did fit his shotgun.  He got nervous and couldn’t answer because he did murder two innocent people in their own home.  He got nervous and couldn’t answer probably because he started planning for his 15 years of hide-and-seek with law enforcement.  

The take away from this Supreme Court decision?

You have the right to not self-incriminate.

USE IT.

 

The Farm Bill and Poverty in the United States

By Jordan Lewis | Counterpoint | June 14th, 2013 |

 

This week, the U.S. Senate passed an extensive, 955 billion dollar Farm Bill package that will extend certain subsidies and crop insurance packages for the next 10 years. The Senate also cut $3.9 billion from Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which allows low-income families to pay for food costs, through the food stamp program. The Republican-led House of Representatives voted on its own version, cutting food stamps by $20.5 billion over the next 10 years, denying 2 million people the food they need.  From a policy and an ethical standpoint, Congress erred by cutting SNAP considering that poverty has only worsened since the Great Recession.

Over time, food stamps were integrated as part of the Farm Bill as a means for urbanites to support the agricultural sector. While preserving family farms should be a focus of the government, much of our agricultural policy is rooted in giving subsidies to large corporations such as Monsanto, whose bottom line is enhanced by the American taxpayer. Other recipients of this money include wealthy landowners, such as Congressman Stephen Fincher (R-TN), who cited the Bible in his defense of cutting food stamps: (while pocketing $70,000 in farm subsidies) “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”

Food stamps provide an important function in combating both urban and rural poverty. They not only provide additional resources for the user to pay for their other needs, but also help provide sensible nutrition, which will save us money in the long run. They also provide the biggest economic stimulus per dollar out of any policy the government could enact (multiplier effect of 1.73 per dollar spent). Americans think that hunger is a relic of the past, and while it is true that the United States produces a surplus of food, hunger is an everyday battle for many families. One out of five American children (16 million) struggle with hunger (No Kid Hungry). With extensive health and retirement benefits, and a healthy salary, most members of Congress are seemingly unaware of the challenges of surviving on food stamps. This week, nearly 30 congressmen will take the SNAP challenge and live on $4.50 a day, as 47 million Americans (1 in 7, half of whom are children) do. In many cases, SNAP isn’t enough, evidenced by record numbers serviced at food banks and other charities.

Furthermore, over half of Americans will spend a year under the poverty line. The government has the resources to combat poverty and has instead squandered it on corporate welfare, tax cuts for the wealthy, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the drug war. The poor don’t have the political clout that America’s wealthy do. In an era where demagogues like Grover Norquist make any tax increase on America’s wealthiest an anathema, America’s poor are left to fight for themselves.

Over the last few years, conservatives have used welfare as a means to rile up their base and stoke racial divisions among Americans. In fact, the majority of welfare recipients are white, and working Americans. We’ve seen a rise in unemployment and a great increase in discouraged workers that artificially reduced the unemployment rate. Pension plans and other economic security measures have weakened over the last 10 years as employers look to cut back on expenses. Many Americans today work part-time jobs or work without a living wage, or suitable health care coverage. On this topic, the Florida Legislature voted to eliminate Miami-Dade County’s minimum wage provision that will only hurt the weakest in our society.

America’s working poor is growing and growing as the middle class has shrunk. Many workers are forced to take multiple jobs or make incredible sacrifices to make ends meet. The average Chartwells’ worker at UM makes less than $20,000 a year and often must rely on assistance programs to pay their mortgages, get health care, or eat.

If you thought that poverty in America was on the downturn, recent policy alternatives may make it worse.
The decline in unionization has cost millions of workers decent jobs, and the advent of Right to Work (for less) in states like Indiana (and already in Florida) will union and non-union workers alike.

The sequester has laid off millions of workers and hurt many more. Republican cuts to the social safety net have only worsened poverty.

A failure to pass a suitable immigration bill will jeopardize the prosperity of millions of Americans already here and allow owners the leverage to pay their legal workers less.

Unless Congress acts, the student loan interest rate will double to 6.8%, with student debt already surpassing $1 billion and difficult to remove even post-bankruptcy. (Our banks receive preferred rates of less than 1% from the Fed).
However, the biggest test to controlling poverty over the next generation is securing our entitlement programs. Republican ideas to reform our entitlement programs enrich the wealthy while damning the poor. Social Security has been the single-biggest anti-poverty measure undertaken, and have reduced poverty among our seniors by a wide margin. Medicare is effective, popular, and essential for our seniors’ health care needs. Finally, Medicaid provides vital health care to low income Americans. The refusal to take up Medicaid expansion paid for by the Affordable Care Act is a massive failure on the part of the Florida House and cuts millions off from health care coverage they need. Reducing entitlement benefits will only shrink the middle class and make the poor poorer.

We haven’t had a targeted approach to reducing poverty since Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society. Wall Street has recovered from the recession. The majority of Americans haven’t. Income inequality is at an all-time high, with record CEO compensation and giveaways to agribusiness and Big Oil. It’s time to address the problem that nobody really wants to talk about.  We need to make sure that our fellow Americans can lead dignified and prosperous lives. We have the both the means and moral responsibility to do so.

 

 Counterpoint airs Fridays at 1pm ET

 

Counterpoint Recap 06/08: PRISM and Privacy

By Meg McGee | Counterpoint | June 9th, 2013 |

Photo Credit: The Young Turks

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On Friday, the Counterpoint team had a field day with the news that NSA has a program, PRISM, which listens to phone calls a la Verizon and stores information through frequently visited websites such as Facebook and Google. Most of us came to the consensus that the government doesn’t care about your photos from that keg party you went to freshman year. (Unless that keg party was hosted by al-Qaeda)

Jordan (Counterpoint contributor), however, stressed that this was a severe violation of Americans’ privacy and Constitutional rights. National security policies like this are an extension of the Bush-era Patriot Act and make us all question: what happened to Obama’s vision of “change”? The more we learn about Obama, the more we see the lines are blurring between him and former President Bush. While Obama’s rhetoric on national security issues are much more rooted in liberalism, he continues to extend and expand Bush-era foreign policy (Can you say drone program? Gitmo? Counterinsurgency?)

Mr. Obama, your words and your actions are saying two different things. We all knew he was a bit naïve and optimistic, but we still put our faith in yet another leader to get us out of crisis. In defense of Obama, I’ll say that once you become president and are continuously briefed on every possible national security threat, you may not be singing “Kumbaya” when thousands of American lives are at risk—including your own. I don’t know this from personal experience but we can only give the President the benefit of the doubt.

My question for the American people that are upset over the PRISM program is this: If you feel this is a violation of your rights, what do you plan on doing to fix it?

Will you go out and protest like our Turkish cousins in Istanbul? Where something as simple as the demolition of a park, ignited a larger-movement against a government encroaching on their citizens’ democratic rights. Are you ready to get hit with tear gas and water cannons? Or will you just gripe about it over Facebook and over the coffee table?

Call me when you have an answer. Remember, Obama is listening.

 

Listen to a clip of our discussion of this topic on the show below.  Counterpoint airs live every Friday from 1-2pm ET.

Counterpoint Clip: NSA Surveillance by Wvumnews on Mixcloud