No Victim, No Crime
NY SAFE Act, Drug Laws: Stop punishing people for pretend “crimes.” Pardon those already in jail.
by Dan Smith
It used to be common sense that you needed a victim in order for a crime to have been committed. No one would argue that if you steal, commit fraud or physically hurt someone—i.e., there’s a victim, a crime had been committed. And in that case, the law needed to step in to protect the victim and punish the perpetrator.
In almost all other cases, where there is no victim, no one would think law enforcement had a role. Culturally, we may frown upon some behaviors, but we didn’t expect anyone to be prosecuted when consenting adults hurt no one else other than possibly themselves.
But today you can be jailed or fined for any number of infractions. If you hurt no one, but put the wrong substance in your body, if you have the wrong piece of equipment in your home, if you sell a prohibited item to a willing buyer without a state license, you may face fines or even jail time.
On the more ridiculous side, cities and towns across the nation have been shutting down children’s lemonade stands. It’s gotten so bad that Country Time Lemonade has offered to pay for fines and fees of children who commit the heinous act of selling the cool beverage on a hot day.
Turning our attention elsewhere, some people think we need laws which prohibit behaviors which in some rare cases lead to someone getting hurt. Prohibitions of all sorts suffer from this failure of logic. Just because someone commits an actual act of violence with a certain type of weapon or dies after ingesting a drug, that doesn’t mean that the millions of others who own that same weapon or drug are guilty of a crime. That’s fear-based ‘guilty until proven innocent’ backward logic. This is where our nanny government has gone too far in trying to run our lives.
We’re Adults, leave us alone!
This same logic applies to things like prostitution. We can think it unseemly and even immoral for someone to trade sex for money, but why should consenting adults be punished for such behaviors? Some say prostitution should be illegal because of the violence prostitutes face. But, in fact, making prostitution illegal creates the violence, as it does under other prohibitions—because the violence is the only method to resolve disputes and because johns know sex workers are not willing to go to police. Studies of legal prostitution back this assertion—the lack of prohibition erases almost all the violence. Attacking it from another angle, a New York Times opinion piece claims that prostitution is not a victimless crime because the prostitute has no choice—that it’s often human trafficking. But that’s then not consensual. The New York Times conflates prostitution with the real crime of slavery, and their misdirection destroys their argument. Safe, legal prostitution in places like Nevada refute this claim, as well.
The growth in prosecution of victimless crimes has also somehow made it proper for your property to be guilty, even if you’ve committed no crime. Your money or assets can be taken from you under what is known as civil asset forfeiture. Under the false guise of reducing narcotics sales, police can show up and take and keep your money, car or home and never charge you with a crime. Police are no more than thieves in such instances. And there’s nothing you can do—you’re presumed to be in the wrong while the state is given all the power and presumed to be in the right. And it’s a direct consequence of our victimless crime regime under which we live.
Some people claim that laws against drug use helps protect people from substance abuse. That fails on almost every front. Substance abuse has not gone away because laws—it’s gotten worse. Places like Portugal show drug abuse declines when you legalize. And, like prostitution, violence actually increases when you prohibit drugs—whether it be alcohol Prohibition of the 1920’s or today’s War on Drugs. The only explanation for why our backwards victimless crimes laws persist is the sad realization that the War on Drugs makes drug warriors wealthy. It’s just another form of cronyism and it needs to stop.
Victimless crime mentality undermines the legitimacy of our proper laws and those tasked with enforcing them. It leads to police brutality in situations like the famous case of Eric Garner who was choked to death by police for the “crime” of selling untaxed cigarettes because of New York’s nation’s highest cigarette taxes which causes most cigarettes to be smuggled into the state.
Beyond wasting police time and resources, we are wasting lives and taxpayer dollars. 300,000 Americans are sitting in prisons for non-violent drug offenses. With incarceration costs of $9.3 billion per year and lost income taxes of $3.1 billion which prisoner would otherwise be earning, America loses $12.4 billion per year even before we count the wages lost to the economy. [H/T: Libertarian-In-Chief, @ToddHagopian for the stats]
Recently President Donald Trump has started pardoning non-violent felons. He pardoned non-violent drug “criminal” Alice Marie Johnson, for whom celebrity Kim Kardashian had requested be pardoned. Trump says he’s looking to set more such victimless criminals free. Whether or not you like Donald Trump, this is a good thing.
Perhaps he got this great idea from Larry Sharpe, who weeks ago made it a campaign promise to pardon those convicted of non-violent “crimes” when he becomes governor of New York. To start, Sharpe plans to pardon those who are convicted of non-violent violations of the NY SAFE Act. The NY SAFE Act makes it a “crime” to own certain pieces of equipment New York deems to be an “assault weapon”. The Act makes certain types of pistols “assault weapons”, while others are not. Certain features, like detachable magazines, pistol grips and folding stocks somehow turn a weapon into an “assault weapon,” while other features do not. Prison sentences for owning such pieces of equipment are draconian, to say the least.
It’s all very confusing. But your confusion could earn you serious jail time for doing nothing more than owning an innocuous piece of equipment which is legal in almost the entire rest of the country. It’s completely ridiculous, which is why Sharpe wants to bring some common sense back to New York.
And that’s what we need, across the board: common sense, and justice. If there’s no victim, there almost certainly is no crime.
Let common sense justice be served.