Thursday, January 3, 2013

Clear and Present Dangers 11: Crime

In my latest reading of M. Stanton Evans' Clear and Present Dangers: A Conservative View of America's Government (copyright 1975), I finished the chapter "Freedom and Foreign Policy" and read the chapter on crime.

I'll focus on Evans' chapter on crime.  Evans' arguments are that poverty does not cause crime because crime was lower during the Great Depression than in the prosperous 1960's, that rehabilitation programs have not worked, and that the murder rate was going down before the Supreme Court banned the death penalty, after which time it went up.

There may be something to Evans' argument.  But I was disappointed in two areas.  First, Evans criticizes the U.S. Supreme Court decisions that (in my mind) sought to protect the rights of the accused under the Bill of Rights, such as Gideon (the right to counsel), Mapp (evidence obtained through "unreasonable searches and seizes", to use the language of the Fourth Amendment, cannot be used in state courts), and Miranda (the right for people to be informed when arrested that they don't have to incriminate themselves).  According to Evans, "to the extent [that these decisions] simply deployed a procedural mine-field that hindered proper law enforcement and permitted larger numbers of the guilty to get free again, they were...allowing criminals to strike repeatedly at law-abiding individuals" (page 324).  Evans laments later in the book that the U.S. Government is infringing on the authority of the states in the field of "criminal procedure" (page 348).

I think that Evans should have provided a more rigorous discussion about the Bill of Rights.  Evans earlier in the book disagrees with the notion that the Fourteenth Amendment applies the Bill of Rights to the states, appealing the sentiments of Supreme Court justice Felix Frankfurter.  That raises questions in my mind: How can we really have rights under the Bill of Rights if the Bill of Rights does not apply to the states?  Why would it be so wrong to apply to the state courts the rules protecting the rights of the accused in the federal courts?  While Evans believes that the Warren Court's decisions on criminal procedure hamper law enforcement, obviously the Framers were concerned about the rights of the accused, since amendments about that are in the Bill of Rights.

How would Evans interpret the Fourteenth Amendment's stipulation that a state cannot deprive citizens of their rights to life, liberty, and property, without due process?  Does not "liberty" include the rights under the Bill of Rights?  And, since Evans criticizes the Left's interpretation and application of the Second Amendment (which talks about the militia and the right to keep and bear arms), would he favor courts striking down state and local gun control regulations on the basis of the Second Amendment?  Or is the Second Amendment the only one that applies to the states?

Second, while Evans raised good points about the death penalty being a deterrent, he failed (at least in the book that I'm reading) to address crucial issues, such as the number of innocent people who have been executed, as well as the costliness of capital punishment to the state.

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