Liberty In Peril


                                                                                       The Llano Ledger

Free Speech                                                    4-20-18  ©2018 All Rights Reserved

Is intent to commit a crime the same as committing a crime?  Think so?  Believe it ought to be?  How about having a criminal thought?  The following is a most interesting case that raises a myriad of such increasingly timely questions.  NPR reports:

"The Vermont Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that prosecutors did not have enough evidence to hold without bail a man accused of planning a mass shooting at a high school in February. The ruling may bolster renewed calls by the defense to dismiss the case."

Seatbelts on.  Carefully, consider the following:

"Jack Sawyer, 18, is accused of plotting a mass shooting at his former high school in Fair Haven, Vt. He was arrested on Feb. 15, just one day after a shooting at a Parkland, Fla., high school that left 17 people dead, and several others wounded. Now, Sawyer faces felony charges of attempted first-degree murder, attempted aggravated murder and attempted assault with a deadly weapon crimes which carry a potential life sentence without the possibility of parole.  The case has fascinated legal experts who say it is forcing Vermont to grapple with the difficult issue of when intent to do something becomes an actual crime."

Where to draw the line?

"Prosecutors point to Sawyer's statements and actions as proof of his intent:

    *On the day of the Parkland tragedy, he allegedly sent Facebook messages to a friend saying he approved of the shooting and was planning to shoot up his own former high school.
    *There were also social media posts attributed to Sawyer, under the pseudonym Klebold a reference to Dylan Klebold, one of the shooters in the deadly 1999 Columbine school shooting that reportedly fascinated Sawyer.
    *Prosecutors say Sawyer moved back to Vermont from a school for troubled teens in Maine and, in February, he bought a shotgun and ammunition, allegedly, to carry out his plan."

How about the following?  Get this:

"And then there's the 31-page diary Sawyer allegedly wrote titled, "Journal of an Active Shooter." An entry dated Dec. 1, 2017, references Fair Haven Union's School Resource Officer Scott Alkinburgh.

    "The biggest thing I'm trying to figure out right now is how can I get as far as I can into the shooting before cops bust me first and shoot me dead. I know that I'm going to have to take officer Scott out first, but what's the best way? I'm thinking that I'll go in a few days prior to scope things out and see if he can typically be found in his office. I'm intending to just blow his f****** head off before he can even draw his gun or think about what's happening, but I can only hope with that one. If he kills me first, all of this will be pointless since I won't make the impact and chaos I plan to create. I don't think it'll be too big of an issue figuring out though. Probably just shooting his head point blank is the best way to go."

Think all the above more than sufficient?  Think again.  Far more complicated than that legally.  Believe it ought to be?

"But long-time defense attorneys counter that Vermont sets a high bar when it comes to proving a crime was attempted.  "In Vermont in order to prove an attempt you have to prove intent to commit a particular crime and you have to prove that they took an overt act towards the commission of that crime," says attorney David Sleigh. "The crime also needs to be stopped or interfered with by some outside action."  Attorney Dan Sedon says proving intent is hard enough, but it becomes even harder when the case involves a teenager.  "Because teenagers are to some extent prone to dramatic statements and dramatic gestures," he says.  Neither attorney is involved in the case."

Interesting, isn't it?   Quite a conundrum, no?   Err in the direction of public safety, create a fascist police-state?  Or, err on the side of liberty and let someone go who eventually murders?  Impossible choice at first blush.  Gets tougher:

"Vermont Defender General Matthew Valerio, whose office is representing Sawyer in his criminal case, takes it a step further: "The bottom line is there likely wasn't even a crime here."  But Rutland County State's Attorney Rose Kennedy argued in court that had the state waited until Sawyer showed up at the school and began shooting, people would have died.  Administrators at Fair Haven Union High School say they're extremely disappointed with the court's ruling and have had to reassure parents that they've got adequate security in place."

More complicated than that, however:

"Vermont Superior Judge Thomas Zonay ruled last month that Sawyer's words and actions went beyond mere preparation and warranted continued incarceration without bail."

Think so?  What would you do had you been the judge?  Think this a no-brainer?  Think again:

"Defender General Valerio says he wasn't surprised to see Judge Zonay's ruling overturned by the state's Supreme Court.  "I can sit around all day with a list of the people I don't like and talk about the ways I'd like to hurt them and what I'd do if I had the chance," Valerio says. "But that's not a crime that's fantasy."  Sleigh agrees and applauds the high court's decision.  "They got the law exactly right and didn't give in to the temptation of abandoning 100 years of precedent to address a situation that's caused widespread panic," he says."

Ever get angry at someone?  Have a few thoughts you shouldn't have had?  Express a fantasy?  Big mistake in today's culture.  Your sorry ass could wind up in jail.  Especially, in a goddamned de facto fascist police-state quickly transforming to the Trump nazi's Fourth Reich.

"Sleigh believes had the court ruled otherwise it would have set a dangerous precedent.  "Where does this expansion stop when we have high publicity incidents that we don't want to see re-occur, and where does the intersection between preventing possible wrong bump up against the interference with someone's ability to think and speak?" Sleigh asks. "I think that's a serious concern and I think Vermont has distinguished itself over the years with a very high bar to prove attempts in these sorts of situations."  Sleigh and others say the Supreme Court's ruling effectively reverses Judge Zonay's earlier decision and makes a dismissal likely."

Draconian laws to protect the public against every possible negative outcome in life destroy liberty.  Truly want to go that route?  Franklin got it quite right.  Anyone willing to trade liberty for security deserves and winds up with neither.

"The court wrote in closing, "The Legislature is tasked with enacting such laws as the people of Vermont think necessary. This court is bound to apply the law in agreement with statute and this Court's own earlier decisions. The Legislature can, if it chooses, deviate from this long-established standard by passing a law revising the definition of attempt."

Jesus Christ.  Precisely, what happened over the decades.  Called bastardizing the Constitution.  Eviscerating the Bill of Rights for the sake of political expediency, ersatz 'security.'

"Vermont defense attorney Dan Sedon believes that's exactly what lawmakers need to do so the courts have another option, a charge that would fall between disorderly conduct and attempted murder."

Jesus Christ.  Same old shit.  Encroachment, evisceration of all civil and constitutional rights and liberties to consolidate government power, not provide security.  Always abused.  When will we ever learn?

"We ought to come up with something akin to 'you can't shout fire in a crowded theater' and 'you can't talk about shooting up schools,'" Sedon says. "There's no legitimate speech content there that's justified by the First Amendment."

Think not?  Carefully, consider the difference between both examples.  The former leads directly to injury as people stampede out.  The latter does not necessarily do the same if there is no immediate threat to commit the crime.  There is a difference.  Think if such a law is passed it won't be abused to prosecute someone merely for talking about such a crime?  Worse?  Fantasizing it?

Forget?  One thing to threaten.  Another to talk, think, fantasize about such a crime.  There is the danger of criminalizing free speech in direct violation of the First Amendment.  This right has already been abused by imposition of terroristic threat laws.  A gutless public doesn't seem to understand life is dangerous.  Can't protect everyone against every negative consequence of human behavior.  The attempt to do so eviscerates liberty.

Think novelists, comedians, reporters, editorial writers, bloggers, etc. won't be falsely targeted by their enemies?  Where do you draw the line?  This is yet another direct attempt to abrogate free speech rights as guarantied by the First Amendment.  We've become a gutless society desperately in search of 'protection.'  Land of the free?  Home of the brave?  Hell, no.  Land of the enslaved.  Home of the gutless.

"Other states, such as Minnesota and New Jersey, have enacted such laws involving terroristic threats and Sedon believes it may be time for Vermont to follow suit."

Truly believe this will prevent such atrocities?  Or, simply eviscerate liberty.

Cowardly fail to financially and/or materially support those fighting for all civil and constitutional rights and liberties at great personal cost and risk?  Get what you truly deserve.

Tim Chorney, Publisher
Liberty In Peril

Tim Chorney, Publisher
Liberty In Peril
The Llano Ledger