Life can be tough when you break the law. The people who murdered Annie Mae Aquash discovered this fact when they were arrested and tried for murder 35 years after killing Aquash. Sara Jane Olson, an SLA terrorist during the 1970s, discovered that when her quiet, suburban life in Minnesota was revealed and she spent several years in jail, despite the fact that she had three children. My sister’s friend discovered this tough rule when he was hauled off to jail after unwittingly having had sex with an underage girl. (That is, he wasn’t a predator. Except for the absence of gray hair, the girl looked older than I do.)
Open today’s paper (I don’t care which paper; any paper), and you will read about someone who committed a crime and got hauled off to jail — and that is true whether the crime was old or new, whether the person acted knowingly or unknowingly, and whether the person had children or not. As to that last, it’s worth noting that our American prisons are crawling with people who have left children outside.
How different is the story when the lawbreaker comes from Latin America, illegally, and drives around the streets of America, illegally. That person, we are assured, is a law abiding citizen, other than all that illegal activity, and it’s just so unfair that such a person, not to mention his or her children, has to pay the for this illegal activity. I’m not making up this maudlin outrage. It comes courtesy of a front page story in today’s New York Times online (complete with illustration of one illegal lady hugging her daughter and, to amp up the emotions, her grown niece too):
It was just another suburban fender-bender. A car zoomed into an intersection and braked too late to stop at a red light. The Georgia woman driving it, an American citizen, left with a wrecked auto, a sore neck and a traffic fine.
But for Felipa Leonor Valencia, the Mexican woman who was driving the Jeep that was hit that day in March, the damage went far beyond a battered bumper. The crash led Ms. Valencia, an illegal immigrant who did not have a valid driver’s license, to 12 days in detention and the start of deportation proceedings — after 17 years of living in Georgia.
Read the rest here. Depending on your political orientation, come prepared with either a handkerchief or a barf bucket. The article’s push is to get driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants, because it’s so unfair that they’re currently out on the road, unlicensed, and running the risk that their illegal driving might reveal their illegal status.
This post, obviously, ties in with my earlier post about the DREAM Act which, while it takes into consideration the needs of children raised in this country, totally ignores the fact that it is an open incitement to illegal behavior.
Honestly, if one gets to pick and choose with impunity the laws with which one wishes to comply, why have laws at all? This, by the way, is a familiar plaint on my part, since I routinely see judges, when ruling on a given case, decide who the underdog is and then proceed to rule in that party’s favor, regardless of the controlling law.
I’ve worked on a lot of those cases, and I’ll concede that my clients aren’t always nice or good, and the person on the other end is sometimes suffering a real hardship. Having said that, though, on such cases, my client is totally within his rights under the law, and the other person doesn’t have a legal leg to stand on. I’ll also concede that our common law has always had an “equitable” side that leans towards abstract fairness, but this ancient principle was always meant to flex the letter of the law, not ignore it entirely.
The problem with our modern approach, which views the law as an impediment to justice, is that it leaves us as a society in which there is no rule of law. Our whole system of statutes and cases is just a pretense, since any given judge does what he or she wants at any given time.
Of course, without a system of laws, one inevitably descends into anarchy. Laws may sometimes have harsh outcomes, but if they’re reliably enforced, people can actually plan to avoid those outcomes. In a “legal” system in which the most pathetic person always wins, the only thing people need to do with their lives, whether in the world of contracts or the world of crime, is to plan on being pathetic losers. You lose — you win! This is no way to run a functioning, predictable, reliable, successful society.
Cross-posted at Right Wing News
UPDATE: Sadie sent me a link that’s perfectly apropos.