Posts Tagged ‘Constitution’

Some argue we don’t have a justice system at all.  Outcomes of the law, they say, are often not about what’s best for all involved, or even what’s fair and reasonable under the circumstances. Instead, what we have is a “legal” system. Any behavior is acceptable, as long as it comports with the letter of the law.

Nowhere is that more clear than in the recent debate over internet surveillance.

Mockup of Security Panel

I’ve posted before about Edward Snowden’s revelations regarding the NSA and how that has freshened the debate over the government’s ability to intrude into the lives of innocent citizens around the world. That debate doesn’t hinge on justice in any way, not that the concept has even entered the conversation as far as I know. Instead, it turns on the “legality” of surveillance.

The difference may seem slight, but it’s actually quite profound.


Last week, a Nevada family sued their local police for a variety of civil rights infractions, including violation of their Third Amendment rights. While the facts are only partially in at this point (the police have not yet responded fully to the charges), the story so far is a compelling one.


According to news accounts, the police wanted to use the family’s home as a staging ground during an incident that was occurring in a nearby residence. Not wanting to get involved, the home’s owners refused. That didn’t deter the police, though, who allegedly forced their way in, assaulted the owners, shot one of them with a “pepper ball” gun, took control of the house, and then charged one of the owners with obstructing the police.

Aside from what appears – on its face, at least – to be absolutely outrageous police conduct, the other interesting aspect is how the Third Amendment is being used as a basis for a federal lawsuit in this instance. The wording of the Amendment itself applies primarily to the quartering of soldiers:

No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

And, like many of the Amendments in the Bill of Rights, this one appears pretty clear and straightforward. But is it, really?


If you’re interested in the technology field at all, you’ve almost certainly heard of 3D printing, which, according to Lisa Harouni, is a technology that “will change and disrupt the landscape of manufacturing, and most certainly our lives, our businesses and the lives of our children.”  That’s a pretty sweeping prediction, but we’re already seeing examples of how 3D printing has clashed with fundamental legal concepts, such as those memorialized in the Bill of Rights.

This is especially evident in printed objects, such as firearms, that raise both First Amendment and Second Amendment issues. A recent TechCrunch article on one company’s efforts to distribute plans for a printable handgun did an excellent job of laying out the various angles, including the relevant legal cases that point up the challenges in deciding these types of Constitutional questions.

Test firing of a 3D printed handgun 

To simplify, on one side are free speech advocates who make the claim that restricting access to printing plans, even for a handgun, amounts to a violation of the First Amendment’s guarantees regarding free speech. Just because a printing plans allows for the creation of a weapon does not give the government authority to censor the plans themselves, the argument goes. The plans are protected speech, even if the resulting firearms may ultimately be determined illegal.

On the other side are those who argue that criminals and terrorists now have an easy, cheap, and effective way of manufacturing nearly undetectable weapons. As a proof of that concept, two reporters in the U.K. actually manufactured a 3D printed handgun and smuggled it aboard the Eurostar rail line undetected. They had no ammunition, and they had also removed the firing pin from the gun, but their point was made: If they could do it, anyone could, including someone with criminal intent.

So, what is your position on this? Vote in this week’s poll and see the results!

We’re taking a different tack on crime vids this Friday. Instead of the usual roundup of oddities, I’ve pulled together previews of some high-quality, but rather obscure documentaries or informational programs that apply to the topics we’ve been covering the last few weeks. For example, below is a preview of Peter Sagal’s (of “Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me!” fame) PBS show on the U.S. Constitution.

I hate to label PBS shows as obscure, especially gems like this one, but I doubt too many people have seen Sagal’s series. It’s not only worth watching, it’s worth a season pass on your Tivo.


Next up is a yet-to-be-released documentary about a prisoner, Herman Wallace, who it’s claimed has been in solitary confinement longer than any other in the U.S. Here’s the promotional copy from the film’s website:

Herman Wallace may be the longest-serving prisoner in solitary confinement in the United States—he’s spent more than 40 years in a 6-by-9-foot cell in Louisiana. Imprisoned in 1967 for a robbery he admits, he was subsequently sentenced to life for a killing he vehemently denies. Herman’s House is a moving account of the remarkable expression his struggle found in an unusual project proposed by artist Jackie Sumell. Imagining Wallace’s “dream home” began as a game and became an interrogation of justice and punishment in America. The film takes us inside the duo’s unlikely 12-year friendship, revealing the transformative power of art. Premiering on PBS’s POV July 8, 2013.

The final preview is actually a film that’s been around for a while (it’s on Netflix, for example), but it was also recently broadcast on PBS’s Independent Lens. The Invisible War is a documentary about the epidemic of sexual assaults against female military members. In light of the recent press on this topic, this film is more timely than ever, even though it was released last year.

Thanks for reading, and have a great weekend!