Tuesday, October 16, 2007

If It Looks Like a Crime, It's a Crime...

Via Dispatches from the Culture Wars, check this out: In Illinois, citations are being issued to bars that host free poker tournaments, because, according to a spokesman for the state liquor commission, "The appearance is that gambling is occurring, even if it's not."

That's right. In Illinois, all that's required for you to get cited and fined is the appearance of a crime, not an actual crime, all that "innocent until proven guilty" be damned. Because it might take more work for investigators to determine which games are being played for money and which aren't, no one can play.

In so many ways, including how drunk driving laws are written and enforced, the whole basis of the American legal system is being turned upside down. By default, anything that isn't specifically proscribed by appropriate laws passed by a legislature of duly elected representatives of the people is allowed. That is to say, there has to be a law against an activity for the government to have the right to regulate and/or prohibit it. There's no provision for disallowing activities that authorities think appears to be similar to a proscribed activity. If the government can disallow any activity that appears to be similar to an illegal activity, there's essentially no limit to what they can (and do) prohibit, and anything can (and will) be declared illegal even though no law makes it so.

The burden is on the government to show that you've done something illegal, not on the individual to prove they haven't. Presumption of guilt is anathema to the US legal system, and yet it is becoming more and more common, as this instance indicates. Sanctioning a legal activity on logic like Illinois', that "Usually when you're playing poker, you're gambling," is a bunch of crap. It doesn't matter what is usually the case if it isn't the case in a particular instance. Just because other people play poker to gamble doesn't mean you shouldn't be allowed to play it for free. The government shouldn't be able to sanction a legal activity because other people are engaging in the activity in an illegal way. That's holding one person responsible for the actions of others, and that isn't how the US system is supposed to work.


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