Thursday, February 01, 2007

Someone should go to jail for this.

As I'm sure everyone's heard by now, a terrorist organization known as "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" shut down Boston by placing bombs at major transportation hubs. Fortunately, the ever-vigilant authorities put the city on lock down until the situation could be diffused and the culprits arrested.

When the feds were trying to decide how to reorder things for The Post 9/11 World, my brother, who is an airline pilot, was forced to break the nail file off his nail clippers before he was allowed to take them on the airplane he was flying. Apparently, there was some concern that he might threaten himself with the fearsome, unsharpened inch long blade and force himself to fly the plane to Cuba or into a building or something. Or perhaps the concern was that a hijacker might break into the cabin and wrestle the nail clippers away from him. Whatever the case may be, the authorities in Boston have proved that they can be just as stupid as the feds.

Here's a picture of one of the "bombs":

Here's another:

And here is a video of the planing and execution of the crime:

And here are the perps expressing remorse appropriate to the heinousness of their actions:

As you might notice, these things are actually lighted signs. These signs are about a foot high. That thing at the bottom contains the batteries. You'd think that would be fairly obvious to anyone looking at these things, even from a distance. It should certainly be obvious to the bomb disposal guy who "disarmed" the first one. And having learned that the first one was not a bomb at all but a lighted sign, you might expect that they'd recognize their mistake and call off the bomb scare. But apparently they didn't, deciding instead to err on the side of caution.

Up to this point, the Boston authorities had merely demonstrated their stupidity, but that seems to be par for the course in all levels of governments' responses to the alleged threat of terrorism. But they couldn't content themselves with a bit of posturing about the need for extraordinary caution in The Post 9/11 World. They actually arrested the guys who put up the signs and charged them with a felony--planting "hoax devices."

Since the signs in questions are obviously not bombs and are obviously not intended to appear to be bombs, and are obviously not intended to instill fear in people of normal intelligence not suffering from mental disorders, it seemed impossible to me that hanging them from bridges or buildings or whatever could possibly violate a law against “hoax devices.” But just to be sure, I looked up the law, and here it is:

§ 102A1/2. Possession of Hoax Device.

(a) Whoever possesses, transports, uses or places or causes another to knowingly or unknowingly possess, transport, use or place any hoax device or hoax substance with the intent to cause anxiety, unrest, fear or personal discomfort to any person or group of persons shall be punished by imprisonment in a house of correction for not more than two and one-half years or by imprisonment in the state prison for not more than five years or by a fine of not more than $5,000, or by both such fine and imprisonment.

(b) For the purposes of this section, the term "hoax device" shall mean any device that would cause a person reasonably to believe that such device is an infernal machine. For the purposes of this section, the term "infernal machine" shall mean any device for endangering life or doing unusual damage to property, or both, by fire or explosion, whether or not contrived to ignite or explode automatically. For the purposes of this section, the words "hoax substance" shall mean any substance that would cause a person reasonably to believe that such substance is a harmful chemical or biological agent, a poison, a harmful radioactive substance or any other substance for causing serious bodily injury, endangering life or doing unusual damage to property, or both.

(c) This section shall not apply to any law enforcement or public safety officer acting in the lawful discharge of official duties.

(d) The court shall, after a conviction, conduct a hearing to ascertain the extent of costs incurred, damages and financial loss suffered by local, county or state public safety agencies and the amount of property damage caused as a result of the violation of this section. A person found guilty of violating this section shall, in all cases, upon conviction, in addition to any other punishment, be ordered to make restitution to the local, county or state government for any costs incurred, damages and financial loss sustained as a result of the commission of the offense. Restitution shall be imposed in addition to incarceration or fine; however, the court shall consider the defendant's present and future ability to pay in its determinations regarding a fine. In determining the amount, time and method of payment of restitution, the court shall consider the financial resources of the defendant and the burden restitution will impose on the defendant.

ALM GL ch. 266, § 102A1/2

As I see it, there are two insurmountable obstacles to prosecution in this case:

First, there is no reason to believe that the devices were placed with “the intent to cause anxiety, unrest, fear or personal discomfort to any person or group of persons.” It's not even plausible. These things are signs.

Second, these things don’t remotely qualify as hoax devices. In order to qualify as a hoax device, it would have to be something that “would cause a person reasonably to believe that such device is an infernal machine.” The key word there is “reasonably.” The fact that the authorities in Boston chose to behave like a bunch of frightened schoolgirls (with apologies to frightened school girls everywhere) does not mean that a person could reasonably believe that these signs were “infernal machines.”

But, of course, the authorities could not admit that they were guilty of an absurd, hysterical overreaction and they had to blame someone. God forbid that a government official admit that he made a mistake. (Or maybe they just figure they can use the baseless prosecution as leverage to extort money out of Turner Broadcasting or the ad agency.)

But it’s one thing to fume about how the Cartoon Network was irresponsible, and how such things are inappropriate in this Post 9/11 World and all that nonsense. Arresting people and charging them with a felony they clearly didn’t commit is the only real crime here. At a minimum, whoever’s responsible for this gross abuse of power should lose his job.

But if there's any justice, the prosecutor who brought the charges should be disbarred and both he and the police official responsible for ordering the arrest, and whatever other decision-makers were involved in the decision to make the arrest should be fined $5000, spend the next five years in the state prison, and be personally required to pay all the expenses incurred by the city in responding to the "hoax." In other words, those responsible for this malicious abuse of power should receive the maximum sentence for the crime they falsely accused others of committing.

Too bad there's no justice.

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