News - Should misdemeanor offenders be subject to arrest?

No. Anybody remember Waco?

If the U.S. Constitution is designed to do anything, it is to protect citizens from unfettered, capricious exercise of state power.

At least it was, until the U.S. Supreme Court's recent decision allowing cops to arrest We The People and haul us to the slammer for parking tickets, seat-belt violations and other minor offenses that don't carry the possibility of a jail term.

Here is the justices' logic (or lack thereof) in a nutshell: People who commit crimes for which they can't be sent to jail if proven guilty can nevertheless be jailed for those same offenses while still presumed innocent, if the police officer who arrests them so decides.

Your humble correspondent doesn't subscribe to the notion that most police are jack-booted thugs on a power trip. The vast majority are decent, fair and willing to put their rears on the line for the rest of us. They wouldn't dream of hauling someone off to jail for expired tags. But there are, of course, those cops who, when given too much discretion, will abuse it. Constitutional proscriptions on police power are designed to rein in those very officers, balancing the public interest in maintaining law and order with the private interest in freedom from authority.

The high court's Sandra Dee got it right in her dissent from this ruling when she said that it would open the door for abuse. But Justice O'Connor was deserted by her fellow conservatives and Justice David Souter, often a voice of libertarian reason. In this case, the majority opinion is neither libertarian nor conservative, as those adjectives are supposed to express skepticism about state power.

This ruling should also give police officers pause because incidents that start out as minor matters could accelerate beyond all reason if unfettered police power makes a perpetrator feel unfairly put upon. That could jeopardize officers' safety.

Anybody remember Waco? An attempt to serve arrest warrants for weapons violations led to a shootout between Branch Davidians and police, a lengthy standoff with a fiery finale, then the Oklahoma City bombing. Were those weapons warrants really worth 260 lives?

Granted, the violations alleged at Waco were more serious than a parking ticket. But my point is that the same snowball effect could be triggered by a minor infraction, which the Supremes' recent folly makes more likely.

By the way, in Texas, where the case that prompted this ruling began, the Legislature is considering a measure prohibiting arrests for infractions that don't involve jail time, trumping the high court's decision. Georgia and her sister states should follow Texas' lead ASAP.??

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