Friday, November 10, 2006

To Catch A Libertarian

I noticed this at Reason's Hit and Run the other day: Texas Prosecutor shoots self after being caught on "To Catch a Predator." I'm not quite sure how to feel about the story itself. More disturbing are the supposedly libertarian posters at reason, some of whom seem to think one less prosecutor is better for the world than one less child predator. Here are some of the other comments:

From "Martin":

Has it ever occurred to some commenters in here that most people caught in these stings are really of incredibly low intelligence? I mean they are clueless. Hard to believe, but they exist in all areas of life. Yet they are treated like they're normal. They're not. And by that I don't mean their proclivities, but their lack of self-control. If one of us has never had any thoughts or desires which, if they were known, would be labeled "creepy" or "perverse", then consider yourself lucky. It ain't the rule. God help you if they ever become known, 'cause society will certainly NOT help you.

And from "Gilmore":
It's just a question, similar to things Radley has written about in the past, about whether law enforcement goes far enough in observing basic rights, or applies force/tactics that are appropriate to situations to limit risk.

Just a few comments, in response to the entire discussion, really. First, I agree with Radley Balco- there's definitely something creepy about the whole "To Catch a Predator" thing. I tend to think Chris Hansen gets off catching these guys and reading their chats back to them ("You said you were going to blank her blank")- Of course the creepiness of the show itself is far outstripped by the creepiness of the men caught on the show.

And yes, I agree these shows tend to go a bit too far- It's painfully obvious that some of these guys just don't have a clue. Of course, many of the posters on Reason seem to be unclear about something- the actions of all the men caught on the show is potentially criminal. The only thing a prosecutor would have to prove at trial would be that each man actually intended to meet a child under the age of consent for sex. And given the evidence, I'd have a hard time believing that a jury wouldn't convict each and every man caught. Remember, impossibility is not a defense- the issue is whether or not each man believed he was going to have sex with an underage kid. When it comes to mitigating circumstances and judgments of character, those are relevant at sentencing- they are not relevant in determining whether a crime has been committed.

The real question here is not about the tactics, but the law. The comments above, about law enforcement ignoring basic rights, are just plain ridiculous. So are any complaints about entrapment. For those who complain about the show's tactics, at what point would you be okay with these tactics? ... If the girl was 12? 10? 8? See the problem. We have to set an age of consent because at some point sex becomes wrong and there can really be no such thing as consensual sex.

This should not be confused with a prostitution sting- we're talking about minors here, not consenting adults. Sometimes libertarians get too caught up in notions of freedom to realize that crimes with victims are serious. We can deplore the use of police entrapment to catch drug users or prostitutes, but I think most of the libertarians here would feel differently if it was potential burglars, or even worse, potential murderers that the show was catching.

No I don't think the men caught on "To Catch a Predator" are as bad as murderers, but some of them come close. Of course, others may be practically harmless, but let the judge sort that out upon sentencing. Once again, the real issue is that age of consent- and just like we need a set age for voting, driving privileges, and other rights of being an adult, you need to set an age here as well.


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