Monday, December 26, 2005

Papers, Please!

Well, we've got at least one state moving perilously close to a police state. In Ohio, their version of the Patriot Act would allow police to arrest people if they might be about to commit a crime, or witness someone else who might, if they refuse to properly identify themselves. The approach of the law is ham-handed at best, and the vagueness of the written law seems custom-made for abuse.

There are a couple of seriously questionable elements in the bill. Some seem quite reasonable -- for example, requiring anyone renting an aircraft to provide appropriate identification. This seems to be a no-brainer. Then, it goes on to demand that people provide their name, address, and birthdate when demanded by a police officer in a "transportation infrastructure site" if there has been a threat to security. On the surface, this seems none too objectionable (we're all used to providing ID when boarding a plane, for example) -- but the "war on terror" has no defined end, security alerts have no consistent criteria. The definitions here are a bit vague: what is a 'threat to security?' and what sites are covered? When will police be demanding id from everyone? What is done with this information?
Sec. 2909.31. (A) No person entering an airport, train station, port, or other similar critical transportation infrastructure site shall refuse to show identification when requested by a law enforcement officer when there is a threat to security and the law enforcement officer is requiring identificationof all persons entering the site.
But it is another section that has raised the hackles of the ACLU and other groups. Apparently, Ohio believes that their police are psychic -- or at the very least, possessed of unerring prescience. "About to commit"? Since when do we allow people to be arrested before they commit a crime? And witnesses are now considered criminals for protecting their privacy if they happen to be in the same place as someone who is going to commit a crime, even if they aren't involved? I'm not a constitutional scholar, but red flags went up for me when I read through this bill. Is this normal wording for laws regarding law enforcement?

There are specific laws regarding witnesses and suspects, there are very clear rules regarding evidence. At least to my reading, the following section now allows anyone to be stopped at any time by a police office who has a "gut feeling" that the person in question either is about to commit a crime, or is witness to someone who is about to commit a crime. There are already laws on the books to allow apprehension of someone who has committed a crime and to compel witnesses...the addition here of "about to commit" and "is about to" make this legislation a little surreal.
Sec. 2921.29. (A) No person who is in a public place shall refuse to disclose the person's name, address, or date of birth, when requested by a law enforcement officer who reasonably suspects either of the following:
(1) The person is committing, has committed, or is about to commit a criminal offense.
(2) The person witnessed any of the following:
(a) An offense of violence that would constitute a felony under the laws of this state;
(b) A felony offense that causes or results in, or creates a substantial risk of, serious physical harm to another person or to property;
(c) Any attempt or conspiracy to commit, or complicity in committing, any offense identified in division (A)(2)(a) or (b) of this section;
(d) Any conduct reasonably indicating that any offense identified in division (A)(2)(a) or (b) of this section or any attempt, conspiracy, or complicity described in division (A)(2)(c) of this section has been, is being, or is about to be committed.
The full text of the bill is here

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