Monday, May 14, 2007

Free at last, free at last, with apologies to Mr. King

H&R pointed me to a blog entry by Wired's John Brownlee that buoyed my spirits considerably.

The Boston Two have been freed, and all charges have been dropped. Berdovsky and Stevens did have to do a combined 140 hours of community service painting a mural for a hospital, which I'd kinda like to see, and did issue an apology regarding the ruckus that surrounded their cute little mooninite installations. But overall the prosecutors seem to have come to their senses. Or at least come to a state of less complete insanity.

Bonus quote: "Incidentally, Peter Berdovsky has to be the most fascinating photogenic specimen in the history of photography. He's one part Belarusian zombie, one part Rastafarian werewolf. I could look at pictures of this guy all day."

But this whole sordid affair brings up another question. Laws based on 'Reasonably Believe' standards. In a previous post, Brownlee goes over the charges against Berdovsky and Stevens, which stem from the following law:

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.
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.
My problem here is the 'reasonable belief' clause. This requires a person to correctly guess what other people will see with completely different starting conditions. It is entirely possible to look at a lite-brite style sign which is intended to be viewed lit up at night, and see the wires and circuitry as just necessary to make the piece of art work. It is entirely possible to never conceive of the fact idea that it might appear threatening. However, a homeland security cop for whom 'you can't be too careful' might reasonably see it as a potential bomb, with the lite-brites as some sort of taunting figure to the bomb squads sent to defuse it. But you have to be in that place for this to seem reasonable.

It is therefore possible to do something that to your mind seems entirely harmless and completely legal (these signs were not attached in any destructive way, so they do not really qualify as vandalism) that in just the right circumstances, it might reasonably be construed to be a threat. It seems to me that any standard that can take a person who is in good faith acting within the law, and turn them into a major felon looking at a 5 year sentence, must be a flawed law. It is an established theory of law that the results of legal procedings must be predictable and foreseeable. It is not possible for everyone to see everything in the same light as everyone else. We just don't, as human beings, have the breadth of experience to adequately predict every reasonable person's conclusions.

I think a fairer standard would be 'for a person reasonably and predictably to believe'.

This isn't entirely an issue here, because the law also requires that the person placing or causing to be placed these 'hoax devices' to do so for with intent of causing panic, which is clearly the case with Ignignokt and Er. So the prosecutor, mayor, and really most of the government of the city of Boston and state of Massachusetts have pretty much been acting with their heads applied in suppository fashion. Anyway, they're free at last.

1 comment:

Chris said...

I agree man. There's no way Boston would get away with charging this guys with planting a hoax device; I almost regret that they are apologizing and doing community service to avoid a trial. It would've proven what a bunch of craven morons are running the city.

Anyway, now that he's free, I guess we are privy to all sorts of emanations from these wise men, including this one from