Honest mistake or voter fraud?

A recent article on addictinginfo.org examines the case of an 86-year-old with Parkinson’s disease, accused of voter fraud. From the article:

Hooray! In their efforts to disenfranchise tackle that ever-so crushing 0.0002 percent problem of voter fraud (equivalent to the number of UFO sightings and the money spent on House Speaker Boehner’s tanning bed solution), the GOP finally nailed one of those sneaky, derelict voters. Never-mind that the guilty party is an 86-year-old woman with dementia, who says she forgot she had already sent in her absentee ballot when she went to her polling place in November. Whip out the Mission Accomplished banner and send this octogenarian to Gitmo!

The article goes on to say that Margaret Schneider mistakenly voted twice in the 2012 primaries, and that Margaret’s stance on it is that she should not have been allowed to vote twice, and thus the election judges are just as guilty.

At least here in Harris County, Texas, those at the polling places know who voted by mail and early voted, and those people are not allowed to vote again. Those responsible for running the election in Nicollet County, Minnesota, apparently didn’t do that in this instance, or someone didn’t mark the election rolls correctly.

I’ll be honest here, I’m all for getting rid of voter fraud, by which I mean intentional “stuffing of the ballot box” and other such manipulation of election results to something other than what would result from a true, accurate count of the popular vote. This, to me, is not voter fraud. I normally don’t like the inclusion of intent or “mens rea” into the definition of a crime, as often it can be manipulated in the favor of the prosecution where it should not be. In this case, however, I don’t think there was an intent to defraud, and so this case cannot possibly stand up at trial with any decent jury rendering a verdict.

The troublesome part, to me, is this:

Schneider, convinced that it was an honest mistake and therefore will not be seeking out legal counsel, is scheduled to appear in court on April 2.

Make no mistake, Margaret needs a defense attorney just as much as anyone accused, probably more so because to have any decent hope of winning this case, it needs to be taken to trial. Now, whether or not she can afford one is another story, and it is unfortunate that public defenders are primarily in the business of making plea bargain deals.

I can’t see prosecuting a senior citizen for election fraud to end well for anyone. It’s bad PR for the county, and when this makes national and possibly international news, it makes all of America look bad. If for some reason Margaret is sucessfully prosecuted, I certainly will have lost a lot of my remaining hope of our American legal system truly being about dispensing justice.

A clearly broken DUI/DWI law

Make no mistake about it: I’m no fan of those who endanger others needlessly by driving while intoxicated (sometimes called driving under the influence or drink-driving). But some of the laws are set up to give people like Daryl Fleck what can be perceived as a raw deal. And I believe he did get a very raw deal.

Originally reported on a site called simply thenewspaper.com and blogged by Young Americans for Liberty and Lew Rockwell, the facts of Daryl’s case are as follows:

  • Daryl was found asleep in his legally parked car close to midnight, one night during the summer of 2007, with the keys in the center console.
  • The engine in Daryl’s car was cold to the touch (it had not been driven recently).
  • He admitted to having consumed a significant amount of alcohol earlier that night.
  • He was tested to have a blood-alcohol of .18, twice the legal limit.

And based on these facts, even though nothing indicated Daryl had actually driven the car while intoxicated, he was convicted of DUI under the law of the state of Minnesota, simply because the keys he had could turn the ignition and in theory he could have driven the car.

Not to mention, when police tried to start the car, it would not start. Granted, this was some weeks after the fact, plenty of time for the battery to drain down to zilch.

Granted, Daryl had three previous DUI convictions and was thus far from an ideal test case for this situation. Still, I think this is an obvious case of way overzealous prosecution and a law that is simply too broad. And for that, Daryl, and no doubt several others, get another DUI conviction for sleeping in a car with that car’s ignition key.

And I know it’s a bit odd for me to quote the FSF’s “Some Confusing or Loaded Words and Phrases That Are Worth Avoiding”, but the words apply the same here as there:

The idea that laws decide what is right or wrong is mistaken in general. Laws are, at their best, an attempt to achieve justice; to say that laws define justice or ethical conduct is turning things upside down.

And in this case, I believe the law has failed to achieve justice. This is a broken law and it is in the best interests of the people of Minnesota to act to fix it.

There is one other thing about this case I’d like to comment upon. From thenewspaper.com’s story:

As Fleck was an unsympathetic figure with multiple DUI convictions in his
past, prosecutors had no problem convincing a jury to convict. The court took up Fleck’s case to expand the precedent to cover the case of mere presence in an undriven — and perhaps undrivable — car into the definition of drunk driving. The court relied on Fleck’s drunken claim that his car was operable to set aside the physical evidence to the contrary.

When I was last on a jury, the defendant did have a prior conviction. However, we did not find out about that until the sentencing phase. Granted, that was in Texas, and this case is in Minnesota. However I still find it difficult to believe that the jury knew about his prior convictions during the guilt-or-innocence phase of the trial. If they did, that’s another broken law that needs fixing up there in Minnesota.