Monday, February 25, 2013

The Government, Peanut Butter, and Jam

[Peanut Pic from wikipedia]
Did you hear the news? According to various news reports, last week, the government indicted four former employees of the Peanut Corporation of America, including its former president, Stewart Parnell, for allegedly conspiring to sell tainted peanut products. The criminal charges reportedly center around allegations that salmonella-tainted peanut products were sold as a result of poor, unsanitary conditions at the company's Georgia peanut plant.

You will recall that the plant was shut down, and a massive peanut butter recall occurred last year, reportedly after nine people died and hundreds got sick around the country. Now, this federal criminal indictment follows.

What do you think will come of all this? Will the government get convictions? Frankly, as a former federal prosecutor for over 20 years, I don't know. I can't predict. In other words, it is difficult to predict whether the government can prove the requisite mens rea, or criminal intent. While the government may be able to prove negligence by plant operators, that may not be enough. Put another way, I believe the government will be required to show, at trial, that the defendants knowingly, or intentionally, sold tainted products. And that would be a tall order, don't you agree?

Isn't it more likely that, even assuming these folks may have been (grossly) negligent, they never intended to harm anyone? Of course, we don't know all the facts and all the defendants are entitled to their day in court.

But, in short, in my opinion, if the government cannot prove intent, the government's peanut butter indictment may be in a jam!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Droning On About Drones and Privacy Invasion

Drone Picture from]
Much has been discussed and written about lately about the propriety of using armed drones to kill terrorists abroad. But here, in this blog, that will remain a discussion for a later day.

Here, today, I want to rant some more about the growing, unregulated use of drones by law enforcement agencies for surveillance in this country. In my opinion, not enough is being discussed or written about this  potentially dangerous practice.

Look, I am no "bleeding heart." I have always been a strong supporter of law enforcement. Even though, presently, I may be an Augusta, Georgia criminal defense lawyer, I am a former career (state and federal) prosecutor. And as a law-abiding citizen, I want the police to be able to do their jobs. 

But no matter who you are, and no matter what your political philosophy, in my opinion, we should all be concerned by the prospect of unregulated police agencies using unmanned aerial vehicles to spy on any and all American citizens. While some may say that only the criminals have anything to worry about, in my opinion, all of us, as free citizens, should question any unregulated government intrusion into our private matters. Moreover, in my opinion, unregulated police surveillance is subject to abuse, including by following  political opponents, or for stifling political dissent.

I am not suggesting that all drone usage should be prohibited; instead, I am simply advocating for further legislative discussion and some carefully considered regulations to prevent police over-reaching and abuse.

I am heartened to read that, just last week, the Charlottesville, Virginia City Council passed a resolution calling for Congress to regulate police use of drones in this country, including by forbidding the introduction of evidence obtained by drones in any criminal case. While this resolution may be merely symbolic, at least it may help encourage further discussion about this important topic around the country.

What do you think? Should the police be able to use drones to watch citizens and gather intelligence without a warrant? Do you agree that at least there should be some discussion and oversight?