Peter Watts may serve two years for failing to promptly obey a customs officer

I've spent the last day in a funk at the news that my friend, Canadian sf writer Peter Watts was convicted of obstruction for getting out of his car at a US Border crossing and asking what was going on, then not complying fast enough when he was told to get back in the car. He faces up to two years in jail.

David Nickle, a mutual friend who worked with Peter on his defense, has a very good post on the subject, including a quote from one of the jurors:

The job of the jury was to decide whether Mr. Watts "obstructed/resisted" the custom officials. Assault was not one of the charges. What it boiled down to was Mr. Watts did not follow the instructions of the customs agents. Period. He was not violent, he was not intimidating, he was not stopping them from searching his car. He did, however, refuse to follow the commands by his non compliance. He's not a bad man by any stretch of the imagination. The customs agents escalted the situation with sarcasm and miscommunication. Unfortunately, we were not asked to convict those agents with a crime, although, in my opinion, they did commit offenses against Mr. Watts. Two wrongs don't make a right, so we had to follow the instructions as set forth to us by the judge.
That's apparently the statute: if you don't comply fast enough with a customs officer, he can beat you, gas you, jail you and then imprison you for two years. This isn't about safety, it isn't about security, it isn't about the rule of law.

It's about obedience.

Authoritarianism is a disease of the mind. It criminalizes the act of asking "why?" It is the obedience-sickness that turns good people into perpetrators and victims of atrocities great and small.

I don't know if Peter will appeal. I hope he does. I hope he gets a jury who nullify the statute (Thanks to all who reminded me that the appellate division has panels of judges, not juries). I hope he brings a civil action against the officials who clearly played fast and loose with the truth (From David: "Under cross-examination by Mullkoff, the border guards had conceded that Peter hadn't assaulted anyone; hadn't threatened to assault anyone; and that his aggressive stance was nothing any reasonable person would consider aggressive. The allegations that he had somehow choked border guard Andrew Beaudry while Beaudry was hitting him, were demolished.").

I don't know if he will. He may decide to take his chances for a suspended sentence and forswear ever visiting America again, opting to be a writer instead of a professional litigant. I'd understand. But tonight, I'm understanding that dark place that so many of Peter's books seem to come from. I think of myself, fundamentally, as a optimist and a believer that justice can and will prevail. But in the face of that jury's decision, in face of the dishonesty of the officials, in the face of the absurdity of the statute, I feel like justice is a joke and hoping for it is a waste of time.

I'm sorry that the system failed you, Peter.


Update: More from Peter


  1. The system fails everyone, but in this case it was the jurors who failed Peter. Despite what the judge says, the jury has the power to say ‘no’ to whatever charges are being leveled. This is why the system entails juries – so that there is a hope of justice actually occurring.

    1. Unfortunately, judges often misinform juries about their rights and responsibilities by leaving out the concept of nullification entirely. Also, most judges and prosecutors will do their damnedest to remove any juror who knows anything about jury nullification, even if it means a mistrial.

      And I do believe it IS the jury’s fault this guy was railroaded. It was the jury’s decision to hide behind the judge’s instructions to them, rather than simply decide the case on its merits (or lack thereof). They could have said, “Hey, you know what, this border cop lied his ass off. I don’t think we should believe a damned thing any of them say, as they are probably trying to cover for their buddy. Let’s let this guy walk.” and then voted for acquittal. They didn’t.

  2. I’ve yet to hear any good reason why cops (and pseudo-cops like border guards and TSA agents) who lie or stretch the truth in court shouldn’t be immediately stripped of their guns and badges and forbidden from ever working in law enforcement ever again. (If not jailed for a long time; after all, they were trying to lie to put someone else in jail for a long time, and what’s good for the goose is good for the gander…)

    1. There is no good reason for them not to be not only relieved of their position but imprisoned. Lying in court is obstruction of justice. (funny huh). Now, were I this unfortunate gentlemen I would seek legal council in a counter suit against the officers. IF they beat him he may be able to try them criminally. And, since it appears to me that he is seeking justice and not blind revenge or just raging he might be able to accomplish something.

      Yes the justice system failed him in this instant, but, it’s the best we have right now and we have to try to make it work.

  3. I makes one wonder if the damage caused by 8 years of lies and forced patriotism under the right wing of Bush/Cheney will ever be gone. It still seems to control us even after they have been finally pushed from office. People seem to be so willing to give in to these types of control freaks. If you even ask a question you are considered a terrorist.

    People have not been horrified by war to a sufficient extent … War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige as the warrior does today: John Fitzgerald Kennedy

  4. “A really efficient totalitarian state would be one in which the all-powerful executive of political bosses and their army of managers control a population of slaves who do not have to be coerced, because they love their servitude.”: Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

    1. I may be wrong, but isn’t this a direct reference to China, or what the Chinese govt would like everyone to believe.

  5. “The law might be obviously ridiculous but it’s the law” is not generally considered sufficient excuse.

    That having been said, I would not blame the jurors at all – they have been used as part of an unjust system, and it should not have to be up to them to stand up and reject things at the final point. This prosecution shouldn’t have happened in the first place.

  6. Justice costs too much, this is why there is so little of it around. I’m sure if Peter threw enough money at it he would get justice but you have to ask, is it worth it?

  7. Terry is absolutely right. The POINT of having a jury of one’s peers is that they can get justice for a defendant if the law as written is unjust (or just being used in an unjust manner). It’s called “Jury Nullification.” Most lawyers…..and nearly any judge, will not tell you about this, however, as it threatens their power, or the power that they perceive they have over society as a result of their law education. Google jury nullification….educate yourself and spread the word to friends and family. It is our duty as citizens and jurors to ensure justice is done if the face of unjust (or just plain crazy) laws.

  8. If the judge has any brains, he’ll throw the conviction out. Judge nullifications are just as possible.

  9. No, I don’t think anyone is BLAMING the jury, just pointing out that, in fact, they didn’t have to convict. It’s an absurd law, and the jurors should not have let themselves be convinced that they had to follow it.

    In other news, further evidence of why I get irked with Cory – he hopes that if Watts appeals he’ll get a more sympathetic jury. Appeals courts don’t have juries. The facts are no longer at issue on appeal. It’s just the application of the law and other procedural issues.

    1. “… further evidence of why I get irked with Cory – he hopes that if Watts appeals he’ll get a more sympathetic jury. Appeals courts don’t have juries.”

      If Watts’s conviction is reversed on appeal, the case isn’t necessarily over. The prosecutor can refile, and then Watts will be re-tried – that’s when he might get a more sympathetic jury.

  10. Like others, I wonder what’s the point of even having a jury if they’re bound to blindly agree with the law, no matter how inappropriate. Perhaps they’re just there as a toothless symbol for ‘teh people’?

    I wasn’t too impressed reading a comment left on Peter Watts’ blog by one of the jurors, saying he voted guilty even though he felt bad about it. I just hope if I ever get caught in a totally ludicrous trial, I won’t get cowardly puppets as jurors.

    1. The jury is there to rule on the merits of the prosecution’s case, within the boundaries of the law. That is all.

      If Watts brings a criminal case against the border guards, the jury empaneled for that trial would rule on the merits of the case that Watts’s lawyers would bring to trial.

      Jury nullification due to morally queasy jurors fills me with terror, honestly. Not nearly as much terror as what the guards did to Watts, but enough: anarchy is a horrible substitute for creeping totalitarianism.

    2. Perhaps they’re just there as a toothless symbol for ‘teh people’?

      The Roman Senate outlasted the Republic to become a rubber stamp for the Emperors. Augustus even made himself a Tribune of the People, as did his successors. In an era when information is immediately available to everybody, political (and judicial) theater becomes even more important.

  11. On the other hand, “In opposition to this, what is contended for? — That the law shall be, in every particular cause, what any twelve men, who shall happen to be the jury, shall be inclined to think; liable to no review, and subject to no control, under all the prejudices of the popular cry of the day, and under all the bias of interest in this town, where thousands, more or less, are concerned in the publication of newspapers, paragraphs, and pamphlets. Under such an administration of law, no man could tell, no counsel could advise, whether a paper was or was not punishable.”

  12. This is how the system works. Until we stop the system this is all we’ve every gotten and all we’ll ever get get unless we’re stinking rich and in charge. I don’t have a job but I get money from the government to maintain barest survival. I think we should all stop working and at first start stealing and eventually start taking care of ourselves once government and authoritarianism is dead. I think that’s the solution.

    1. “I think we should all stop working and at first start stealing and eventually start taking care of ourselves once government and authoritarianism is dead.”

      Exactly what do you think ending the government would do to help you? With no government, there is nobody there to stop anybody from doing any damn thing they want to you, any damn time they pleased. Which means that anybody that wanted to beat up (or rape, or kill) anyone at the border would be much MORE free to do so, not less. At least with a government in place, there is SOME chance of consequences for actions.


  13. Tdawwg, those great anarchists John Adams & John Jay supported jury nullification. I can see your point, though. Southern juries refused to convict white men for killing ‘uppity’ black men. Nevertheless, jury nullification was an explicit part of US law until the Gilded Age, when juries started to nullify laws written to benefit corporations. Then judges forbade any mention of it.

    also, go read, Watts latest blog entry on the trial. He explains several things, such as since he is guilty there will be no lawsuit from him, & also how the ACLU is considering challenging the law he was convicted under.

  14. Jury nullification is not anarchy.

    It is a final test of the application of law that both:

    A: Your peers believe the facts presented by the prosecution.

    B: Your peers, people like yourself and drawn from your community (or at least the one where the law applies), agree that the law you are being charged with breaking, which applies to them as well, deserves their (as representatives of the community held to the law) support.

    It is a substantial gaurd against tyranny and authority malfeasance that your peers (for whom the law supposedly exists to protect) can decide not to enforce bad law no matter the facts.

    Authority hates jury nullification (through out much of the U.S it’s illegal for officers of the court to tell jurors about it) because it is a barrier to absolute rule, long may it last.

    Another thing – it also serves as peaceful resistance against the imposition of draconian rule destroying civil liberty. Come the day jury’s are done away with and authority imposes it’s will directly the only resistance left to citizens will be armed insurrection.

    A much greater threat of anarchic destruction than allowing the community, represented by twelve juroris, to pass final judgmeent on the law (as well as the facts).

    1. In part B, don’t you mean “DOESN’T deserve their support”?

      Thanks, though, to you and strangefriend for presenting other sides of jury nullification. I was thinking more of a future hypothetical absurdist situation, akin to the white jury refusing to convict a lyncher. I guess Adams, Jay et al. missed that one.

      1. Sadly, the routine acquittal of lynch mobs last century is the darker side of Jury Nullification.

        Still, it is the purpose of a Jury to both decide if the facts meet the standard of the law and whether the law meets the standard of a just society.

  15. Watts is guilty.

    It’s time everyone accept this point.

    The issue is the manifestation of “security theatre”… it brings comfort to many, but it is almost obviously, on the face of it, the worst way to manage borders and people.

    Airport, border, and other “check-point” like security stops are failures of academia to properly critique, examine and debunk their usefulness– while providing sane and useful alternatives.

    We also should not forget this is a collective failure of citizens from two democratic nations who have not worked to ensure acceptable treatment of citizens and/or neighbours.

    To begin with, we need to build a vocabulary that will allow us to critique these practices and describe what is actually going on during an event such as the one Watts endured.

    Once we have the words, we can begin to challenge our so called political leaders.

  16. This is really sad, and clearly a case where the punishment does not fir the supposed offense. When I first read this story a bit back, here on BoingBoing, I immediately sympathized because I cross borders all the time for work, the US/Canadian border most frequently.

    The absurd harassment, and poorly thought out procedures need to stop. I donated a small amount to Peter’s defense fund, and he sent me a very nice, sincere, personal note, which makes this case even sadder. He seems like a very nice guy. When are we going to stop putting smart people, who aren’t remotely a threat to society, into the legal system for perceived offenses? Another day I am mortified to be an American. What a disgrace.

    Best of luck Peter, I truly hope you get some justice.

  17. Damn, that was a tough read, Cory. Thoughts and prayers to Peter and fam. There has to be something we can all do, some form of call to action? Why haven’t the media had a field day with this yet, for example? There just has to be something to bring this out to the open more.

  18. Ok. No problem, guys.

    So the rest of the world got another confirmation that entering the United States of America is extremely dangerous for normal people. Now you don’t even have to wait for a delusional junior cop to taze, harass, imprison and torture you without reason; no need to do extraordinary acts like, say, photographing a public space. Now the attacks begin right on the border!

    Cool. We’ll leave you alone.

    Forever and ever more. You earned it.

  19. What is obstruction? What is resisting?

    Do you want to be arrested tonight, or would you prefer to go about your lawful business? If you answered that question honestly, and a cop feels like arresting you, you are resisting, at least in thought. Must you keep such careful guard of your facial expression and tone of voice that you betray none of that resistance to the officer? In some societies, this requirement is the norm: keep your eyes straight front, your mouth a thin line, your voice low and monotone at all times, lest you be seen as resisting the authorities. A society has the right to choose that path.

    Apparently, my society has chosen that path. Since it has, I have — by virtue of that choice — no right to criticise its choice, but only to comply with it. Therefore, emphatically: Peter Watts is guilty.

    At the very least, he’s guilty of arousing suspicion: in a time of great fear, arousing suspicion is itself a crime. Morally, it is similar to turning in a false alarm. It diverts the attention of the authorities from real threats. It obstructs them from carrying out their duties. He should have known better than to act in any way apart from the norm.

    My only observation is that the norm is getting so hard to discern. I’ll be obedient! I’ll play my role to the letter! I’ll grovel when it’s required. I’ll control my face as best I can. I’ll not complain. But please, let me read the script. Let me learn my lines. Don’t demand that I be brilliant at the Stanislavski Method! I’m just not that good an actor!

    And having made that observation, I’ve already made of myself a non-conformist. I await the tread of jackboots and the knock at my door. I know that secretly, I too am guilty. I envy the vacuous; only they can be innocent.

  20. This is… and should be to all, that we no longer live in a democratic republic. This is a security state… which is political-speak for an early level police state.

    In this state of state security, you can no longer ask ‘why?’. You simply must obey or find yourself as an enemy of the security state. As an enemy, you will be tried and you will be found guilty. There are no innocent victims of a security state. The security state does not make mistakes.

    The most unfortunate, if not entirely sad part of all of this, is that we created this security state. We sat by as our government all but shredded the rights of the people in favor of the rights of the state. We then happily called it a patriot act.

    We surrendered our liberty for a little, temporary, if not entirely questionable safety.

    Do you feel safe and secure? The state does.

  21. I wonder if the border guard feels any sort of regret about the negative effect his actions will have on good person.

    If a good man was going to jail for 2 years because I was an asshole for a little while, I’d feel pretty bad about myself.

    Always got to wonder when stories like this come out.

  22. In this case, and if I recall the law correctly, we are obligated to obey lawful orders. If Dr Watts was, as seems to be the case, unlawfully assaulted by these armed goons, despite posing no physical threat to them whatsoever, than the decision of the jury is magnificently idiotic and stupid and dumb.

    I hope there is a successful appeal to a higher, saner authority. And, I hope there will be organized protests in the vicinity of this bridge. This is not right. These guards are at home, asleep in their beds, while the man they assaulted without any reasonable provocation is facing a prison sentence.

  23. @Anon #26: My guess is that the border guard is proud of defending his country from a dangerous intruder. And Watts was convicted, validating that belief.

  24. And how much safer, we as Americans, are tonight because a noted author and man with no history of violent or criminal behavior was falsely accused of ridiculous offenses while simply trying to cross into our great nation.

    I will sleep easier in the knowledge that, should I ever dare to question the authority figures whose job is to “protect and serve” I will be beaten, gassed, falsely charged, tried, convicted and possibly sentence to prison for my temerity.

    We are a better, stronger, more loving nation when our ports lack radiation detectors and our security theater does nothing more than create bottlenecks. Bottlenecks that many experts on terrorist violence say are more dangerous than any kind of exploding underwear or ignitable shoes.

    Our nation is great and free because only 1% of our total population is imprisoned. Of that, many for non-violent drug dependency crimes. Our security is assured, as more corporations join the private prison industry and make huge profits off treating prisoners less and less like humans and more like stacks of cordwood.

    We are a great nation. Let us repeat that, over and over, in a chant, in a rant, wearing a flag pin and screaming down anyone who dares to criticize as a traitor. We are exceptional, we are grand.

    Louder and louder, to cover the screams and cries in the night.

  25. I wasn’t too impressed reading a comment left on Peter Watts’ blog by one of the jurors, saying he voted guilty even though he felt bad about it.

    Completely agree. That bad feeling is the juror’s moral sense telling him justice is not being done. It’s too bad he listened to instructions instead of own internal compass. Being law doesn’t make it right.

  26. A couple of misconceptions regarding what an appeal might involve. You don’t get a new jury on appeal. An appeal is an argument before a panel of appellate judges that there was serious legal error at the trial court. If you win you *might* get a new trial. Dr. Watts’ own blog post just about says he thinks there wasn’t any legal error. Saying that the jury should have nullified the law is equivalent to saying there was no legal error, and is not a winning argument on a appeal.

    Also, he has not been sentenced at all yet. As I recall, two years was the *maximum* sentence, presumably appropriate for defendants convicted of really, truly trying to beat the shit out of border agents. I don’t know how much discretion the judge has in sentencing on this conviction but I bet Dr. Watts gets … less than the maximum.

  27. “The sun’s shining now on these green fields of France,
    A warm wind blows gently and the red poppies dance,
    The trenches have vanished under the plow,
    No gas, no barbed wire, no guns firing now.

    But here in this graveyard it is still no man’s land,
    The countless white crosses in mute witness stand,
    To man’s blind indifference to his fellow man,
    To a whole generation who were butchered and damned.”

    We never learn. We just keep hating and fighting and wronging and lying. We never grow courageous, we never do what is right, we never act with dignity or humanity. We are wraiths. We are ghosts and demons thirsting for blood, and for suffering, and for Schadenfreude.

    The worst part is we’re fully aware of our crimes. We cringe in shame, crying to ourselves “Mia culpa! Mia culpa!” as we lash out with rage and fury and pain in desperate madness. We hate ourselves for it. And our hate fuels our evils, and our evils fuel our hate, and more suffer, and die, and abandon all hope. We are wracked with a sickness we cannot fight off, a psychotic self destruction that cyclically spirals out of control, oscillating from manic bloodshed to depressive despair.

    Until we choose to stop, we never will.


  28. There’s no way this guy gets the maximum, or anything near it. Probably a fine and a suspended sentence.

    And a felony on his record, which could keep him from ever being allowed to enter the US again.

  29. What is the quantifiable measure of “fast enough”?
    Who/what is the objective time keeper? A second under pressure is philologically and subjectively condensed – would a minute then equal sixty, fifteen, or five seconds?

  30. Pretty widely known secret about juries – they aren’t chosen for being smart, knowing the law, or knowing their options. They are chosen for their ability to take only what is given to them – facts and law – and make a decision based only on that information.

    Get selected for jury duty and talk about jury nullification. See how long you last in the voir dire process. One of the first things we were asked in law school was whether we’d been on a jury. That was followed shortly after by “well, the rest of you probably never will be.” Prosecution and defense both think they’re better off if the jury only knows what is told to them within the courtroom.

  31. “And a felony on his record, which could keep him from ever being allowed to enter the US again.”

    If I was Dr Watts, there is no conceivable way that I would ever be going back to the US. Even if it meant taking a financial hit.

    I have travelled through the US a few times in 2001 (after 9/11) from Australia, I have heard my brother’s story of how he and his friends were treated when going to the US. I have read the horror stories posted by other people of their experiences.

    What is clear to me is that it is impossible to guarantee that (no matter how reasonable you are) you won’t upset a border guard who can then abuse, or beat you, or whatever until you can be “proven” to have disobeyed a “legitimate order” from them.

    There is no conceivable benefit that the US could offer me that is worth the risk of going there.

    Dr Watts, you have my sympathy. The system of US justice no-longer works. Sadly, Australia (while not quite so bad) seems determined to follow suit on issues of “security”.

  32. Surely, Canada should issue a travel warning to it’s citizenry about venturing to the primitive lands to the south.

  33. America is the biggest police state in the world, rivalled in history only by such charming regimes as that of Pol Pot. Do you get it? We’re a bigger police state than CHINA. We’re a bigger police state than MYANMAR. We’re a bigger police state than SAUDI ARABIA. (“CIA World Fact Book” 2009)

    This is certainly a tragic situation and a miscarriage of justice, but on the other hand I don’t expect our African American community to be terribly chuffed on Mr. Watts’ behalf. They’ve been living with the reality that a black male child born today has a ONE IN THREE chance of spending time in prison (“The Sentencing Project,” 2007).

    This is no more than Martin Niemoller’s quotation – “They first came for the communists and I didn’t speak up because I was not a communist…” – being played out here. After years of preying upon minorities, our insatiable police state has started to develop a taste for middle class academic whites. Or frankly anyone who dares question authority. And we’ve long since passed Orwell’s vision of laws so complex that at any time everyone is guilty of SOMETHING illegal.

    Maintaining the illusion of security that keeps the working class at optimum productivity is a messy, brutal business. Mr. Watts is a victim of this unjust system, but meaning no disrespect to the very stressful circumstances under which he finds himself, he is not the first and he will not be the last, and this problem is only getting worse.

    1. We’re a bigger police state than CHINA. We’re a bigger police state than MYANMAR. We’re a bigger police state than SAUDI ARABIA.

      No, we’re not. Would you like to provide some credible citations for that extraordinary claim?

      1. If by “bigger police state than China or Saudi Arabia” Albatross means that we have higher documented incarceration rates then I have to agree with Albatross. According to the Wikipedia page on the subject (which has plenty of links to credible sources) the United States has the highest documented incarceration rate in the world.

        1. Think about how many people are disappeared or executed in some of the other countries mentioned. And whether you believe that China is telling the truth when they provide incarceration statistics. How many US bloggers are in prison for disagreeing with the government? How many private detention centers do we have in the US for ‘internet addicts’? Compare the admittedly unfortunate police response to various political convention protests in the US with the Chinese response to Tibetan protesters. These incidents are news when they happen in the US. They’re daily life for the masses in China or Saudi Arabia.

          1. Think about how many people are disappeared in the US for being insufficiently documented. How would we know if they start picking up bloggers? These things are barely news here in the US, and they’re getting less “newsworthy” by the year.

            Remember, legally, if the president says that you’re a terrorist, you can be disappeared for the duration of the current unpleasantness. All of those laws still apply. Beloved and Respected Comrade Leader hasn’t changed a damn one of those laws, and he’s not gonna.

          2. I’m not saying that there isn’t an argument to be made that China is a bigger police state than the U.S., I was just pointing out that there is also plenty of data to support Albatross’ position. According to all available studies you’re more likely to be imprisoned by your government if you live in the U.S. than if you live elsewhere.

  34. I was wondering why, if Jury Nullification was an option, that the defense attorney didn’t offer this as an option.

    After reading the nice Wikipedia article on the subject, apparently defense attorneys [i]can’t[/i] point out to a jury that nullification is an option as of a 1972 court decision.

    It seems the cards were miserably stacked against Dr. Watts.

  35. As I remember juries may use nullification but they must be willing to sit in jail for contempt, yes the judge can do that to them for not following his instructions. Few people have a strong enough moral compass to sit in a cell for doing the right thing, and even fewer know that this is even an option. I would rather see 20 criminals go free than see an innocent person punished for the crimes of the state.

  36. People in official positions of authority like those border guards need to be trained in non-aggressive methods of conflict resolution. These are not easy skills to learn but it is extremely important. Using aggression (or really, force – force can be applied without aggression) should be a last resort. These people obviously need better training.

  37. Mgfarrelly@29 sez: And how much safer, we as Americans, are tonight because a noted author and man with no history of violent or criminal behavior was falsely accused of ridiculous offenses while simply trying to cross into our great nation.

    Actually, if I have this right, Peter was on his way out of the country. Not IN. OUT. The border had instituted new searches on the way out, a fact they hadn’t widely publicised, and his car was waved over. He states in his most recent blog post under the Motive section (5) that this was the case, and that further more the officers DID NOT speak to him before beginning the search. Which was unusual in and of itself.

  38. I hate to say it but this all sounds very Kafka-esk, and as a writer he was reflecting his world. Such a cheerful lead up to Nazism it was…

    I really don’t think I want to risk ever going back into the United States ever again.

  39. We’re a bigger police state than CHINA. We’re a bigger police state than MYANMAR. We’re a bigger police state than SAUDI ARABIA.

    Try having this same conversation with China, Myanmar, or Saudi Arabia taking the role of “biggest police state” in a public forum in those countries, and then report back to us with your findings.

  40. Cory —

    I share your feelings of funkitude. This whole incident has made me sick. Before Friday I took one consolation: that this would all get sorted out and someone in a position of authority would apologize to Peter for what happened. Well, so much for that.

    I feel so ashamed of my country right now. I’m up at 4:30 AM and can’t sleep. I know America has done much worse in the name of keeping me safe, it’s just that this time, we did it to a friend of mine.

    If Peter has the grounds and stomach for an appeal, he definitely has my financial support. I have a request for Boing Boing: please, to the extent that you can, keep updating us on this. I assume the court transcripts will available at some point, and the bridge video. It sounds to me that this Officer Beaudry lied in his written report concerning the incident. As an American, I should at least be able to complain to his chain of command over that.

    I don’t want to go to G-Point this summer. I don’t want to subject myself to the uncertainties of an international border — any border — but more importantly, I don’t know how to face David and Laurie — and Peter, if he’s not sitting in a US prison. (Just writing that sentence made me gag.)

    Where do I go to get my country back?


  41. ” Two wrongs don’t make a right, so we had to follow the instructions as set forth to us by the judge.”

    This is actually incorrect, juries are intentionally led to believe they are legally compelled to follow jury instructions, but they are actually not. A jury may rule in any way it sees fit for any reasons it sees fit. This is actually one of the reasons for a jury, as a jury can prevent the enforcement of a law it sees as unjust. For more information look up “jury nullification.”

  42. This sort of stuff unfortunately happens in France as well. Being charged with “disobedience”, because you had an expression of unhappiness on your face because you got arrested, handcuffed, yelled at, and ultimately physically molested. Anyone can get arrested for anything. It’s the same security-obsessed policy as in the US. This is however publicly, and heavily, discussed. Yesterday there was a long documentary on this subject on one of the national TV networks. We’re not yet in a totalitarism-like situation, but getting close. Ordinary people like me, are getting afraid of meeting the police.
    The dogm is : “if you’ve got nothing to hide, there’s no reason to be afraid of the police”. The problem is: the police knows how to manoeuver you into such a situation, that you ARE guilty of something. And as Kevin said: the only way to protect yourself is to remain as stoic as possible, and that’s exactly the advice of the lawyers interviewed in yesterdays’ documentary, but how is this possible if they START by attacking your physical integrity?? Is this really what we used to call the developed world? I start to doubt.

    1. This is similar to the Scots Law definition of “Breach of the Peace”.

      Basically, a Scottish police officer can arrest you if he or she thinks your causing “alarm, annoyance, upset or embarrassment to another person or persons”.

      It’s used regularly in the part of Scotland that I’m from. So much so that a fear of the police is considered a healthy part of growing up there.

      I was nearly arrested one night under this law for writing a message to a friend on his steamed up car window. I saw an old man being arrested under this law for being asleep on a train and smelling of booze. They woke him up and arrested him.


  43. Voir dire exists to make sure jurors who might do other than obey the judges instructions to produce a guilty verdict dont make it into the trial.

  44. Voir dire also exists to make sure that illegally-obtained evidence can’t be admitted by the prosecution.

  45. So, the officer violated protocol, attacked the civilian, and later lied on court. That sort of person obviously does not act like an law enforcement officer and in any meaningful sense of the term wasn’t one. If the officer isn’t acting rationally or up to the standards of the job, then the law obviously shouldn’t apply.

    The amount of fail is staggering. First the officer himself, then the prosecution (charges shouldn’t have been brought up), then the judge for misdirecting the jury and the jury for not willing to do their job. It’s obvious that a number of people should be taking a lot of shit, and that none of them is Peter.

    So, as Peter is convicted, the officer in question should be convicted as well, for aiding and abetting the refusal and acting as an accomplice in that crime. In addition, he should be tried for assault and misuse of authority and perjury. And I’m pretty sure he also violated a bunch of official directives, each of which should get him fired.

  46. “Authoritarianism is a disease of the mind. It criminalizes the act of asking “why?” It is the obedience-sickness that turns good people into perpetrators and victims of atrocities great and small.”

    Well said. I think the disease spreads a little farther than asking why, but it is most atrocious and obvious when natural human curiosity is punished.

  47. this pettiness may have distracted guards from real security threats.

    simple lack of compliance can be used as a distraction by criminals worked together if they know the guards are on a hair trigger.

  48. What this really boils down to is the question of whether showing obedience (as Cory italicises) is in all cases an affront to dignity that we cannot tolerate, or whether there are some cases in which presenting obedience to an authority, for a limited time and at a designated place, is acceptable?

    Watt clearly carries some strong preconceptions about state authorities.

    That he found himself in this situation may indicate that Watt allowed his preconceptions to colour his interaction with a border guard, precipitating a confrontation.

    We don’t know whether the judge will impose a two year sentence, or a fine, or a suspended sentence, etc. If Watt can’t accept the insult to his dignity that complying with a border guard’s request represents, perhaps it’s not unreasonable that he should be prohibited from interacting with them in future?

    1. Danegeld wrote:

      “If Watt can’t accept the insult to his dignity that complying with a border guard’s request represents, perhaps it’s not unreasonable that he should be prohibited from interacting with them in future?”

      I think it might be even *less* unreasonable to expect and demand that border guards should act in a manner that doesn’t callously insult the dignity of the people they deal with.

      The guards in this case attempted to lie, cheat, and weasel their way through the aftermath of the mess they made, as was amply demonstrated in court, and in the end Watts was found guilty ONLY of a draconian technicality that the jury had been explicitly instructed to interpret in the strictest possible fashion.

      But sure, keep acting as though he leapt out of the car wearing a black cloak and a Guy Fawkes mask, hurling throwing knives in all directions. I mean, he tried to ask what was going on, which is the very next worst thing, right?


  49. As an expat and veteran of the US Navy I find this really disgusting. It seems like the nation is brainwashed into an apathetic state of rightful fortitude and patriotic kool-aid tuned into the latest headlines, divisions and sport of distraction.

    What ever happened to the very basic documents that were written long ago – our Constitution and Bill of Rights – the framework of something that had been developed precisely to circumvent forces which some have known about for hundreds of years. We may be living in modern times but let’s not dismiss the history and knowledge that people fought and died for.

    We need to get back to the basics…. everything is so complicated and mixed up. Why is that? People in charge have been in charge for a long time… we did not get to this by accident.

    “Breach of the Peace” from Article 1 Section 6 of the constitution – Senators and Reps. can be tried for treason – if that isn’t the case now – then “War is Peace” – how do we fix that?

    People need to wake up.

  50. I agree that Dr Watts shouldn’t have been charged or convicted of a felony for what he did but I’m curious, why didn’t Watts immediately get back in his car when he was ordered to?
    There are some things you just Don’t do, like saying ‘bomb’ on an airplane -not following orders at a border crossing is another. Still, hopefully the judge will throw out the conviction or it’ll get thrown out on appeal. Watts obviously wasn’t violent and shouldn’t have this on his record for such a minor offence.

    1. As one of the jurors on Mr. Watts case, I have a few comments to make:

      First, I have written a letter to the judge and asked the judge to exercise leniency in sentencing Mr. Watts.

      Second, I will be in court on sentencing date, sitting behind Mr. Watts and supporting him to the best of my ability.

      Third, my attempt to sway my fellow jurors to a not guilty verdict was met with, to use Mr. Watts term, “a frosty reception”.

      Fourth, I’ve verbally jousted with my fellow jurors for several hours, I’ve been beaten up on blogs, called names, and generally harassed by uninformed people that were not in that courtroom. I’ve explained to Peter what happened in deliberations. I will keep an open dialogue with him to answer any questions he may have. I feel he’s the only person I have to answer to.

      Last, I am trying to get the Times Herald to print accurate information.

      Anybody else want to take a shot at me? Go ahead. You can’t beat me up any worse than I’ve done myself.

  51. Let me clarify the sequence of events :
    1) The car stops at customs
    2) Without any notification or explanation USA customs officers start searching the car
    3) Peter Watts gets out of the car
    4) Peter Watts gets hit in the face
    5) Peter Watts is ordered to get back into car
    6) Peter Watts asks what is going on
    7) Customs officers enjoy themselves

    Is this correct?

  52. I feel pretty guilty about making light of a serious situation but I liked the way described it:

    “[PLUG] Watts arrested for resistance”

  53. The scale of the prison population is an embarrassment to the USA, but at least America treats women fairly – Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Somalia – sucks to carry two X chromosomes round those parts, I’ve heard.

  54. I don’t really see this being addressed at…..but typically when I go from Canada to the US, US customs and border guards have an interest – I am, after all, going into their country.
    The same is true in reverse. When leaving the US and entering Canada, Canadian guards scrutinize me.
    I’ve not had the experience of being checked by Canadian guards when leaving Canada, or US guards when leaving the US.
    He was leaving the US and US border guards detained him. I thought America was a free state that you were allowed to leave. Is this new? Am I confused?

  55. I have never been called for jury duty. If I do it’ll probably be for a drug crime. I hope it’s a case where I may exercise my final check on authority.

    Also: cases like this is why prosecutorial judgment should be used.

  56. Thanks commentators 1 and 2. This is the thing people need to learn.

    I love the jury system. It’s a final check against unreasonable laws and unreasonable applications of laws.

    I wasn’t in the court room, so I don’t know if the jury did a good or bad job in this case. They certainly seemed to have taken their job seriously, so probably they did the best they could in a tough situation. I’m certainly not criticizing them.

    However, it’s good for all of us to know a bit about how the law works, and the roles we may find ourselves playing in it.

    #63 – He probably was not thinking 100% straight. Under pressure, it’s perfectly natural to ask, “What’s the problem?”

    In fact, it’s a healthy thing when people question authority. Keeps things honest. So I can’t say I wouldn’t have done the same.

  57. I’m mildly surprised that the border guards aren’t on charge for assault and perjury. Many (but not all) legal jurisdictions have dedicated “special investigations units” who review all police use of force, and lay charges under the appropriate police acts and criminal codes.

    This tends to keep the really egregious breaches from being papered over, although of course the quality and independence of the units varies widely, so depending on one’s location lesser breaches do leak through without anyone noticing…


  58. Juries are not obliged to find anyone guilty. Why did the jurors hide behind the ‘we had to convict’ line? If they felt the charges were being presented by a prosecutor whose case was being made by unreliable witnesses against someone who had basically not behaved in an unreasonable way and had been provoked then they could have acquitted.

  59. Thank you for reminding us that good people can end up sucked in on both sides by an authoritarian mindset, as perpretrators as well as victims. After the ugliness, it’s often inviting, and quite possibly comforting, to tell ourselves that the perpetrators had to be depraved monsters who willfully, even gleefully, oppressed people they knew to be innocent. But careful study of documentary evidence (as well as psychological work such as the Milgram experiment and the Stanford prison experiment) shows that for the most part they weren’t psychopaths or sadists, but people who genuinely believed that they were faithfully executing their duties as government officials, and that there really was a serious threat to their society — even if they will admit that they got the wrong people by mistake. And as J. Arch Getty and Oleg Naumov repeatedly warn in both The Road to Terror and Yezhov: The Rise of Stalin’s Iron Fist, telling ourselves fairy tales about such terrible events doesn’t enable us to understand the mechanisms by which they happened or give us the tools by which to prevent future recurrences.

    Will we hear the wakeup call in time?

  60. Having the balls to peacefully question authority was his offense. AKA contempt of cop. What a travesty.

  61. First I see that this isn’t the first time apparently Peter has had a problem with authority.
    Second the world isn’t necessarily a friendly place. Today the days of travel without any restrictions are over.
    I recently returned from India… the customs officer at Chicagos O’Hare International wasn’t there to be my friend…he was there to expedite a lot of peoples entry into the USA, and to do that as carefully as he could.
    All that’s needed is for someone to create a disturbance and distract the officer from making an informed decision as to whether or not I present a threat.
    Because of the bombing in Pune the day before I left India we were searched twice and explosives swabbed once before boarding the plane. I didn’t hear a single complaint about why we had to spend an additional hour and a half just to get on an airplane.
    If Peter thinks that he has the right to emotionally hold the rest of the people in line behind him hostage {because be sure of this…the line he was in stopped until he was removed} He needs to go to Indira Ghandi airport in Delhi and “demand his rights” to question anything. Those Indian military officers likely would have clearly explained the “rules” to him.

  62. I blame the jury. They knew what they were doing was not justice.

    It’s a real world example of the Milgram Experiment.

  63. My heart goes out to Mr. Watts and his family. Legal or illegal, his alleged behavior certainly does not sound like a problem that needs jail time (or the stigma attached to “felon” status) to correct.

    Looking ahead, if the evidence is as one sided as I am led to believe by the discussion here (i.e.,Mr. Watts simply and nonthreateningly refused to obey a lawful order to remain in his car, and nothing more)then his case may have a chance on appeal based on the sufficiency of the evidence. And if the law under which he was convicted makes it a crime simply to “refuse to follow lawful commands” he may have a challenge to the agents’ actions on constitutional grounds,under the authority of cases like Brown v. Texas, 443 U.S. 47 (1979), and Kolender v. Lawson, 461 U.S. 352, 362 (1983), as an unlawful seizure of person. I forsee, as a general matter, that the problem with an appeal on fourth amendment grounds will be: 1). that law enforcment has an important interest (security) in demanding that people remain in their automobiles during border searches, and 2). the Supreme Court has sometimes limited due process protections in border cases under the so-called “plenary power doctrine” that governs much of immigration law, see Zadvydas v. Davis, 533 U.S. 678, 693 (2001);Wong Wing v. United States, 163 U.S. 228 (1896).

    But please, enough of this nonsense about the United Police States. The comparison to China, Myanmar, Saudi Arabia, Oceania, Nazi Germany, and whatever the hell else, are insulting and poorly informed. Mr. Watts has access to an attorney, a neutral judicial decisionmaker, the right to trial by jury, appeal, habeas corpus review, proportionate sentencing. Those are only the procedural protections that we afford criminal defendants. We in the United States have devoted more time and effort than any country on the planet to resolving the issue of an individual’s right say “no” to the police, and the underlying questions of liberty vs. security.

  64. If Peter thinks that he has the right to emotionally hold the rest of the people in line behind him hostage

    I hate it when I’m mildly inconvenienced by someone being assaulted in front of me.

    1. You know what they say – one man’s mild inconvenience is another man’s emotional hostage situation.

      But really – “emotionally hold the rest of the people in line behind him hostage”? This happens every time I stop at a store. Should the authorities start assaulting every one who wastes my time while they buy scratch tickets?

  65. Crossing back from Canada into Maine brought me face to face with a border officer who’d clearly had Advanced Asshole training, he was so good at it. I was embarrassed in front of my Aussie wife, and I literally wanted to go back and give him a piece of my mind. What stopped me was the thought that his bosses probably want him to act that way, and that he was just a small cog in a larger system of hostility. He was like a mindless Doberman with ears flat and teeth out. The sad thing is that the system probably reaches to the courts, and a regular person, caught in that system’s crosshairs, is going to get punished while the courts and the cops all put their palms up and shrug.

    1. Well, hate to break it to you, but the Canadian BP isn’t exactly a bunch of nice old ladies passing out candy.

      Google it. You’ll see exactly what i am talking about. Their border agents are notorious, especially in border states like the one I live in.

  66. Cory you hit this on the head, out of the ballpark, thank you.

    “This isn’t about safety, it isn’t about security, it isn’t about the rule of law.

    It’s about obedience.”

  67. This is all jumping the gun – the judge can turn around and say, “well, shit, the law was broken, too bad”… unless it is written that there is mandatory sentencing. Which would make this a great example as to why mandatory sentencing is a really, really bad idea.

    I suggest everyone go and read the Juror’s comments at the update link, they ad a lot of clarity to the very emotive post from Cory.

    The law was broken. It is a stupid law. The Juror’s probably did the right thing, and shouldn’t be disparaged.

    Making this a great example of just because it is illegal, doesn’t make it wrong, immoral etc etc. People seem to understand that less and less, though.

  68. The fall of the Soviet Union has left the West without a clear measure of human rights. In the Cold War it was easy to say they denied human rights and the West up held them.
    Now there is a grey area whereby the West creaps towards the old Soviet model in a number of ways. During the Cold War, detention without trial, house arrest and torture was that of the East, so we believed. Now we find many of these aspects in the West and one of the most depressing is the fear of arbitary authority. We have to be careful.

  69. I do not fault the jurors from deciding what the “facts” were and applying the law to them as set forth in the jury instructions given to them by the judge. In fact, the jurors who are selected to serve on the jury swear an oath to do that. Mr. Watts’ sentencing will depend on the exact charge Mr. Watts was convicted of and the application of federal sentencing guidelines. Fortunately, in most federal circuits, federal judges are given substantial leeway in deviating from those guidelines.

    Assuming no legal error during the trial permitting an appellate court to grant a new trial, Mr. Watts’ interests may be better served by his seeking a presidential pardon (which can be encouraged and supported by grass roots support).

  70. If anybody has any reasonable questions to ask, I will answer to the best of my ability. I will not, however, respond to hostile individuals.

    1. Proudinjun, I respect your willingness to expose yourself on the internet about the difficult decision you had to make. Few who haven’t been in the juror’s room know how conscientiously the typical juror works in arriving at his verdict. As it happens, I’m in the camp that feels that the jury should have returned a “not guilty” verdict, regardless of the letter of the law. But I’m not going to get on your case about it. The decision was made, and there’s nothing to be done about it now.

  71. @proudinjun, honest curiosity, if you felt so strongly that Mr. Watts was not guilty, why did you return a guilty verdict?

    1. I don’t feel that Mr. Watts is innocent. As the statute is written, he is guilty. I have a problem with the way the statute is written. Do I feel, in my heart, that he is a felon? NO. I would prefer that this is a misdemeanor charge. Unfortunately, it’s not.

  72. I do have a legal question: is it considered routine for US border guards to search an individual *exiting* the US?

    It’s understood that routine border inspections (as defined by reasonable searches of travellers entering the country for the purposes of public security) are exempt from 4th amendment stipulations regarding unwarranted search and seizure, but does a traveller exiting the country imply a security risk to the country being exited? How was the justification for a search established? (ie. as I if it was not considered routine, didn’t officers did have the obligation to justify the search, and thus Dr. Watts would have been justified in questioning that search?).

    At any rate, All this is extremely disturbing, and my best wishes go out to Dr. Watts and family.

  73. It’s my understanding (keep in mind that I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, an expert on this) that the mission of the U.S. Customs is to regulate the traffic of goods and people in and out of the United States. Testimony was given by all of the officers on the stand that this was a regular occurrence,and the defense never disputed that mission. My research AFTER the trial was that this is a recent tactic that was first started in Arizona a short time ago. Officers testified that they’ve been doing it for years. As a jury, we dismissed almost all of the Customs Officers’ testimony due to too much conflicting testimony on their part. In other words, they couldn’t get their stories straight.

  74. I am confused by all this talk about the principles of the Founding Fathers and the beacon of freedom in the Cold War: did it really look that way from ALL sections of society?

    Face the truth: nobody who mattered gave a damn’ when black people were beaten up on the street: their rights, their dignity, and even their lives were of no account to the pale doughy masses of Middle America – not then, not now, and perhaps not ever: I have yet to be convinced that a belief in the equality of man has taken root outside a narrow intelligencia in the coastal cities.

    When the spluttering has stopped and your blood pressure goes down a bit, go and ask a ‘birther’ – they outnumber bloggers and the tiny, tiny minority of college-educated citizens with an interest in news outside the self-centred and self-censored mainstream media.

    What we all failed to realise – bloggers and intelligentsia, suburbanites, trailer trash and all – was that white middle-Americans are closer to being colour-blind than we knew, and closer than they ever realised themselves. We’ve learnt today that if the authorities stop a white man’s car, swagger up and make a show of demanding his obedience, and beat the crap out of him for being uppity – or for no reason at all, because they can – it doesn’t matter to other white people.

    How’s that for colour-blindness?

    If the goons in uniform enjoy the collaboration of the police and the courts in perjuring their way through a tissue of lies – so casual and inept that it is surely an expression of contempt for justice and an utterly convincing demonstration of their belief in privileged impunity – then why should anybody mind?

    If the press ignore it – and they have indeed, just try googling for the case and see how pitifully-few hits you get in the mass media – it seems self-evident that white men being beaten up is no more news than black men being beaten up has ever been. It does not matter to anyone who matters: not to anybody of substance, influence and power; and not to any body of citizens who might matter by sheer force of numbers.

    And you can all consider this: however hard we all protest, and point to honourable exceptions to the “whites don’t care” canard, there’s no shortage of contemporary cases of brutality against the black man left uninvestigated and unpunished. Why should it be different for white men?

    Sit down and think it over, and realise that it was never about race, for all too many cops and goons and thugs; it was all about the opportunity to dominate, to swagger, and commit an act of violence without the fear of retribution. The Brave men of the TSA are little different to the billy-club wielding Bulls of the Deep South, or to the rabble of the Klan: it’s just that the TSA have realised that real people are perfectly legal game, too, and that the Police and the courts and the jury and the press are on-side.

    Keep thinking: the latter-day TSA sound a lot like the mixture of swagger and cowardice that ruled the schoolyard in our formative years: bullies acting in the certainty that they will face no consequences – and bullies must stamp down, hard, on anyone who questions their authority. But if they were cowardly, what of their subjects? And what of those whom bullies left alone, unsure if they could really risk the fight? We’ve all learned from an early age that evil offers three easy choices – gleeful participation, submission in suffering, or silent acquiescence; and we learn nothing truly new in studying the TSA.

    What we didn’t really need to learn is that cowardice and comfort in injustice turns out to be colour-blind, and it is demonstrably true that a selection of twelve just men, upright citizens and peers of the accused, will not only walk on by, or acquiesce, but will actively collaborate in beating, framing and convicting citizens of *any* race and colour and creed and background.

    So why shouldn’t the United States end up with a Security Apparatus of TSA (or Feds, or Police, or private security, or local militia) like the hated, violent and venal ‘cops’ in Lagos? Sit down and list the reasons why you think it couldn’t happen, then ask yourselves: do any of these reasons actually stack up as an effective defence of your freedoms when these ‘reasons’ didn’t protect Peter Watts?

    A final question: is there any way of knowing just how many people have been beaten by the TSA? You don’t know, I don’t know, and no-one has the means of finding out: would anybody care to bet a Dollar that the TSA could spend all day beating up a line of blameless joes – just like you and me and Peter Watts – outside the offices of CNN, Fox News and every paper published in Washington and New York, and the only place ‘reporting’ it would be a tiny corner of the blogosphere.

  75. This is what happens when people forget our values (people can become very stupid). Our public services need to ram our values down the throats of its employees 24 hours and day 7 days a week.

    Empathy and gook luck from here in the UK, and may the public services reform.

  76. Gotta say the Canadian BP are distilled asshole as well….had a 2-week trip cancelled when the BP agent didn’t like the tie-dyed shirt my 3-year old had on…said it was drug-related and wouldn’t let us in (we were driving a new Volvo and dressed well, with otherwise conservative yuppie looks). Turned around and spent a great vacation in New York and never spent another dime in Canada and never will.

    That said, this story is insane…. and typical of the new Gitmo-nation ethos that is taking over the whole western world…google dvorak and curry to see how bad it’s getting.

  77. What happened to Dr Watts is horrible and I truly feel for him. I hope Dr Watts wins his appeal or barring that, that the judge recognizes the injustice in the situation and decides to throw out the conviction, or at the very least, minimize any sentence given. I also hope that regardless of what’s occurring publicly that Customs and Border Patrol is performing an internal review and that there are consequences for the border agent.

    With that said the CBP process almost 425 million pedestrians and passengers every year through Canadian and Mexican borders. Their sister agency in Canada, the Canada Border Services Agency states they process almost 100 million pedestrians and passengers annually. I have to assume that the US border agents process a similar number.

    The border agents for the CBP are required to perform random checks. They are checking for drugs, missing children, stolen and counterfeit goods, weapons, criminals, contraband, etc, and by doing these checks, they hope to dissuade people from actual illicit behavior. This is what it sounds like happened to Dr Watts. He was targeted for a random check and things went terribly wrong for him.

    But there are very few incidents of this nature at the border, especially considering the large number of people processed. Like all of you, I’d prefer that there were zero incidents affecting innocent people. Unfortunately, that’s not the reality of the world and horrible, sad incidents like this happen. You just have to hope that in the long term that justice prevails and the correct people are punished. This is why we have a legal system that allows appeals and allows judges to minimize sentencing.

    This isn’t a conspiracy. This isn’t an indication of totalitarianism in the American government. We aren’t worse than Saudi Arabia, Myanmar, or China. This is one person – the border agent. – who has let his authority go to his head. Believe it or not, law enforcement agencies in the US try and filter out the unstable and violent individuals who apply and are the most likely to “enjoy” their authority. Unfortunately, it’s often very difficult to know who these individuals will be.

    Focus your ire on this individual border patrol agent. Hope that he gets his comeuppance and that if this is a standard behavior for him that he loses his job, or at the very least has to ride a desk for the rest of his Border Patrol career.

    I’m not saying there aren’t problems within the system and that things don’t need to change, but let’s not get carried away with the declarations that this is an American dictatorship. This type of rhetoric doesn’t help anything. It’s just as bad and misplaced as the rants that the current administration is ushering in a socialist/fascist new order.

    And if you truly think the problem is with the system, write! Not here! Write your senator and congressmen and let them know that behavior like this is unacceptable for an employee paid by public dollars. If they hear from enough of us they will listen. Use this as an example of the problem. Just writing posts on here accomplishes nothing.

    We’ve changed our President. We can change the rest of the system too.

    My sympathies to Dr Watts and, once again, I hope justice prevails for him in the long run.

  78. Not only do trial judges fail to tell jurors they have a right to nullify law, they LIE to jurors and tell them that they MUST follow the law as the judge gives it to them. Many will specifically demand that prospective jurors declare under oath that they will follow the law rather than their own conscience.

    There is an organization called the Fully Informed Juries Association which has been fighting to get this information out for close to a quarter-century now. Judges like their power and won’t change their ways voluntarily. Legislators are afraid of being seen as “soft on crime” and won’t back up our common-law rights with statutory requirements.

    The only way to preserve this last, thin reed of justice in our system is for word to spread far and wide that, despite what our dissembling judges may assert, jurors do have the right to judge the law and its application, as well as the facts, and refuse to convict if doing so creates and injustice.

  79. The sheeple have spoken. It is not a question of right or wrong, but following the orders (including jurists). I wonder what the punishment is for thinking, and just maybe resisting? Is there a punishment for not finding someone guilty – whatever the grounds?


  80. This is one to fight. I hope someone has energy to lead a response and make this a hill to fight on. It should be front page of NYT and WSJ and, most importantly, the Globe and Mail (which is Canada’s NYT and WSJ together). We are straying too close to a world where petty (petty) bureaucrats have far too much control. I am happy to be a secondary player and happy to contribute to a response. My need some active libertarian to turn this bloody.

  81. I was beginning to feel bad about being a US citizen again until I suddenly remembered that hundreds of thousands of Americans are denied access to Canada because of simple misdemeanors. Since Sept 2001 the Canadian customs agents have access to every American’s rap sheet. Even a petty charge from 20 years ago can stop you cold at the Canadian border. From what I have read, US customs will not turn away Canadian visitors for similar infractions.

  82. Cory, you seem to confuse the law and justice. Justice is not a joke – it is one of the few things actually worth fighting for. The law however; well, “the law is a [sic] ass”.

  83. “so we had to follow the instructions as set forth to us by the judge.”

    Two words: “Jury nullification”

    If I think a law is unjust, I don’t care if the plaintiff violated it. I won’t vote to convict.

    When I have been questioned in court concerning being a prospective juror, I tell them, truthfully, that I have great difficulty sitting in judgment of another person. Either the prosecution or the defense challenges my selection, and I am excused.

  84. “We aren’t worse than Saudi Arabia, Myanmar, or China.”

    ….But you’re just as bad

    (I got “violations” as one of the security words when posting this ;)

  85. Jury nullification exists under another name here “Not One More.” And I’ve had a friend be a juror foreman twice, run into it. Each case, the guy was guilty of horrible crimes against the very people, “not one more” purports to protect. I understand the rage, but it seems in extreme to not be a good idea …

  86. I’ve been stopped while crossing the border from Windsor into Detroit and had the car I was driving searched. I and some friends were on our way to a Formula 1 Grand Prix in Indianapolis, the boarder guard at the booth said that there was a big race on that weekend in Michigan (Nascar, I think.), but we had no idea about that. The booth guard continued by going through the laundry list of restricted items we’re not allowed to bring into the United States, fruits and vegetables, alcohol, etcetera and quickly followed with the question, “Have you ever been refused?” At first I wasn’t quite sure what she meant, and before I could answer, my friend in the passenger seat beside me blurted out nervously, “Refused what!?” She replied, “Crossing the boarder, sir.” I said no, and she put a sticker on our windshield and asked us to pull into the station. We were asked to exit the vehicle and step inside the office, leaving the keys on the front seat. They took our identification and, I assume, proceeded to search our vehicle. I was too busy watching the guards with our identification to see what was going on with the vehicle. The boarder guards finished their job and we were sternly asked to continue on our way. These people have no idea who you are or what your intent may be, other than what you tell them. It’s unfortunate what happened to Peter Watts. They will exercise their powers if they are uncertain what you are telling them is the truth and the potential for them to overreact is very real. If you’re not guilty of anything, comply and you can be on your merry way. If they find out the size of your underwear, so be it. However, does being curious about the reason for being stopped warrant the response Peter Watts received? I hardly think so. Could the situation have been easily diffused by a reasonable, carefully worded response from one of the guards intent on searching his vehicle? Quite possibly. As much as boarder guards are trained to respond to physically threatening situations with a show of force, necessarily they should also be trained to identify less threatening situations and to respond appropriately. This assumes of course, that the type of people employed as boarder guards are individuals capable of making these discriminations, Mr. Beaudry does not appear to be one of those. I hope Peter Watts comes out ahead in this and boarder officials get the face slaps they deserve.

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