By Seth Richardson
In a stunning departure from the lock-step march towards oppressive government nanny-state tactics, Denver County Court judge Andre Rudolph gave a wrist-slap to Joseph Lightfoot, who had been charged with felony child abuse for growing medical marijuana in his home. Denver police arrested Lightfoot after a nosy neighbor turned him in for arguing with his wife, which triggered an invasion of their home by police concerned about domestic violence.
During a search predicated on a “strong odor of marijuana,” police found a medical marijuana growing operation in the basement and arrested Lightfoot and his wife, Amber Wildstein because police had “numerous concerns” with the safety of their three children. Police and prosecutors alleged that there was no lock on the basement door and found small amounts of processed pot in the house. They also alleged that the growing operation endangered the children because of unspecified “chemicals,” “ventilation problems” and the potential that robbers might invade the home to steal the pot.
Legal scholar and former prosecutor Kris Miccio, of the University of Denver law school is quoted in the Denver Post front-page article as saying of the police allegations, “If a police officer brought that into my office, I would have thrown him out and called his supervisor. It’s crazy. It opens the door to anything.”
Miccio is right. If the police can arrest you on felony child-abuse charges based on potential safety hazards in your home, there is not only no end to the intrusions the police can make into your private home, but no one with children is safe from being arrested on the whims and caprices of a police officer who thinks that your home is “unsafe” for your children.
This is a standardless misinterpretation of a statute that was passed explicitly to protect children from the known and unavoidable hazards of meth-cooking operations to children living in a home-based meth lab.
But the rationale doesn’t apply to less obvious and documented risks. If it does, here are some of the felony crimes parents must avoid:
Handrail on the stairs missing or in poor repair? Felony child abuse.
Wet spot on the kitchen floor that might cause a slip-and-fall? Felony child abuse.
Bleach left out on the washer? Felony child abuse.
Kid riding his bike without a safety helmet? Already a nanny-state crime, but under this interpretation it’s felony child abuse.
Liquor left in an unlocked cabinet? Felony child abuse.
Have nice, expensive silver collection in your house? Might attract robbers, so felony child abuse.
And of course the quintessential nanny-state justification for police abuse: Guns in the home. Felony child abuse.
The list goes on and on of the felony crimes we all face regarding children if police and prosecutors are given such wide discretion by the courts. Thank God that Judge Rudolph did what he could to slap down the prosecution in this case. Unfortunately, he didn’t simply declare Lightfoot not guilty notwithstanding his plea.
Lightfoot pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor child-abuse charges in order to avoid a felony rap-sheet entry, which is a typical plea bargain that innocent people accept when the prosecutor is determined to nail them for something.
Poor people are very often subjected to this Hobson’s choice quite deliberately by the prosecutor, who commonly stack and overcharge, precisely because prosecutors know that poor defendants can’t afford attorneys to vindicate them, and the Public Defender’s office is overworked and understaffed and has little interest in actually pursuing justice for innocent victims of police abuse and nanny-state oppression since they get paid by the very system they are supposed to be fighting for their clients.
And defendants like Lightfoot are the very real victims of such prosecutorial abuse of discretion.
Child abuse laws are necessary, but they are supposed to be applied rationally, when children are actually abused or harmed, or if there is a clear and present danger of injury that is being ignored by an adult. They are not intended to empower nanny-statism or police oppression through standardless, ad hoc discretionary decision-making by police and prosecutors.
It’s a violation of our civil rights when the police and prosecutors execute laws without regard to reason or objective standards of behavior that competent adults of sound mind can be expected to know and understand. When the police have unfettered discretion to declare anything a hazard to children and arrest parents and guardians because it suits the police to do so, we are all in danger of police-state tyranny.
If police and prosecutors cannot be trusted to faithfully execute their duties using reason, prudence and respect for our civil rights, then they need to be turned out of office because they are not fit to serve us.
On the other hand, some prosecutors are rational, reasonable people who understand the limits of their authority.
Such is the case with Arapahoe District Attorney Carol Chambers, who reviewed the case of Denver County Court Judge Mary Celeste, who was under investigation for child abuse for leaving her six-year-old granddaughter in her car while she went shopping at Sam’s Club.
Chambers told the Denver Police that “the conduct involved does not rise to the level of a state criminal law violation” according to the Denver Post story on page 2B.
Good call, Ms. Chambers. Thanks for not pandering to the nanny-state nitwits.
The notion that a six year old girl is at risk while sitting in a car in a parking lot, even on a hot day, is ludicrous and laughable, unless she’s somehow disabled and incapable of opening the doors or windows of the car, which was not alleged.
Leaving a helpless infant unattended in a car on a hot day is a recipe for disaster, although not a guarantee of one by any stretch of the imagination, despite what nanny-state enthusiasts might say.
But a six-year-old? Please, use some common sense and reason, like DA Chambers did.
© 2011 Altnews