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CSGV & VPC Standing Against Due Process Protections

Mens Rea is a basic component of common law. It suggests that for serious offenses, the state must prove that you had a “guilty mind.” In other words, you consciously chose to commit the illegal act. There are exceptions to this, usually for crimes which are not very serious. For instance, speeding is a strict liability offense. It doesn’t matter if you tell the officer you didn’t know you were speeding. But in serious cases, like felonies and high misdemeanors, prosecutors generally have to prove mens rea in addition to actus reus. So along comes our fascist friends at CSGV and VPC, what’s their advice on this important legal matter?

However, gun control advocates told the Star that it is difficult to prove a buyer’s intent to purchase a gun for a felon. “You don’t want to make a prosecutor prove someone’s state of mind,” said Ladd Everitt, a spokesman for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. “That’s almost impossible.”

“It’s extremely hard to prove [the straw buyer] lied about their intent when they bought the gun,” said Kristen Rand, a lobbyist for the Violence Policy Center, which seeks stricter regulation on firearm sales.

It may be a tall burden, but having to prove state of mind is a barrier prosecutors should have to climb in order to earn convictions for serious crimes. That’s part of our legal tradition when it comes to the rights of the accused. Perhaps the folks at CSGV and VPC should consider moving to a country where protections for the accused are considerably weaker, and gun laws are very strict. I’d suggest Russia, because if you believe things like this, you don’t belong in America.

12 Responses to “CSGV & VPC Standing Against Due Process Protections”

  1. To be fair, mens rea is rapidly eroding in many areas of criminal law.

    “Three Felonies a Day” (the book) was illuminating. All sorts of serious crimes no longer require mens rea.

    • Sebastian says:

      Yes, and I think that’s a travesty.

      • I agree, but it just means that the VPC/CSGV are a symptom of a broader problem.

        I don’t know how you turn this one back. The GOP has been conditioned to go to “TOUGH ON CRIME!” as response #1. On our issue, we’ve backed ourselves into the “law abiding” gun owner corner when in reality we should be saying “peaceable unless provoked” gun owner. And 99 people out of 100 will look at you like you’re a space alien if you say the words “jury nullification.”

      • Simon J. says:

        Definitely a travesty. However, it’s become the new big thing. Every time we’d move on to a new group of crimes in my criminal law class we’d discuss the evolution of the law on the topic and how strict liability was being introduced as a new standard because legislators wanted to be perceived as “tough on crime.”

        Very few seemed to have a problem with this development–only those with libertarian leanings. Liberals were right there with the neocons agreeing that this was a proper development. Also, as an interesting side note, everyone I know of who became a prosecutor was in the liberal camp.

  2. McThag says:

    We got that model penal code thing that basically reduces everything to “did you do it” whether you intended to or not.

  3. GMC70 says:

    It’s not as eroded as you think. Prosecutors have to prove state of mind routinely – every burglary has a state of mind element, and it’s not hard to prove. Jurors are simply told that a person can be found to intend the usual consequences of his voluntary acts. For a burglary, the elements are entering with the intent to do an act inside, usually steal something. If a person steals after entering, it’s not hard to conclude he entered with the intent to steal, especially if that person entered without any authority to do so.

    If the case of a straw purchaser, the State must prove that the purchaser purchased with the intent to illegally pass on to another. It’s not illegal to buy firearms as a gift, for example, as long as the intended recipient is qualified to possess firearms. It’s a fine line, but a burden the State carries, and should carry. If I pass firearms on to another without taking any care that the person I am passing to is a felon, or purchase with another’s money because they cannot purchase themselves, that’s a straw purchase. Intent may be easy – where did the money come from? Trace the money, and intent may follow it. Did Cross write a check to this alleged straw purchaser prior to the shooting? What was the amount of that check? When did the straw purchaser buy the weapons? How much time passed between the purchase and the illegal transfer. Ultimately, whether all of these facts add up to a straw purchase is a jury question, and it’s a continuum, not a hard fast line.

    In most cases, frankly, the knowing doing of the act is prima facia evidence of intent to do the act.

    • Ian Argent says:

      It’s pretty much destroyed in federal law, due to Congress reacting to caselaw from the federal court system. The only major exception I know about (IANAL) is the GCAs and FOPA, curiously enough – see Dave Hardy’s history of the subject.

  4. MrPickle says:

    Why bother proving intent anyway? They had rock-solid evidence that Colissimo’s (Remember that Philly gun shop on Spring Garden Street?) was selling guns to straw purchasers and they sat on it for YEARS before finally shutting them down. Probably 99% of shootings could be prevented just by keeping dangerous criminals in prison instead of parole or probation. There would be plenty of room for them in prison if they gave priority to non-violent offenders for parole/probation. Most of these shooters have a long history of violent crime and yet they still walk among us. THEY get the revolving door of justice while perfectly harmless people who have made technical violations of arbitrary firearms transport laws (Brian Aitken, for example) get sentenced for the better part of a decade!

    More of us need to get on Juries!!!

    • Simon J. says:

      Why bother proving intent? Because, when you have strict liability laws you get convictions like Brian Aitken’s.

    • The solution to that is making probation and parole a one-time lifetime deal. Violate probation or parole, and you do your whole stretch next time. The thughuggers would have a hard time with that.

      And you don’t have to be a thughugger to see how far we’ve come from the criminal law as in Blackstone’s Commentaries at around the time of the Founding, and to be distressed about it. Our host is right about mens rea, but I see no way to stuff the cat back in the bag.

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