By Sara Rimensnyder
On August 1, a U.S. District Court ordered the federal government to cut Massachusetts factory owner Jim Knott a $68,000 check-payback for the money he spent during his four-year legal tangle with the Environmental Protection Agency. Knott was entitled to the award under the Hyde Amendment, a three-year-old law allowing defendants found innocent of federal criminal charges to seek reimbursement of legal fees. To win, they've got to prove the government's case against them was "frivolous, vexatious, or in bad faith."
Not too difficult in Knott's case. In 1997, more than a dozen EPA agents armed with semiautomatic weapons stormed into his wire mesh plant in Orthbridge, acting on an anonymous tip that he was violating the Clean Water Act by sending highly acidic wastewater through the sewage system. He was indicted on that charge-until a federal prosecutor admitted that officials had concealed evidence that would have exonerated him. While preparing to seek Hyde compensation, Knott found evidence suggesting that agents not only concealed data but falsified pH tests in order to incriminate him.
Almost as troubling as the agency's guile is the fact that it didn't simply file a civil complaint against Knott; it wanted to throw him into the slammer. Of course, if it had taken the less severe route, Knott wouldn't have been eligible for a dime: The Hyde Amendment applies only to criminal cases.
Pulling the Tap
By Michael W. Lynch
The government's war on a good time has opened a new front in Ohio, where the state Liquor Control Commission decreed that as of August 9, 2000, persons planning to throw a party requiring five or more kegs of beer must register with the state five days in advance. To get permission to purchase the kegs, they have to disclose the party's address and grant a general right of entry to police, making a mockery of the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable search and seizure.
Julie Ehrhart, spokesperson for the Ohio Department of Public Safety, which requested the law, says the new regulations were needed because under the old rules it was up to the beer distributors to decide how many kegs to sell. What problem does this solve? "It's a proactive approach, not a reactive approach," she explains. "We'll know about parties that will be having multi-kegs. It'll give us a heads up. That is important because we need to monitor the liquor laws."
One would expect an outcry on campus. Yet Shane McClintock, a 21-year-old senior at Ohio University, is surprisingly blasé. "In theory, it's a good law," he says. Part of his nonchalance no doubt stems from the fact that kegs are already prohibited at the eight or so bashes a month that his fraternity, Delta Upsilon, helps throw. And it'll be easy to evade the rule by simply breaking up orders into four-keg allotments.
But like the Ohio chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which may challenge the law, McClintock draws the line at rolling out the red carpet for the cops. "They come into your house, and there could be a slew of things going on," he says. "People could be doing drugs, theoretically. Someone could get into a fight, and if the cops are there they could get arrested for assault."
Yes, there certainly is a downside to having cops hanging around.
By Brian Doherty
Last spring the United Nations accused the United States of violating provisions of the U.N. Convention Against Torture, which the U.S. ratified in 1994. According to a report from the U.N. Committee Against Torture, American police and prison guards have a record of discriminatory prisoner abuse, female prisoners are often raped by prison personnel, and public chain gangs are still in use. The committee is demanding, among other things, that torture be made a federal crime, that electroshock stun belts be banned, and that juveniles not be held in prisons with adult populations.