A Federal Program Libertarians Can Love


Overshadowed by all the election hoo-ha, a new $1 billion federal program giving people convicted of crimes greater access to post-conviction DNA testing has become law. As noted by the Associated Press:

"In recent years, 111 people in 25 states have been released after spending years on death row for crimes they did not commit. Testing also has led to more than 50 convictions of the real perpetrators."

As I asked some years ago, "If the government is not about rendering justice, what is it about?"

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  1. Help me out here. What would be the problem with taking DNA samples from EVERY convicted felon and sorting them into a database. This could be made available to the public and law enforcement. If they are later exonerated, take it out.

  2. There is a Laffer Curve for justice.
    100 percent precision produces zero justice from society’s point of view.
    Better to spend LESS money on COPS since they contribute to justice that is too precise.

  3. The main problem I see with forcing ‘felons’ to give up DNA samples, like F.F.F. up there suggests, is that the definition of felony is constantly expanding, mainly in order to punish people for more crimes by bumping formerly misdemeanor, or minor crimes up into a much more serious criminal justice system. It’s also the problem I have saying that ‘felons’ should never be able to vote again. If there was a reform of that system, then voting prohibitions might be easier to swallow (from that standpoint). I still don’t know about forcing self-incrimination by DNA tests tho.

  4. Well, CA Prop 69 pretty much does that. Opponents argued, convinvingly IMHO, that it is very difficult to get that info out of the database no matter what.

  5. I am listening to a talk about raising the gas tax to send a “signal” to the population and thus make driving less attractive.

  6. I am listening to a talk about raising the gas tax to send a “signal” to the population and thus make driving less attractive.

    A “signal?” Is that like a warning shot?

  7. db,

    I guess so. I wanted to ask the woman why she just won’t leave the issue up to the markets (she was bitching about the need for a higher gas tax to counter “subsidies” that promote car ownership), but I knew that I’d get heckled and get stern looks, and I knew the answer would be: “Global Warming! Sprawl Is Evil! Blah. Blah. Blah.”

  8. I see DNA as just the next generation of fingerprinting. It has the same disadvantages (privacy and evidence tampering), with obviously greater advantages.

    Therefore, I see no problem with taking DNA anytime you would otherwise take fingerprints, with the caveat that more care should be taken to protect the confidentiality of both.

    As for the 5th Amendment … does fingerprinting count as “self-incrimination”?

  9. CodeMonkeySteve,

    Fingerprinting is undergoing more and more scrutiny these days, and the more I learn about it, the more it likes the sort of “science” that feng shui claims to be.

  10. Government is not about dispensing justice. It is about dispensing the appearance of justice. If a man is released from prison for a crime he did not commit, then that crime is now unsolved. Worse, an injustice has been confessed to, which detracts from the total amount of justice dispensed.

    Thus, prosecutors fight tooth and nail to prevent DNA tests of convicted felons. There is no upside for them: they can only be embarrassed by the result. And this holds true for government overall. The “consumer” of government doesn’t really know very much about justice, except that every crime must have a perpetrator, and all perpetrators belong in jail. If a perpetrator isn’t in jail for a particular crime, then the government isn’t doing its job.

    In light of that, we should be thankful they ever let anyone out of jail at all, for any reason, or that they ever fail to find a suspect for a particular crime. From the point of view of the average prosecutor, grabbing someone at random and shoving him in jail is just as likely to lead to a successful senate run as actually finding the guilty party. Why should they knock themselves out?

  11. James,
    You’re onto something!
    Commenters wanting “justice” should reread “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson, or read accounts of how Julius Caesar decimated his troops when they fucked up trying to slaughter my ancestors, the Gauls.

  12. The problem I see with DNA sampling is the same problem I have with making your hospital records open for scrutiny by health insurance. That is a clear invasion of privacy for the purpose of increasing health insurance premiums for certain health problems.

    What’s to say something shows up in your DNA that makes you a greater risk for heart disease, breast cancer, etc. and incidentally revealed in a court case which is public record?

    The point made by CodeMonkey that greater care should be taken is CRUCIAL.

    I’m not advocating no DNA sample collections. I’m just making you aware of something
    that hasn’t been addressed yet in this forum.

    (I’m noticing a trend…)

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