The end of December is typically the time for year-end lists, best-of lists, and predictions for the year ahead. This post is the latter — it’s an indication of where I think civil liberties are headed in 2018.
These predictions are admittedly cynical — perhaps even a bit far-fetched or paranoid. But there’s some value in contemplating how bad things could get if we aren’t vigilant.
So, let’s get to it. Here are my predictions:
- Staying ever-alert in the war on drugs, Congress will attempt to ban drugs that don’t yet exist.
- Taking police indemnity to new extremes, a federal appeals court will rule that a police officer who shoots into a car full of people cannot be sued because he didn’t actually hit anyone. On second thought, let’s make it even worse. Let’s call it a van, and let’s fill it with children.
- The Pentagon’s 1033 program, which gives surplus military equipment to police agencies — has long been accused of giving inappropriate weapons and gear willy-nilly. Next year, the program will level up, and give weapons and gear to a policy agency that doesn’t exist.
- Deputies caught lying on the witness stand will finally drop the charade and claim they were “unaware they were required to testify honestly.”
- A man will spend 30 days in jail for possession of drywall.
- In response to complaints about keeping inmates in solitary confinement, the Bureau of Prisons will respond that this isn’t the case — not because inmates aren’t being held in isolation, but because the agency “does not recognize the term solitary confinement.”
- The Jeff Sessions Justice Department will ignore the small mountain of evidence showing that municipal courts prey on the poor, and rescind an Obama-era opinion advising those courts to go easy on impoverished people charged with petty crimes.
- The GOP Congress will introduce a bill making it nearly impossible to sue police officers, even in cases of egregious misconduct.
- Not to be outdone, some state legislature will hit the poor even harder, passing a bill that essentially blocks state judges from giving poor defendants a break in especially difficult cases.
- Hmm. What else can we do to poor people? Here’s an idea: Some government housing agency will invite local police to practice their drug searches on residents of a public housing complex.
- Not enough? Let’s also predict that some judge will prohibit a low-income mom from seeing her newborn baby because of unpaid fines related to misdemeanors.
- Ah, the hell with it. Let’s just predict that it will become a crime to feed the homeless.
- A federal appeals court will continue to shield forensic misconduct from accountability, ruling that even when forensic experts engage in grossly negligent misconduct that sends an innocent person to prison — or even to death row — those experts can’t be sued by the people they harmed.
- It’s hard to concoct a scenario of a police officer getting off for a shooting despite damning video evidence that’s worse than what we’ve already seen. But let’s give it a try: In the most open-and-shut video yet, body camera footage will show a police officer executing a clearly unarmed man, despite the footage showing the man to be fully complying with police instructions. For good measure, let’s say the video will also show the man pleading for his life, and begging the officer not to shoot him. The officer will shot the man anyway. And the officer will walk.
- Despite the massive pile of evidence showing that bite mark evidence is unreliable and unscientific, a judge will once again allow it into evidence in a murder trial.
- The federal government will try to make it a crime merely to be near someone who is rioting or looting during a protest.
- Just to make things interesting: To prosecute this new crime, federal prosecutors will use footage shot by notorious right-wing propagandist James O’Keefe.
- Rather than protect a suspect’s right to an attorney, a state supreme court will rule that when a suspect asked for a “lawyer, dog,” a reasonable person might have thought the suspect was asking for a Rottweiler with a law degree.
- The Justice Department will make the Kafkaesque argument that people who have received illegally long sentences should not be allowed to challenge those sentences in court.
- Again, not to be outdone, conservative state legislatures will pass laws aimed at criminalizing protest.
- Okay, maybe that’s not outrageous enough. How about this: State legislatures will pass laws to indemnify people who run over protesters with their cars.
- The drug war is always good for some new outrages. Here’s a prediction: Some crazy county sheriff will conduct a pat-down search of every single student of a local high school. For good measure, let’s say that some of the deputies will also grope and sexually assault some of the students. Oh, and let’s include this twist: Let’s say the sheriff’s son will also be arrested for drug possession.
- Not outrageous enough? Fine. I’ll also predict we’ll learn that some police departments routinely catheterize drug suspects without those suspects’ consent. We’ll learn that some police agencies even do this to children. We’ll also see cops performing roadside searches of women’s vaginas.
- As the death penalty wanes, its most ardent supporters will only grow more determined. I predict one state will try to execute five people in 10 days. No. Let’s make it worse. Let’s say eight people in 10 days.
- The president of the United States will encourage police brutality. Just to make things interesting, let’s also have him do it while addressing a police agency that’s actually in the midst of a scandal about police brutality and coverup.
- A police union official will actually attack the people who fight to exonerate the wrongly convicted as greedy, and say it’s ludicrous to think police would ever frame an innocent person. This will happen in the same city where there’s a history of police torturing innocent people until they confess, where the city actually incentivizes cops to wrongly arrest people for low-level crimes, and where, even as the union official made those comments, one cop stands accused of framing more than 50 people.
- Some people will write to the White House to express concern that a new government program may expose their personal information. The White House will respond by publishing their personal information.
- Somehow, a nationally-known sheriff who is good friends with the president will find a way to have taxpayers subsidize his legal defense — a perk regular people would never get.
- In one of the states that relies on traffic fines to fund public defenders, prosecutors and cops will concoct a devious scheme: They’ll give motorists a discount if they write checks directly to DA’s offices, thus robbing public defenders of revenue.
- Some state legislature will look at the story of an innocent man wrongly convicted, sentenced to death, and imprisoned for 30 years, and conclude that the lesson here is not that the system needs reform, or that the wrongly convicted should be compensated, but that they need to be executing people more quickly.
- Police unions will up their game, begin urging supporters to harass businesses owned by people who criticize law enforcement.
- Police unions will also counter charges of racial bias with some preposterous attempt to turn the tables. This prediction is a little out there, and I suspect I’ll feel silly about it later. But I predict some police union will suggest that criticism of the police is just as bad as racism. I predict they’ll even come up with a really dumb and offensive term for it. Let’s go with “blue racism.”
- A prosecutor will bring charges against a mother because of crimes committed by her children.
- A judge will rule than an innocent man who lost his spleen after he was shot during a botched drug raid has only himself to blame for his injuries. This is because when the police broke in and woke him, the startled, completely innocent man made a slight gesture in the direction of the raiding officers.
- The problem with how the Justice Department handles police officers accused of crimes isn’t that the officers are treated fairly and humanely, it’s that few others get the same sort of treatment. Let’s make a prediction that takes this to some crazy extreme: A police officer charged with murder for shooting a 6-year-old will somehow be able to take a vacation to the Virgin Islands while awaiting trial.
- A police officer will violently tackle an innocent man after mistaking him for a robbery suspect, then sue the innocent man he tackled for complaining.
- Let’s take that concept a step farther: Another cop will shoot and kill a teenager, and also mistakenly shoot and kill a neighbor of that teenager. The cop will then sue the dead teenager’s family for emotional distress.
- A district attorney in a large city will issue a bunch of fake subpoenas . . . and then claim there’s nothing wrong with sending fake subpoenas.
- A sheriff will rail against criminal justice reform because he needs inmates around to wash his car.
- Playing to stereotype, New York City will tackle the urgent problems of . . . hmm . . . what’s the most ridiculous thing the city could crack down on? I’ll go with unlicensed dog sitters and delivery guys who use electric bikes.
- Police responding to a protest will mistakenly arrest one of their own undercover cops. They will then claim that their colleague had it coming because he was resisting.
- A cop will unjustly shoot an unarmed man, then suffer a panic attack. The unarmed man will then be arrested on the theory that by getting shot, he induced the cop’s panic attack.
- A state legislature will vote to allow guns into a government building, but will ban signs held by protesters, declaring them a “serious safety hazard.”
You’ve all probably figured it out by now, but these aren’t predictions at all. These are all stories that took place in 2017. So. Happy New Year!
The Watch will be back on Tuesday, prepped for another year of madness.