There is a difference between “want to” and taking the next step. That is particularly true when discussing legal concepts. “I’m gonna kick your ass, next time I see you.” I think everybody would agree that such a statement is inconsistent with the teaching of Miss Manners. But does it constitute an assault worthy of a criminal charge?
There are other factors that come into play. A threat, to be viable, must be imminent. As a threat, in an hour or so, or next week doesn’t make it. It has to be possible. Standing on opposite banks of a ragging river with no way to cross, precludes the physical assault promised in the shouted threat. Threatening a person with little green men or to rip a persons head off and shit in the hole, while colorful, does not pass the test of what is possible.
It didn’t happen often, but every once in a while I had to wonder about the intent of a law compared to its application. Take this case that spurred this blog entry. Cops stopped the idiot driver displaying a hand drawn inspection sticker on his car. They dabbed a bunch of tickets on his ass for unregistered motor vehicle, no inspection, and not stated but almost guaranteed no insurance.
I gotta give the cop credit. He either had a sense of shame or common sense and resisted the impulse to drop a felony on the clown. He missed forgery, tampering with a government record, or some other nefarious false swearing. I think the intent to deceive is a little weak.
In 2002 I found myself working surveillance on an investigation involving a Mexican smuggling operation. There was a wiretap. This means there was a large contingent of investigators to conduct surveillance. It was a mixed bag of DEA, FBI, SAPD, BCSO and AANTF agents.
I found myself working with an FBI agent. Prior to his assignment to the drug investigation he had been working in the newly created Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF).
His most notable case, while with JTTF involved the investigation, arrest and prosecution of three desperadoes who conspired to assassinate President George Bush. The three, all alcoholics and substance abusers were determined to poison the President. The leader of the group was a quadriplegic, confined to a wheel chair.
To accomplish their task they took the following steps. They downloaded from the Internet a recipe for making ricin. They ordered Castor beans and had them delivered. The more ambulatory of the group went out and gathered a bunch of mesquite thorns. Agents conducting a search of the premises found diagrams and dismantled “Bic” lighters. The intent, according to the diagram, was to modify the lighter to fire a mesquite thorn, dipped in ricin.
Clearly these guys had left the “want to” stage in the dust. The concept of mere preparation, a component to show a conspiracy, was but a memory. Our hero FBI agent obtained a conviction against the (what I call) the “Hapless Three.” The FBI agent got traded to the narcs for a future draft pick.
I pointed out to the FBI agent that the Apaches assessed their value as a warrior based on the enemies they confront. He seemed to understand the concept.
I used to tell suspects, on a regular basis, that they were lucky that there was no law against being stupid. Mostly it was true.
Galveston Narcotics Task Force had a logo with the slogan: “If They Weren’t So Fucking Stupid… We’d Never Catch Them.” Amen Brother.