Abuse of official capacity

Are there any down sides — practical or ethical — for imposing greater punishments for misdeeds committed under the color of authority? For example, should rape while in police uniform carry a higher sentence than the same done by a private actor? The logic is that a regular rape or home invasion or theft would be resisted without fear of official retribution. The same would apply to crimes committed while impersonating cops or other officials — such as in case of home invasion.

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11 Responses to Abuse of official capacity

  1. T.Stahl says:

    I favour egality.
    Whether you attack a police officer, a soldier, a president, or just-a-citizen or just-a-tourist should carry the same punishment.
    And whether you are attacked by a police officer, a soldier, a president, or just-another-citizen or just-a-tourist should not limit your abilities to defend yourself.

  2. Some might suggest that it already codified under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

  3. Brian Bragg says:

    I can’t think of a single ethical downside of this. Personally, I’d love to see anyone who used publicly granted authority, be it cop, soldier or politician, to cover criminal behavior not only face far, far stiffer penalties, but also be permanently barred from ever holding office, being in the employ of someone who holds office, working as a lobbyist, or working for any government agency.

    From a practical stand point however, there is always the problem of the Blue Line. Cops already murder with near impunity, and unless a witness is standing there filming it, they almost always get away with it. Most times even if it is filmed, they get away with it. Any allegation of wrong doing simply causes them to close ranks. And how much more quickly will they close ranks as the severity of the punishment goes up? Also, would the Blue line problem spread to other groups, such as congress, if we did this?

  4. Frank Ch. Eigler says:

    There seems to be a parallel here to deemed sexual assault if consensual activity takes place but in a relationship coloured by a gross power disparity.

  5. staghounds says:

    Where you live, Tennessee Code 40-35-114 (14) makes one of the statutory factors for enhancing punishment for ANY crime that “The defendant abused a position of public or private trust, or used a professional license in a manner that significantly facilitated the commission or the fulfillment of the offense”.

    In addition, there are already several special crimes in your state that only public officials can commit. In addition to good old fashioned bribery, Tenn. Code sections:

    39-16-401. Definitions for public misconduct offenses.
    39-16-402. Official misconduct.
    39-16-403. Official oppression.
    39-16-404. Misuse of official information.
    39-16-405. Purchasing property sold through court.
    39-16-406. Suspension, removal and discharge from office.
    39-16-407. Misrepresenting information to state auditor.
    39-16-408. Sexual contact with inmates.
    39-16-409. Sexual contact with probationer or parolee.

    I believe you’ll find that most places have similar situations in their laws.

  6. Paul Koning says:

    There are federal laws like that too, such as 18 U.S. Code § 242 – Deprivation of rights under color of law. It’s not clear if they have ever been enforced, much less in recent decades. The reasons are obvious: the same people who do the violating are charged with the enforcing.

  7. Ray says:

    Why could it matter what the “law” on a book says when NO LEO or FLEA has been, or ever will be ,punished unless caught on camera grossly brutalizing an innocent , planting/fabricating evidence , or engaging in gross perjury. The police and Federals routinely falsify / plant / fabricate evidence , lie ,lie under oath, rape, murder, torture, steal and do it for the most part with impunity. So tell me; How will an unenforced and unenforceable law change the actions of the 99.999% of “law enforcers” that are jackbooted NAZI scum?

  8. The Infamous Oregon Lawhobbit says:

    Practical: Less incentive to leave victims alive?

  9. Braden Lynch says:

    Let’s start with no special favors for LEOs, like “police only” versions of firearms. If they can have so should I.

    Let’s move on to strong anti-retaliation whistle-blower protections and incentives to discover issues. Now here is a tricky one to consider to break collective amnesia…what about collective punishment for a department where there is evidence of wrong-doing if they refuse to roll over on an offender. Make it personal to them and enthusiasm to cover for the rotten apple might go away.

    Enhanced sentencing only makes sense so as to deter future abuses.

  10. Billc says:

    In general, the penalties may be the same between a citizen and a public official. However, sitting in a judicial role or that of a juror tasked with applying a sentence, my gut reaction is to give public officials the maximum sentence(s) allowed. This is based on the principle that a public official knows of and agrees to perform their job with regards to the public trust. With few exceptions, violating that trust is a choice they make for their own benefit at the expense of the public. Their actions may have an effect on only one person’s well being or literally thousands of citizens. They deserve to bear the burden of their actions.

    There may be, with some thoughtful debate, room in legal codes to add penalties for exceptionally egregious activities by public officials. Police who commit violent crimes or chronic thefts while arresting others for the same; Police who falsify their testimony, plant or destroy evidence or the like can do enormous damage. Likewise for judges, prosecutors and politicians and others who engage in major corruption. Conviction of such statutes should bar the convicted from ever holding any office of trust, public or private. It should also require forfeit of their benefits and pensions less any contributions they made.

  11. Paul Koning says:

    It is essential that public officials be penalized far more severely than others. The reason is that they have access to powers that the rest of us don’t have, and ensuring those power are not misused is a great good.
    For example, a bully is an annoyance, but a bully with the power of arrest is something far more serious.
    The problem with existing laws on this sort of thing is not just the fact that they are not actually enforced, but also that they are far too lenient. A few years in jail for abuse of power is all well and good, but a conviction for capital treason would be more appropriate and more effective.

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