Please turn on javascript in your browser to play chess.
Debates Forum

Debates Forum

  1. Standard member shavixmir
    Guppy poo
    11 Sep '09 13:19
    Nowadays you can’t rob a bank without your ugly mug being captured on CCTV and broadcast on fear-mongering crime programmes; hosted by rightious Christian presenters and viewed by millions of people who obviously don’t have a sex life worth mentioning.

    That being said, you can’t even walk down a street in Manchester without umpteen cameras following you around like eyes in a painting in a Scooby-Doo castle of horrors.

    I was once told that George Orwell’s 1984 was supposed to be a cynical look at communism. But we live in a capitalist society and it seems CCTV is accepted, Big Brother is celebrated as a commercial success and nobody seems to get the Room 101 joke on the BBC anymore.

    Fantasy versus plan
    Anyhow, the last couple of years, I’ve noticed that more and more people are being arrested for planning things. People planning abductions, people planning demonstrations and people planning terrorist attacks. And this is surely strange.

    The first thing that springs to mind is: What’s the difference between planning something and fantasizing about something?
    Am I the only person who finds this semantic difference intriguing?
    At one point in our lives we’ve all fantasized about urinating in Rush Limbaugh’s mouth whilst a goat is shagging him from behind. Does this constitute a plan or a fantasy?
    If you fantasize about illegal sexual acts, can you be arrested for it?

    At one point I fantasized about robbing a bank in Hellevoetsluis (of all places, it’s enough to know it actually exists and the only note-worthy mention of it in history is that William and Mary sailed from there, before starting all the troubles in Northern Ireland). I drew up a sketch on how it would be done. Basically blowing up a building on the other side of town as a diversion (there’s not that many police in Hellevoetsluis), robbing the bank, cycling to the canal (there’s only one canal), pulling on a scuba suit, stashing the money in weighted plastic bags and swimming across the Haringvliet lake to safety.
    Can you be arrested for that?

    Let’s up the stakes on this little gem.
    I got beat up during an anti-fascist demonstration. The police, for reasons of their own; I’m sure, decided to side with the fascists and us communists had our heads bashed in. So, I came up with a plan (which I actually handed in to the head office of my political party) which consisted of keeping a second wave of demonstrators in reserve (split up in side streets). Then when the police close in on the main demonstration, the second wave can come in, surround the police and take their weapons from them. It was rejected, by the way.
    Can you be arrested for that?

    When does fantasy become a plan? And how on Earth can you prove the difference?
    Anybody?

    One could suggest that proof of planning has to be in writing. But surely, if you’re a smart criminal, you can easily avoid this little faux d’evidence by not writing anything at all. Keep it in the head and, voila, you’re innocent.

    If there is no victim, can there be a crime?
    The second thing that springs to mind is the definition of crime. There are two sorts of crime, seemingly: harm-crime (where there’s a victim) and offence-crime (where there’s no victim).

    This second category encompasses such things as personal drug use, homosexuality between consenting adults, blasphemous crimes and nudity. Generally speaking, the offence principle is political in nature and, equally generally, democratic societies tend to get rid of them.

    Now, suppose I plan to blow up the sun; killing everyone on the planet.
    The sun isn’t blown up, everyone’s still dancing around merrily. Can I be arrested?
    What if I plan to blow up an aeroplane? It’s not been blown up. Everyone’s still flying around happily. Can I be arrested?

    So, another difference between fantasy and plan is S.M.A.R.T. fomulation. With the R of Realistic being of key importance. However, in neither example are there any victims.
    So, according to the offence principle, a dictator could have me arrested for planning to blow up the sun, which a democratic society will laugh at. Yet, this same democratic society will seemingly turn dictatorial for lesser crimes without victims?

    Another way you could look at this is: When does one become a victim?
    Are you a victim after the bomb goes off, are you a victim when someone has planted the bomb or are you a victim when someone thinks of blowing up a building?
    The State has an obligation to protect you (from others). Can the State decide that someone’s plan or fantasy is a danger to you, making you a victim (before a bomb is actually planted, goes off or if someone has only thought about it)?

    Say, for argument’s sake, that someone plans to build a motorway. That motorway is potentially lethal (driving kills lots of people a year). You could be a victim (roadkill has its seasons just like anything. There’s possums in the autumn and potentially you in the Spring). Should the State arrest this criminal to be?
    The general defense will be along the lines of: “He isn’t planning to make you a victim, therefor it’s not a crime and the State doesn’t need to stop it.”.
    So, if I rob a bank, which is insured, and don’t hurt anybody in the process, it’s not actually a crime either?

    The nosy neighbour
    Exactly when does the State think it’s alright to delve into your private business when there are no victims to speak of and nothing provable but fantasy to entertain them?
    Is it when somebody snitches on you? So, I can suggest that my neighbour is planning a terrorist attack and the police will investigate him?

    I have noticed various snitching hotlines popping up all over the world. From criminal hotlines, to the TV shows I’ve mentioned earlier to posters inviting you to sell out your neighbour if you think he’s into tax fraud.

    Are these not police-state tactics? Isn’t this Cuban or Soviet Union-esque in nature? And how far can it go? Echelon already tags key words in your text messages and mobile phone conversations. When you use one of these tagged words, your message is recorded. You could be writing a saucy e-mail d’amour and suggest you’d like to do the nasty on some bush. That mail is gonna be read by some four-eyed geek in Langley or Birmingham. You can count on it.

    And what do people tell you?
    “If you’re not doing anything wrong, what have you got to hide?”
    That’s what they tell you.
    Not everything you think is right. And lots of what you think is of no concern to anybody else but you. Do you really want your neighbour knowing what you think of his wife?

    I think 1984 has come about. And nobody really seems to care.

    My eyes collide head-on with stuffed graveyards
    False gods, I scuff
    At pettiness which plays so rough
    Walk upside-down inside handcuffs
    Kick my legs to crash it off
    Say okay, I have had enough
    What else can you show me?

    And if my thought-dreams could be seen
    They'd probably put my head in a guillotine
    But it's alright, Ma, it's life, and life only.


    - Dylan -
  2. 11 Sep '09 13:33
    It does appear that the line between "fantasy" and "planning" is rather blurry. So any case that's going to pass muster at a trial would need to be able to clear away all reasonable doubt that mere fantasy was occurring. There would probably need to evidence of actual actions (like purchasing weapons, bomb-making materials, staking out a location, etc) that would indicate that there was an actual intention to commit the crime.

    This issue is a very important one when making sure to protect against possible terrorist attacks. It would be unwise for law enforcement to wait until the attack is actually taking place - it would be much better if it could be stopped while still in the planning stages. But, clearly it would be foolish to arrest everyone who merely fantasizes about bombing something. You don't want to be arresting someone who's drawing up the screenplay for a new action thriller. So at what point do you act?
  3. 11 Sep '09 13:46
    You should be arrested for conspiracy when you commit an act in furtherance of a crime. So if you are planning to write a play then you did not commit an act in furtherance of a crime but if you are planning to commit a terrrorist act then you are committing crime. I also think in real life there is a difference. You are not going to get plutonium for your play and you probably will hire actors instead of people with experience killing people. I am sure there is place where the line is blurry but most of the time it should be fairly obvious.
  4. 11 Sep '09 13:52
    I agree regarding victimless crimes. People should be arrested only if they pose some threat to other people.

    On the issue of drugs, drug abusers are not a direct threat. There are indirect threats because these people aren't as productive at work, and they might do things while intoxicated that they wouldn't do otherwise. But all of the same things can be said about alcohol, a drug which society celebrates. Drug users should be arrested only when their drug abuse directly threatens others (such as the drunk driver)

    The big problem with arresting mere users is the amount of time and money that gets spent arresting, trying, and imprisoning these people. If you watch a typical episode of "Cops", it seems like EVERY incident involves someone with a crack pipe in the back seat, or someone who tried to toss their meth out the window, or someone with a joint in their pocket, who then claim "they were wearing someone else's pants". It's makes for slightly entertaining TV, but I'm always left wondering what true criminals are not going to be caught because the police are spending an hour looking for the meth someone threw onto the highway.

    Drug dealers are a different story. These are people who expose other people to all the woes that a drug habit brings. The drug user is like someone who beats his own head against a wall. The drug dealer is like someone who beats other peoples' heads against a wall.
  5. Standard member Palynka
    Upward Spiral
    11 Sep '09 13:53 / 1 edit
    Originally posted by Melanerpes
    So at what point do you act?
    When there is proof that you indeed intend to carry it out (and have a real possibility to do it, unlike the 'blow up the sun' story). It doesn't sound that complicated to me.
  6. 11 Sep '09 13:58
    Originally posted by shavixmir
    Nowadays you can’t rob a bank without your ugly mug being captured on CCTV and broadcast on fear-mongering crime programmes; hosted by rightious Christian presenters and viewed by millions of people who obviously don’t have a sex life worth mentioning.

    That being said, you can’t even walk down a street in Manchester without umpteen cameras following you ...[text shortened]... put my head in a guillotine
    But it's alright, Ma, it's life, and life only.[/i]

    - Dylan -
    Just so you know, creating threads this long is now a crime as is whining about Big Brother punishing you for fantasizing about committing crimes.

    All I can say is, Orwell was a man ahead of his time. He is but a prophet.
  7. Standard member sh76
    Civis Americanus Sum
    11 Sep '09 14:45
    Originally posted by quackquack
    You should be arrested for conspiracy when you commit an act in furtherance of a crime. So if you are planning to write a play then you did not commit an act in furtherance of a crime but if you are planning to commit a terrrorist act then you are committing crime. I also think in real life there is a difference. You are not going to get plutonium for ...[text shortened]... m sure there is place where the line is blurry but most of the time it should be fairly obvious.
    You're describing the requirement for an "overt act" in furtherance of a conspiracy for a criminal conspiracy to be prosecuted. Most jurisdictions apply an overt act requirement.

    Note, though, that an overt act can be something a lot less sinister than obtaining plutonium. If, for example, you do a drive by to scout security at a bank in prep for a robbery, that can be considered an overt act.
  8. 11 Sep '09 15:14
    Originally posted by Palynka
    When there is proof that you indeed intend to carry it out (and have a real possibility to do it, unlike the 'blow up the sun' story). It doesn't sound that complicated to me.
    I guess my question then is - when is there enough proof?

    Pinning down actual proof is the job of the court system - and the length of many trials attests to how difficult this process can be, even when it eventually leads to a conviction.

    But police face a bigger dilemma. Do they only make an arrest if they themselves are convinced that such proof exists? Or do they arrest all people who are just "sufficiently suspicious"? Err on one side and you end up harassing a lot of innocent people. Err on the other side and you fail to protect the community from criminal or terrorist acts.
  9. 11 Sep '09 15:14
    Ok, I see what you are saying. You might do a drive if you were preparing to commit r a crime and you would do the same overt act if you were preparing for some sort of literary work. It is theoretically interesting.
  10. Standard member sh76
    Civis Americanus Sum
    11 Sep '09 15:24
    Originally posted by quackquack
    Ok, I see what you are saying. You might do a drive if you were preparing to commit r a crime and you would do the same overt act if you were preparing for some sort of literary work. It is theoretically interesting.
    Yes. Of course, you also have to have evidence of the conspiracy itself (usually either testimony from another conspirator or a recording or wiretap of the conversation). The requirement of the drive by or any other overt act is really just to make sure the conspiracy wasn't just talk, but real planning.
  11. 11 Sep '09 15:35
    Originally posted by sh76
    Yes. Of course, you also have to have evidence of the conspiracy itself (usually either testimony from another conspirator or a recording or wiretap of the conversation). The requirement of the drive by or any other overt act is really just to make sure the conspiracy wasn't just talk, but real planning.
    A gray area might be a case where someone is simply wondering whether they'd be capable of robbing a bank and getting away with it. They might do a lot of discussion and planning. They might drive by the bank and walk inside and inspect things. They might inquire about whether someone had guns or explosives for sale. They might gather info from the internet on making bombs.

    But at the end of the day, there might still be no actual intent to rob the bank. Just the feeling that they could have robbed the bank if they really wanted to. Another motive for this might be someone who has money in that bank and they're very paranoid about someone robbing it. So they might want to see how easy or hard it would be for someone else to do it.

    But I would understand if police arrested this person, and I could even see such a person being convicted -- the jury might find the explanation too bizarre to buy.
  12. Standard member Palynka
    Upward Spiral
    11 Sep '09 15:48
    Originally posted by Melanerpes
    I guess my question then is - when is there enough proof?

    Pinning down actual proof is the job of the court system - and the length of many trials attests to how difficult this process can be, even when it eventually leads to a conviction.

    But police face a bigger dilemma. Do they only make an arrest if they themselves are convinced that such proof ...[text shortened]... . Err on the other side and you fail to protect the community from criminal or terrorist acts.
    Sure and it SHOULD be difficult to convict people based on intent and planning alone. Evidence must be VERY clear that there is a plan and that it is in motion. Just the first doesn't sound enough for me.

    I think that in practice, things are probably more clear cut despite that in abstract it seems hard to draw a line. Carrying out such plans requires a string of actions that would make it apparent that the threat is real.
  13. Standard member sh76
    Civis Americanus Sum
    11 Sep '09 15:49
    Originally posted by Melanerpes
    A gray area might be a case where someone is simply wondering whether they'd be capable of robbing a bank and getting away with it. They might do a lot of discussion and planning. They might drive by the bank and walk inside and inspect things. They might inquire about whether someone had guns or explosives for sale. They might gather info from the intern ...[text shortened]... n see such a person being convicted -- the jury might find the explanation too bizarre to buy.
    Intent to accomplish the criminal objective is an element of the crime of conspiracy. In theory, if the prosecution cannot prove this element beyond a reasonable doubt, the defendant must be acquitted.

    Of course, I agree that the jury might make incorrect inferences and assumptions in your case.

    At the very least, the person in your hypo is guilty of exceptional stupidity.
  14. 12 Sep '09 03:32
    Originally posted by shavixmir
    Nowadays you can’t rob a bank without your ugly mug being captured on CCTV and broadcast on fear-mongering crime programmes; hosted by rightious Christian presenters and viewed by millions of people who obviously don’t have a sex life worth mentioning.

    That being said, you can’t even walk down a street in Manchester without umpteen cameras following you ...[text shortened]... put my head in a guillotine
    But it's alright, Ma, it's life, and life only.[/i]

    - Dylan -
    Olivia Newton John would have one hell of a suit against me.
  15. 12 Sep '09 18:59
    So if I SEE someone committing a crime, and I don't report it, am I guilty of a crime? As I understand it, in some states I am; others, no.