Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Victimless crimes

This is Joseph. 

One interesting development in the Trump justice process, despite his generally favorable treatment, is that it challenges people's intuitions about how the justice system works. I have long understood that there are a lot of things that are illegal that seem like they are going to catching a lot of people doing fairly normal things. Look at Megan McArdle's comments:

Now, the first part is interesting but not necessarily dispositive. It has long been the case that high profile criminals make otherwise complex cases a lot more rewarding to prosecute. You may see that as bad, but making "prosecutor" a political office was always going to have this particular design flaw. It might just be that you needed a super-famous person to make the effort-reward piece work. 

That said, the second point is a moral intuition I have sympathy with but is utterly disconnected with actual US law. Just looking at Structuring (although I prefer the better name, smurfing). This is breaking up a large transaction into smaller transactions to avoid the reporting requirements. It not only results in losing all of the money that was "smurfed" but a fine and up to five years in prison. I love this little wikipedia gem:
Banks are not permitted to warn or advise customers unless the customer asks, but sometimes bank tellers will informally warn customers
It's true that sometimes an innocent party will succeed in a court case, costing a lot of money and stress, and not end up in prison. Now, you may dislike financial crimes where nobody loses any money. That's a reasonable position to take. But I think special pleading for a man who is clearly in the elite (he was a president, he is a reality TV star, he is a corporate billionaire) and has access to lawyers and resources. He seems like the opposite end of the spectrum to start focusing on. 

By the way, it is quite clear that structuring does lead to incarceration: see here and here and here. It is true that in these cases it was obvious that law enforcement suspected that the source of the money was criminal. But that doesn't change the result of huge consequences and life altering treatment because of this activity, which could be completely innocent too. 

No comments:

Post a Comment