May 032004
Authors: Shannon Baldwin

The modern era of shirking individual responsibility comes with

the price of lost freedom. This point is best illustrated in the

evolution of our criminal justice system. In the Seton Hall

Constitutional Law Journal, Roger Roots writes that at the time our

Constitution was written, our modern concept of police officers was


“The general public had broad law enforcement powers and only

the executive functions of the law (e.g., the execution of writs,

warrants and orders) were performed by constables or sheriffs (who

might call upon members of the community for assistance),” Roots

said. “Initiation and investigation of criminal cases was the

nearly exclusive province of private persons.”

Roots goes on to explain that most of the elected constables’

duties involved civil execution rather than criminal law

enforcement, and courts were venues of private litigation where the

state was rarely a party. Victims of crimes approached a community

grand jury which investigated the matter and issued the indictment,

and the victim or his representative prosecuted the defendant

before a petite jury.

“A government prosecutor was referred to as an attorney general

and was a rare phenomenon in criminal cases at the time of the

nation’s founding,” Roots said. “When a private individual

prosecuted an action in the name of the state, the attorney general

was required to allow the prosecutor to use (the attorney’s) name.

Private prosecutors acted under the authority of the people and in

the name of the state – but for their own vindication.”

Today, a simple thing like a traffic ticket is a crime against

the city or state of the infraction. This concept of crimes against

the government is a notion that the founding fathers would have

found reprehensible. Whose personal vindication is satisfied

through a fine and point system of our modern day traffic courts?

The fines serve to fund the patrols who serve the people with fines

which fund the patrols…

And so on.

Americans have transferred their historical powers of law

enforcement over to a police system that protects the citizenry

that used to protect itself. Perhaps it was a disconnect from the

community and an apathy to a real “neighborhood watch” that made

this transfer possible. But the result of this loss of individual

responsibility to the community is a loss of freedom for the


Nowhere is this loss more evident than in the wording of the

California Penal Code, which “gives” any citizen the right to make

a citizen’s arrest of another citizen under certain limited

circumstances. How nice of the government to allow something that

originally was standard and commonplace.

This development of a government which now “protects” its

citizens is becoming more and more disdainful of those who still

assert their right to protect themselves and make their own

decisions in the pursuit of happiness. This paternal role of

protection has extended to volumes of new laws for the good of the

people. Nowhere is this more evident than the ridiculous “war on


In a valiant attempt to regulate the morality and health of a

population that is obviously too stupid to make decisions for

itself, the government is spending billions and billions of our

taxes on resources (not to mention the overcrowded prisons) in this

fight that is a slap in the face to any lesson the prohibition

might have taught. And this protectionism from “illegal” drugs is

extending ever further into the realm of prescription drugs. I am

not a fan of Rush Limbaugh, but if he feels he has a need for

pain-killers, how is that any of the government’s business? Why

have we allowed them to have such power as to decide what is and

what is not a necessary pharmaceutical? Let Rush make that choice

and reap the physical and psychological consequences of the

addiction. But let him have the freedom to make that mistake!

Where will the government draw a line in its personal medical

decisions for the populace? Already it is spending more of our

taxes on a campaign to do something about our country’s obesity –

as if it had a responsibility for our individual nutritional

health. Is the future full of automated check-out registers at

grocery stores that do not allow potato chip purchases because your

weight was too high at your last mandatory doctor’s


Think about that the next time you are cited for a traffic

violation “against the city.”

Shannon is a senior studying journalism.

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

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