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Monday, March 26, 2018

Iowa Supreme Court Approves Innocence-Based Challenges to Guilty Pleas

The Des Moines Register reports on this significant sentencing news:

For the first time, the Iowa Supreme Court has ruled that people who plead guilty to crimes may challenge their convictions if new evidence of their innocence emerges. 
The court ruled Friday in a 4-3 decision in the case of Jacob L. Schmidt, who pleaded guilty in 2007 of sexually abusing his 14-year-old half-brother the year before. Years later, in 2014, Schmidt's half-brother began telling others that the abuse never occurred. 
The court said last week that Schmidt's case should be returned to the district court in Woodbury County, which is now allowed to consider the new evidence of Schmidt's innocence. 
"It is time that we refuse to perpetuate a system of justice that allows actually innocent people to remain in prison, even those who profess guilt despite their actual innocence," Justice David Wiggins wrote in the majority opinion, which was joined by Chief Justice Mark Cady and justices Daryl Hecht and Brent Appel.

The ruling is "definitely the first time that the Iowa Supreme Court has recognized the actual innocence claim," said Brian Farrell, a law professor at the University of Iowa. Farrell is also co-founder and president of the board of directors of the Innocence Project of Iowa, which wrote an amicus brief supporting Schmidt's appeal. 
That makes Iowa one of about 14 states in the country to recognize such claims, said Farrell, who called the ruling "an 8 or 9 on a 10-point scale of significance."
The full opinion is here.

Of particular note is the Court's discussion of the phenomenon of defendants who plead guilty despite their innocence, which begins on page 14 of the opinion. From that analysis:

A plea does not weed out the innocent. Rather, a plea is an explicit agreement [footnote omitted] between the prosecutor and the defendant that “establishes a ‘going rate.’ ” John L. Kane, Plea Bargaining and the Innocent, The Marshall Project (Dec. 26, 2014, 1:05 PM), https://www.themarshallproject.org/2014/12/26/plea-bargaining-and-the-innocent [https://perma.cc/R5FU-Y3T4]. Specifically, “[t]he anticipated sentence is the central concern in the negotiation[,]” but “[t]he problem . . . is that both innocent and guilty defendants are placed in the same pot and the goal is to achieve the appearance of justice, not the realization of it.” Id.; see also Missouri v. Frye, 566 U.S. 134, 144, 132 S. Ct. 1399, 1407 (2012) (“In today’s criminal justice system . . . the negotiation of a plea bargain, rather than the unfolding of a trial, is almost always the critical point for a defendant.”). Pleading guilty does not automatically mean the defendant is actually guilty. Sometimes, an innocent defendant is choosing the lesser of two evils: pleading guilty despite his or her actual innocence because the odds are stacked up against him or her, or going to trial with the risk of losing and the prospect of receiving a harsher sentence. 
Innocent defendants may also plead guilty in the face of pressure from prosecutors and even their own defense counsels. Today, “our criminal justice system is almost exclusively a system of plea bargaining, negotiated behind closed doors and with no judicial oversight.” Jed S. Rakoff, Why Innocent People Plead Guilty, N.Y. Rev. Books (Nov. 20, 2014). Behind these closed doors, prosecutors have broad discretion: “the prosecutor-dictated plea bargain system, by creating such inordinate pressures to enter into plea bargains, appears to have led a significant number of defendants to plead guilty to crimes they never actually committed.” Id.; see also Innocence Project, Why Are People Pleading Guilty to Crimes They Didn’t Commit? (Nov. 25, 2015), https://www.innocenceproject.org/why-are-people-pleading-guilty-to-crimes-they-didnt-commit/ [https://perma.cc/3CEX-WEW2].
The dissenting justices argue that this rule may lead to a flurry of new claims that disturb earlier guilty pleas. Even if these claims arise, the burden they create is likely outweighed by the possibility that some of those earlier guilty pleas were entered into by innocent defendants. (For the intricate calculations involved in these determinations, see N Guilty Men by Alexander Volokh).

Moreover, the need for new claims may be reduced if prosecutors take this new rule to heart. While one hopes that even without the Court's ruling, prosecutors would stay true to their roles as "minister[s] of justice and not simply . . . advocate[s]," this rule may prompt prosecutors to ensure that negotiated pleas are on solid factual footing to minimize the probability of an innocence-based challenge in the future.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

"Don't Be a Lawyer"

I recently read an article by an anonymous author urging readers to avoid becoming attorneys, noting various troubles facing the profession and the difficulties facing those starting out. Here are some of the relevant excerpts:

The competition is terrific. Under prevailing conditions, legal ability is no longer a prerequisite to success. The lawyer without connections is a business-getter, or he rots in his office. Wiles have so boldly supplanted ethics that we have had in recent swift succession a receivership scandal, an ambulance chasing scandal, and a jury-fixing scandal. The integrity of the profession is constantly impugned in the press, and all lawyers are under a cloud. 
It is only the dearth of other employment that keeps the counselors in my town from deserting in droves. Many barely earn their keep, or are assisted by parents, in-laws, or wives. They no longer expect a steady income from law, but live only in hope of a steady job or a political sinecure. Recently a prominent young attorney quit the profession to become a shoe salesman. Others have gone into insurance, bookselling, and storekeeping. One is now the happy proprietor of a fruit stand. 
. . .  
I believe that the harassments which have made the practice of law so dismal today are due principally to overcrowding. My state did not contain a single law school ten years ago; now there are three booming ones. Huge morning, afternoon, and evening classes accommodate everybody. In ten years, the number taking bar examinations has increased by 348 percent.  
. . .  
Hopelessness has sunk deep into my profession, but most pessimistic of all are the newcomers. If I were a young attorney beginning the practice of law in my community today, I should be at my wit's end to earn a dollar, unless I were resolved upon wholesale disregard for ethics. The sharpster has a way of coming out on top nowadays, and survival has come to be most certain for those lawyers who are willing to meet vicious competition with still more vicious practices. It is a condition fraught with serious consequences for the public as well as for the ethical practitioner in law.  
. . .  
Decent youngsters would be better off these days if they raised potatoes instead of practicing law. There is little money in either, but at least from potatoes you derive some satisfaction, and retain your self-respect.
This fairly standard set of indictments against the legal profession is quoted from the straightforwardly-titled article, "Don't Be a Lawyer," which was published in The American Mercury in 1936, and which I found in an April, 1936 edition of Reader's Digest. I'm a bit miffed to be discovering this article now, as I have already become a lawyer, and in the 75 years between the publication of the article and my enrollment in law school, nobody thought to refer me to the author's warnings.

While I have not been able to locate a version of the article online, after a bit of searching, I located this response by William Cain which was published in the Notre Dame Lawyer in November, 1936. Cain criticizes the "pessimistic mental wanderings" of the anonymous author and writes that while many of the facts the author set forth are true, the article focuses on the worst practitioners of the legal profession -- a profession that is primarily composed of "learned, courageous and upright men." (This is not entirely true -- there were learned, courageous and upright women in the legal profession as well, in as early as 1869). Cain points out that the author's selective focus on negative examples could employed to call for readers to avoid the medical profession, business of banking, and institution of marriage.

From Cain's response:
Notwithstanding my anonymous friend's statement that legal ability and real talent are no assurance of success, my own intimate observation and experience of over thirty years active practice at the bar is exactly the reverse. In all that time, I have never known any lawyer with moral courage, ability, integrity and dependability who has failed to enjoy a satisfactory practice yielding amply sufficient pecuniary returns to support himself and family in decency, and to properly educate his children. None of them are, or ever will be, millionaires. None ever wanted to be. Their burning and abiding ambition was to become competent lawyers, and to enjoy the trust and confidence of the communities in which they lived and wrought, and this they achieved. And whatever others may call it, I call it "success."
Things have changed, and I suspect that by now there are some decent lawyers who have managed to surpass that million-dollar mark. But the anonymous article and Cain's response show that present-day arguments about the feasibility of joining the legal profession stretch back farther than one might initially suspect.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Winkler on Corporations and Their Quest for Civil Rights

I haven't posted in a while, partially because work is busy, but also because I have been making more time for recreational reading (a hobby that can be difficult to pursue when one is an associate in the field of civil litigation).

But I've somehow managed to get some reading done recently, so partially to highlight some darn good books (and partially to dilute the frequency of posts fixating on ordinances banning "distracted walking"), here's the first of a couple posts on what I've been reading!

First up is We the Corporations: How American Businesses Won Their Civil Rights by Adam Winkler. I bought the book partially because I was a student at UCLA Law and had the opportunity to take one of Professor Winkler's classes, and partially because I read Winkler's previous book, Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America a few years ago and thought it was excellent.

Winkler's We the Corporations, like Gunfight, showcases his remarkable ability to tell a story. Many cases that are explored in his book are covered in typical law school classes or casebooks on constitutional law. The cases, while significant, are often dry, dense, and confusing. Not here. In discussing significant cases or doctrine, Winkler develops the plot by delving into facts behind each case, the drama of the conflicting interests involved, and the pitfalls of the litigation preceding the various opinions. Winkler explores the characters involved by discussing the histories, backgrounds, quirks, and vices of the corporations, their officers, and the attorneys involved in the cases. All of this combines to create an engaging series of stories that paint a picture of the development of various rights, or sets of rights, that corporations have managed to secure. It is a vast undertaking that is nevertheless straightforward and clear enough to appeal to attorneys and non-attorneys alike. 

The books is nearly 500 pages (closer to 400 if you don't count the endnotes), but you can expect to breeze through it in far less time than you might think because the writing is so clear and engaging. And I hope that many choose to engage, as Winkler reveals that the common debate over whether "corporations are people," is far more nuanced than may be expected. For instance, Winkler points out that corporations have won some of their greatest victories when their personhood is ignored. Rather, it is when courts pierce the corporate "veil" and focus on the people behind the corporation, that corporations have made some of their most dramatic strides in their quest for civil rights. Winkler also draws attention to the recurring phenomenon of corporations' sheer ability to get what they want through the courts. Through hiring the best lawyers, choosing the best cases, and persisting as only tireless business entities can, corporations have often gained recognition of their rights earlier than the other disadvantaged groups who are typically central to the study and discussion of civil rights.

You can find reviews of We the Corporations here, here, here, and here.

Next up will be my thoughts on The Justice of Contradictions: Antonin Scalia and the Politics of Disruption by Richard Hasen. Spoiler alert: it's also pretty dang good.

P.S.: For those looking for recommendations for shorter things to read, check out this post at Josh Blackman's blog on Justice Brennan's correspondence with Barack Obama.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Iowa Senate Bill Would Require State Supreme Court Supermajority to Find Laws Unconstitutional

The Des Moines Register reports:
The Iowa Senate narrowly approved a controversial bill Tuesday that says no state law can be held unconstitutional by an Iowa court without the concurrence of at least five justices of the seven-member Iowa Supreme Court. 
Senate File 2282 was approved on a 26-24 vote, sending it to the Iowa House, where it faces an uncertain future. All the votes in favor were cast by Republicans, while the opposing votes came from 20 Democrats, one independent and three Republicans.
Here's the text of the bill:
Pursuant to the provisions of Article V, section 4 of the Constitution of the State of Iowa, the general assembly declares that no statute shall be held unconstitutional by a court of this state except by the concurrence of at least five justices of the supreme court of Iowa.
The Iowa Supreme Court is made up of seven justices, meaning that this bill would require a supermajority of justices to hold that a state law is unconstitutional. Additionally, the bill applies to statutes being held unconstitutional by "a court of this state," meaning that a statute cannot be deemed unconstitutional unless it is ultimately appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court where at least five justices agree that the law is unconstitutional.

This structure of the bill makes some sense, as it avoids the scenario where the Iowa Court of Appeals holds that a law is unconstitutional, and then becomes precedent because it is not appealed to the State Supreme Court. At the same time, the bill would have a strange effect on the status of Court of Appeals' opinions that are not taken up by the State Supreme Court -- as opinions finding state laws unconstitutional that are not reviewed by the Supreme Court would appear to run afoul of the law and therefore be invalid.

Democrats in the Republican-controlled state senate have spoken out against the law, arguing that it seizes power away from the Supreme Court. Republicans agree -- arguing that the courts should not have the power to overturn laws without this additional requirement. For some truly dense commentary, look no further than Senator Jason Schultz:
Sen. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, thanked [Senator Julian] Garrett for advancing the bill, saying it's a measure needed in this day and age. 
"Ladies and gentleman, this bill acknowledges that the Constitution is a contract; that the words do not change. What this bill does is say that we are not going to simply have a popularity contest on the constitutionality of a law," Schultz said.
While it isn't really related to the substantive issues, I'm going to break down Schultz's comment, as it demonstrates a stunning failure to grasp what the Senate is doing and how the the Court works. First, Schultz's assertion that the Constitution is a contract is not correct, as the Constitution is a set of rules that govern the basic functions of state government, and also sets forth individual rights that may be used to strike down laws. It's a set of rules that was enacted by popular vote -- not a contract.  Second, even if the Constitution is a contract, it's unclear how the law acknowledges this. Third, the words of the Constitution do change -- the Constitution can be amended.  Fourth, the bill does effectively say there will be a popularity contest on the constitutionality of law in that five, rather than four, justices can still hold a law unconstitutional. The law just has to be "more unpopular" if we are to adopt Schultz's misleading phrasing.

While I don't approve of the law, as it raises some unpleasant memories of woefully misguided backlash against the Court back in 2010, I don't agree with Democratic lawmakers who claim that the bill is unconstitutional. From the Register:
Sen. Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines, said he was troubled by the partisanship that had appeared to develop over the bill, as well as what he described as "the contempt that this Legislature has towards the courts." 
"I have news for you," McCoy said. "This is not going to be constitutional, and Iowans are going to be angry again at this effort to bring partisanship into this process. Make no mistake about it: This is about partisan politics. When the Legislature doesn't get its way, it punishes the courts."
While the bill certainly has an impact on the separation of powers, and while it certainly appears to be a partisan ploy, McCoy is not correct to imply that the bill violates the Iowa Constitution. Article V, Section Four of the Iowa Constitution states that the Iowa Supreme Court shall "constitute a court for the correction of errors at law, under such restrictions as the general assembly may, by law, prescribe." (emphasis added). This section indicates that the general assembly can place restrictions on the court's jurisdiction. This constitutional grant of power to the legislature is reaffirmed by Article V, Section 14, which states that the general assembly has the duty to "provide for a general system of practice in all the courts of this state," meaning that the legislature is charged with making court rules and enacting procedures.

Senate File 2282 would place a limit on the Iowa Supreme Court's ability to hold laws unconstitutional. It is a clear attempt by the legislature (which is now entirely controlled by Republicans) to limit the power of the Court. This attempt smacks of partisan politics, as Iowa conservatives likely still see the Court as a liberal institution following its 2009 decision in Varnum v. Brien striking down the state's law restricting marriage to opposite-sex couples. It's unfortunate to see such partisan fiddling with the mechanics of the legal system and I hope (though I am not optimistic) that the bill will fail in the Iowa House.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Montclair Passes Broad Ordinance to Combat "Distracted Walking"

The city of Montclair in Southern California recently passed an ordinance that bans crossing the street while talking on the phone, looking at the screen of an electronic device, or wearing headphones or earbuds on both ears (regardless of whether they are playing music).

Many outlets have reported on this ordinance. I learned about it this morning from a teaser for a local public radio report that you can find here. Illustrious publications such as the LA Times reported on the ordinance. Local outlets as well report on it here and here.

Because I'm a lawyer with a blog and not a "journalist," I'm going to depart from the standard practice that all of these reports have in common, which is to fail to provide a link to the text of the ordinance. Here it is. You're welcome. Here, also, are the minutes for the December 4, 2017 meeting where this Ordinance was approved.  The minutes contained the ordinance number (17-791), which finally led me to the text. (Two links to the text in one post. I'm out of control.) 

To make things even crazier, here's (most of) the text of the municipal code sections that the ordinance added to the Montclair Municipal Code (and which became effective on January 3, 2018):

8.02.010. Definitions. 
As used in this Title, the following definitions shall apply. For purposes of Title 8, these definitions shall supersede any other definitions of the same terms elsewhere in this Code.  
Emergency Responders include, but are not limited to, public safety officers of either a municipal or county police department or fire department, emergency medical technicians, paramedics, private ambulance service responders, emergency management workers, and federal and state law enforcement and fire service officers on duty and responding to an emergency service request.  
Mobile Electronic Device means any handheld, head- or body-mounted, or portable electronic equipment capable of providing wireless and/or data communication between two or more persons or a device for providing amusement, including but not limited to a cellular phone, smart phone, text messaging device, paging device, personal digital assistant, laptop computer, video game, video/audio player, digital photographic device, or any other similar electronic device. 
Pedestrian means a person who is afoot or who is using any of the following: (1) a means of conveyance propelled by human power other than a bicycle; or (2) an electric personal assistive mobility device.  
Personal Audio Equipment means any device placed in, on or around a person's ears capable of providing an audible sound, including but not limited to headphones or ear buds.  
Viewing means looking in the direction of the screen of a mobile electronic device.  
Chapter 8.28 PEDESTRIANS  
8.28.020. Pedestrian Use of Mobile Electronic Devices.  
A. No pedestrian shall cross a street or highway while engaged in a phone call, viewing a mobile electronic device or with both ears covered or obstructed by personal audio equipment.  
B. Upon presenting evidence, it is an affirmative defense to any citation for a violation of subsection (A) that the cited person was engaged in, or making, a "911" emergency communication with a mobile electronic device.  
C. Emergency responders viewing a mobile electronic device, or whose ears are covered or obstructed by audio equipment, while in the performance and scope of his or her official duties are exempt from subsection (A).  
D. Persons with medically prescribed hearing aides [sic] are exempt from subsection (A).  
E. Any person who violates any provision of this Chapter is guilty of an infraction violation punishable in accordance with Chapter 1 .1 2 of Title 1 of this Code.
A few things.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Supreme Court Declines to Hear Second Amendment Challenge to California Gun Restrictions

Various news outlets, including the LA Times, report that the United States Supreme Court recently declined to hear a case challenging California's 10-day waiting period for purchasing firearms. The New York Times reports on the denial of certiorari here. The case, Silvester v. Becerra, joins a long line of Second Amendment cases that the Supreme Court has refused to hear. From the LA Times:

In 2008 and 2010, the high court struck down ordinances in Washington, D.C., and Chicago that prohibited the private possession of handguns as violations of 2nd Amendment. Americans have a right to have guns at home for self-defense, the court said in 5-4 decisions.

But since then, the justices have turned down gun rights advocates who have sued to challenge gun regulations based on the 2nd Amendment.

"There are simply not four justices who are eager to jump back into this fray," said UCLA law professor Adam Winkler, an expert on gun rights. It takes the votes of at least four justices to grant review of a case. "The California case highlights that the gun debate will play out in the legislatures and in Congress."

Most of the reports on this case fail to note who brought the Second Amendment challenge. The case was brought by two California gun owners (and two nonprofits) who argued that the 10-day waiting period was an unconstitutional burden on their right to bear arms. The fact that the petitioners were gun owners served to strengthen their argument that a 10-day period was unnecessary for running a background check (the petitioners had already passed the check on obtaining their other firearms) and for petitioners to "cool down" before purchasing firearms on a violent impulse (the petitioners already owned guns, so if they had violent intentions, they would already be capable of acting on them). Adam Winkler (the law professor quoted in the LA Times article above) raises this point, among others in an informative Twitter thread which begins with the tweet below:


Winkler's main point in the thread is that the Court is unwilling to take on what may be an easy Second Amendment case. Rather than addressing broad questions of carrying firearms in public, the case was limited to a narrow set of circumstances: a 10-day waiting period on people who already owned guns. Winkler recognizes, however, that the case may not be as strong as the petitioners though, as the fact that they currently own guns means that their ability to defend themselves should not be significantly infringed by a delay in purchasing additional guns.

This case has been drawing attention because it was decided very soon after the recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida, and also because Justice Clarence Thomas authored a lengthy dissent to the Court's decision not to hear the case. Thomas attacks the Ninth Circuit for failing to properly apply intermediate scrutiny to the 10-day waiting period, and argues that the Ninth Circuit upheld the constitutionality of the restriction based on speculation as to the law's effects and assumptions that the law would not significantly burden firearm purchasers. Thomas criticizes the Court's decision not to hear the case as the latest in a long line of failures to take up Second Amendment cases, arguing that "If a lower court treated another right so cavalierly, I have little doubt that this court would intervene." Those familiar with the Court's Fourth Amendment jurisprudence got a chuckle out of this proclamation.

I have doubts about the claims Thomas makes in his dissent, largely for Winkler's point that I highlighted above -- that these particular petitioners already own firearms, and therefore can defend themselves with the guns they already have. The Court, in District of Columbia v. Heller, held that the right of self-defense is "central" to the Second Amendment's protections, and the petitioners would face an uphill battle in claiming that this right was significantly burdened. Perhaps this is why no other conservative justices joined in Thomas's dissent.

As a final note, Thomas cites to Footnote 27 of the Heller opinion to support his claim that the appropriate level of scrutiny for laws restricting the Second Amendment must be higher than "rational basis" scrutiny. Footnote 27 of Heller states:
Justice BREYER correctly notes that this law, like almost all laws, would pass rational-basis scrutiny. Post, at 2850-2851. But rational-basis scrutiny is a mode of analysis we have used when evaluating laws under constitutional commands that are themselves prohibitions on irrational laws. See, e.g., Engquist v. Oregon Dept. of Agriculture, 553 U.S. 591, 602, 128 S.Ct. 2146, 2153-2154, 2008 WL 2329768, *6-7, 170 L.Ed.2d 975 (2008). In those cases, "rational basis" is not just the standard of scrutiny, but the very substance of the constitutional guarantee. Obviously, the same test could not be used to evaluate the extent to which a legislature may regulate a specific, enumerated right, be it the freedom of speech, the guarantee against double jeopardy, the right to counsel, or the right to keep and bear arms. See United States v. Carolene Products Co., 304 U.S. 144, 152, n. 4, 58 S.Ct. 778, 82 L.Ed. 1234 (1938) ("There may be narrower scope for operation of the presumption of constitutionality [i.e.,narrower than that provided by rational-basis review] when legislation appears on its face to be within a specific prohibition of the Constitution, such as those of the first ten amendments ..."). If all that was required to overcome the right to keep and bear arms was a rational basis, the Second Amendment would be redundant with the separate constitutional prohibitions on irrational laws, and would have no effect.
Because the Court in Heller determined that the District of Columbia's firearm restriction would not prevail under any standard of scrutiny, this footnote is dicta, although Thomas cites it as precedent in support of his claim that a level of review higher than rational-basis is required. I have not previously evaluated this footnote at length, although I did locate this commentary by Josh Blackman expressing confusing over the footnote and whether it is consistent with the Court's jurisprudence.

The footnote does not seem correct to me, as it would wreak havoc on equal protection law if it were the law. The Fourteenth Amendment guarantees equal protection under the law, but many laws apply to certain people or groups, and unless these distinctions are based on "protected classes" of individuals, the distinctions are generally upheld as constitutional as long as there is a rational basis for the different treatment. (See, e.g. Minnesota v. Clover Leaf Creamery Co., 449 U.S. 456, 464-465 (1981)). The equal protection guarantee is in a constitutional amendment (albeit not in the "first ten"), but the logic of Footnote 27 would require any law that treated any group differently to be subject to a level of scrutiny beyond rational basis. This could result in a crippling level of challenges against legislation, and would be contrary to extensive precedent.

Silvester joins the ranks of the numerous other Second Amendment challenges the Supreme Court has refused to hear. It remains unclear when the Court will choose to clarify the scope of Second Amendment protections, and despite a great deal of noisy debate on gun control, it is far from certain whether further gun regulations will be implemented on the state or federal level as mass shootings continue to occur.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Second Amendment and Legislative "Protection" of Constitutional Rights

This column in yesterday's Des Moines Register by the Editorial Board caught my eye. It begins:
Is state Rep. Chip Baltimore clairvoyant?
The Boone Republican was arrested last week, charged with operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated and possession of a firearm while under the influence of alcohol. Interestingly, less than 10 months ago, he voted to support legislation reducing penalties for toting a gun while drunk. Lucky for him, that bill was signed into law.
According to a police report, Baltimore was stopped by an Ames officer early Friday morning after authorities received reports of a reckless driver traveling northbound on Interstate Highway 35. With his slurred speech and bloodshot eyes, he told the officer he was on his way home after attending meetings in Des Moines, the report said.
. . .  
Last legislative session, Baltimore was among the lawmakers who supported the Iowa Omnibus Gun Law.

Before this law went into effect, carrying a firearm while intoxicated was an aggravated misdemeanor, punishable by up to two years in prison. An OWI conviction provided clear grounds for revocation of a permit to carry a weapon.

The new law, which went into effect July 1, cuts in half potential jail time and allows drunken drivers the ability to keep their permits to carry handguns.

At the time, one Iowa sheriff questioned the change, baffled that state legislators recognized the danger of operating a vehicle while drunk but not carrying a lethal weapon while intoxicated.


“We know alcohol blurs judgment,” said Black Hawk County Sheriff Tony Thompson. “I’m not sure what the driving force was behind watering that down.”

The Register's earlier article reporting Baltimore's arrest is here. Notably, Baltimore was stopped when an officer observed him driving at 55 mph in a 70 mph zone entering a 65 mph zone. For those interested in DUI-related trivia (who isn't?), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration states that driving at 10 miles or more below the speed limit is an indicator of possible impaired driving. The same is not true of speeding.
 
This story is my quirky introduction for a much broader discussion of misleading rhetoric regarding the "protection" of constitutional rights through legislation. For those only interested in the adventures and apparent foresight of Chip Baltimore (and accompanying DUI trivia), stop reading now!