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Old 03-02-2004, 01:34 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Truth in the legal system

In the midst of more posts then I can successfully read concerning the American presidential campaign, I wanted to throw another topic to bandy about.. One that will not involve the president, or the regular lib/con/dem/rep bickering that alot of posts come down to.

I'd love to hear the thoughts of the tilted politics heavyweights, as well hopefully some other members who stay away from here because of the constant flame wars..

Topic:

1. Is the legal system (I use "the" to denote American, Canadian, and any other country) mired too deep in red tape and escape routes to successfully operate in regards to criminal trials

2. What would be the ramifications (moral and political) and successes/failures of using more forceful ways of ensuring truthfullness in trial.. I speak of Sodium Pentathol and its ilk...

I'll let someone else start before adding my comments
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Old 03-02-2004, 02:03 PM   #2 (permalink)
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IMHO,

The American legal system has become more about "spin" than "truth".

I mean, how else can you explain when the system knows, REALLY KNOWS that someone is guilty of a heinous crime, but the person walks because the criminal's "civil rights" were violated?

"But Lebell," I hear you say, "surely you don't want cops beating confessions out of suspects or any other of the things this could lead to?"

Of course not.

But I think there should be some other mechanism in place to prevent it rather than letting the guilty go free through suppression of GOOD evidence obtained ILLEGALLY.

For example, perhaps those involved should themselves be prosecuted and sent to jail if it can be shown that it was done purposefully. Or if there are extenuating circumstances (such as making an honest mistake), different levels of punishment could be metted out, such as suspension w/o pay, loss of job, etc.
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Old 03-02-2004, 02:13 PM   #3 (permalink)
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The legal system is too tilted towards those with money, often we see that the law exists to protect capital and put down ordinary people.

I would be very opposed to any restriction of civil liberties - for example for evidence obtained by torture to be admissable, for "truth drugs" or other mental tortures to be inflicted on suspects - when this happens the state becomes the greatest criminal.

What we need, is a justice system that will go after corporate crooks, companies that pollute, mistreat employee's, damage communities.. with the same strength as the justice system currently attacks small time drug dealers or petty thieves.
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Old 03-02-2004, 02:19 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally posted by Strange Famous
The legal system is too tilted towards those with money...

Thank you for reminding me.

Yes, this too.

The travesty of justice that was the OJ Simpson murder trial is a very good example of what money and slick lawyers can do to the legal system.

Shakespeare was right: kill all the lawyers.
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Old 03-02-2004, 02:31 PM   #5 (permalink)
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You consider sodium pentathol torture?

I present the hypothetical

Suspect A. Suspect A has been investigated and the police have presented enough evidence to the court to warrent an indictment. After a routine health check to ensure there will be no complications the suspect is given a pre determined dose of sodium pentathol by doctors approved through a process akin to jury duty.

No purgery, no lies in court.

Lawyer - "did you rape that girl"
suspect A. - "Yes I did"
- we can be assured he is not lying because he cannot

or

Lawyer - "did you rape that girl"
suspect A. - "No I did not"
- we can be assured he is not lying because he cannot


sounds beautifull to me..
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Old 03-02-2004, 02:37 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Not to monopolize what could be a great thread,

The problem (besides any ethical considerations) is that you are never required to testify in your own behalf, nor are you even required to talk to the police without a lawyer present.

So the first hurdle would be changing the 5th Amendment of the Constitution.

Of course, we could just go to the British system and consider you guilty until proved innocent...
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Old 03-02-2004, 02:49 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Lebell, the British legal system considers people innocent before guilty, you are thinking of Napoleonic justice I think (which one would find in France)

Technically, EU Law does take precedence over British law, but nevertheless, in a British court you are still innocent until proven guilty, and the burden of proof rests with the prosecution to prove beyond reasonable doubt.
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Old 03-02-2004, 02:54 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally posted by losthellhound
You consider sodium pentathol torture?

I present the hypothetical

Suspect A. Suspect A has been investigated and the police have presented enough evidence to the court to warrent an indictment. After a routine health check to ensure there will be no complications the suspect is given a pre determined dose of sodium pentathol by doctors approved through a process akin to jury duty.

No purgery, no lies in court.

Lawyer - "did you rape that girl"
suspect A. - "Yes I did"
- we can be assured he is not lying because he cannot

or

Lawyer - "did you rape that girl"
suspect A. - "No I did not"
- we can be assured he is not lying because he cannot


sounds beautifull to me..

Well...

1, My understanding is that no so called truth drugs are 100% realible

2, I believe that the use of such drugs could cause pyschological damage to the people they are used on.

3, I believe the results under these conditions could be manipulated - the drugs would create something like a hypnotic state where the victim would give pre-programmed answers.

4, if drugs like this were available and used, very quickly we would find them being used, not o question child rapists, but peace protestors, arabs, people who live in the mountains and have a lot of guns... once the tool is available we can be sure the state will abuse it.

I mean, with the right methods, people can be made to admit to anything - look at the Stalinist show trials for example...
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Old 03-02-2004, 03:30 PM   #9 (permalink)
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Further searching led me to this:

http://www.flonnet.com/fl2105/storie...2004303900.htm

Quote:
ON December 22, 2003, doctors at the government-run Victoria Hospital in Bangalore prepared a cocktail containing three grams of sodium pentathol and 3,000 ml of distilled water and dextrose. Popularly known as "Truth Serum", it was intravenously administered to a patient over a period of three hours. The rate of administration was so controlled that the patient was slowly driven into a hypnotic trance.
Quote:
The SIT presented the findings of the narco-analysis test in court on February 10, 2004, and the court is yet to decide whether the revelations can be used as evidence. Investigators say that as the drugs took effect and the questioning began, Telgi sang like a canary.
Seems like the idea is already out there.. "narcoanalysis tests"

I agree that there is corruption in the legal system, and money has more sway then truth.. BUT, no matter if you are rich or poor, the truth is the same. The strength of the narcoanalysis tests is in the fact that simple questions without "spin" could be asked by the court (not by the lawyers on second thought) and the court and jury could get an honest response from the defendant..
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Old 03-02-2004, 03:30 PM   #10 (permalink)
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Oh wow, this one might take a while to wear out. Good topic.

I think we have to look at the premise of whatever legal system you are discussing. Those legal systems cited at the top of this thread all carry the premise that one is innocent until proven guilty. To administer truth serums before a the criminal trial would be presuming all people guilty.

Secondly, our legal system carries with it the prohibition against compelling people to testify against their own criminal interests. This is the oft cited "5th Amendment" prohibition against self-incrimination.

While we might think of ourselves as civilized, the tenets of our legal system are based upon the recognition of those "inalienable" rights - which if watered down, could lead us to a less free society. Look at the current state of Haiti for instance.

I suppose if technology ever gets to the point where we can unintrusively, and absolutely, determine truth with a sip of some serum or a scan of some sort, then we may not need the protections currently built into the [U.S.] Constitution as well as others. But until such technology exists that can guarantee that individual rights will not be violated, I don't see it as a viable solution.

You are also correct that our legal systems (criminal, civil, workers compensation, juvenile and dependency) are very imperfect. Certainly money provides one with an advantage, but why should our legal system not mirror the society they are created to serve? Yes it is wrong, but I know of no way to fix it in an economic system known as capitalism. The legal systems work as well as they can given the sheer volume they handle and the costs involved. Don't let the OJ cases, or the Kobe cases or the McDonald's hot coffee verdicts block your view that, overall, the criminal system, and the others get it right a very high percentage of the time. Keep in mind, also, that it is human nature to deny wrongdoing or moral inadequacies. I once heard it said that prisons are full of men proclaiming their innocence.

"The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers" said the character in Shakespeare's Henry VI,. Contrary to popular belief, the proposal was not designed to restore sanity to commercial life. Rather, it was intended to eliminate those who might stand in the way of a contemplated revolution -- thus underscoring the important role that lawyers can play in society.

I'm not advocating for lawyers - rather trying to give some perspective on this topic. Thanks for hearing me out.
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Old 03-02-2004, 03:51 PM   #11 (permalink)
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In India they also use cobra's to "interogate" prisoners...

(I read in an article that they did anyway, I suppose it could be an urban myth)
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Old 03-02-2004, 05:05 PM   #12 (permalink)
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Michael Moore made this point in Bowling for Columbine and its a good one.

The courts are controlled by money, as most things are and that is the problem with our legal system.

Corporate criminals who steal billions and put millions out of work has lunch with the cops is respected, gets the best lawyer out there, an easy sentence and goes to a safe prison.

A young man dealing drugs to pay for food for his family is frisked by the cops, gets probably a rookie lawyer and treated like dirt then goes to jail in a hard prison for about the same amount of time.

Which of these men hurt more people and which man hurt them more?
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Old 03-03-2004, 06:07 AM   #13 (permalink)
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The "troubles' with the legal system are over rated IMO. For every example of how the system is broke there are a thousand examples of how it worked.

Certainly having money can be helpful but it doesn't always matter. You still need to pick the right lawyer who will work their ass off to get you off. There are excellent lawyers who won't cost you a ton of cash and there are crap lawyers who will.

Drugging people to tell the truth is ludivrous since there are too many reasons like reliability, civil rights, and, of course, the 5th Amendment (what happens if someone given a truth serum implicates themselves? Chances are they wouldn't have done so without the serum and they weren't in control of themselves to make use of their Consitutionally provided right) for it not to be allowed.
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Old 03-03-2004, 08:15 AM   #14 (permalink)
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Quote:
what happens if someone given a truth serum implicates themselves
Thats the point. Justice is about truth.. The solution I am talking about would require a "truth serum" that works, tried, tested, and true..

Isnt the pursuit of truth more important then the 5th amendment?

Innocent until proven guilty is still valid. The innocent should have no quams about being asked questions in an environment where they cannot lie. The innocent should favor this system because they can be cleared of all charges in an hour, instead of going through the current months, or year of court battles...
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Old 03-03-2004, 08:18 AM   #15 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally posted by losthellhound
Thats the point. Justice is about truth.. The solution I am talking about would require a "truth serum" that works, tried, tested, and true..

Isnt the pursuit of truth more important then the 5th amendment?

Innocent until proven guilty is still valid. The innocent should have no quams about being asked questions in an environment where they cannot lie. The innocent should favor this system because they can be cleared of all charges in an hour, instead of going through the current months, or year of court battles...
Pleading the 5th is not the same as lying and it's a right of every citizen.
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Old 03-03-2004, 09:50 AM   #16 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally posted by losthellhound
Innocent until proven guilty is still valid. The innocent should have no quams[sic] about being asked questions in an environment where they cannot lie. The innocent should favor this system because they can be cleared of all charges in an hour, instead of going through the current months, or year of court battles...
This sounds like a defense of the PATRIOT Act. If you've got nothing to hide, what are you afraid of? I know that, personally, I've comitted crimes. I've broken the speed limit. I've shoplifted. I don't consider these crimes serious, but they would come out if I was asked under influence of a truth agent "Have you ever comitted a crime?" If you believe that no one would ever abuse the power, you have too much faith in humanity.
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Old 03-03-2004, 09:52 AM   #17 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally posted by losthellhound
Thats the point. Justice is about truth.. The solution I am talking about would require a "truth serum" that works, tried, tested, and true..

Isnt the pursuit of truth more important then the 5th amendment?

Innocent until proven guilty is still valid. The innocent should have no quams about being asked questions in an environment where they cannot lie. The innocent should favor this system because they can be cleared of all charges in an hour, instead of going through the current months, or year of court battles...
Some might say that there isn't any such thing as "truth" in the absolute sense. Two witnesses can describe the same crime and give two divergent, yet accurate, stories. That being the case truth can also be manipulated by the person in charge of interpreting or disseminating it. It has to be about more than just truth.

We like justice here in america, but we also like the right to privacy and unlawful searches. Truth is good, but freedom is better. If it were really only about finding truth we could switch to the telescreen system of 1984, whereby everything everywhere is constantly monitered.
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Old 03-03-2004, 10:07 AM   #18 (permalink)
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ya know...the really pissed off, cynical side of me says, "Sure..truth serum would be a nice way of conducting a trial." it would be a way fo making a trial 3 minutes long: "Did you commit whatever crime" "yes" bam, done, etc. same as confession...sounds great.

But the realist side of me knows there is no way in hell it would work and it would be a horrible violation of the constitution. And i may actually pull out a slippery slope argument for the "Isnt the pursuit of truth more important then the 5th amendment?" argument. In theory, sounds nice...in practice...wow, what a way to wipe out every amendment one step at a time...

Personally, i think the justice system is corrupt in some ways, but i have seen it work far more times than i've seen it fail. Admittedly, the failures were a bit more high profile, but i still have to believe it works on a fundamental level.

not sure what i can add to this w/out repeating what everyone else says..
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Old 03-03-2004, 10:30 AM   #19 (permalink)
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Well said Paq.
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Old 03-03-2004, 10:31 AM   #20 (permalink)
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I'm not necessarily down with the truth serum, but I also don't see the problem with a liberal usage of lie detector tests. Sure, they can be beaten... but not by many street punks, I'm sure. I know if I were wrongfully accused of a crime and I had this choice:

1. Beaten till I confess
2. Held for many days till I get my new expensive lawyer to spring me
3. Cooperate fully, but with people who KNOW I'm guilty (When I'm not)
4. Take a lie detector test and prove (to some degree) I'm innocent

I'd go for #4 every time. It may not be perfect, but if it keeps the cops from treating me like a murderer (That is their job, intimidation is a part of solving many crimes), I'm down with it. As an innocent dude, that'd be the easiest way to direct the cops to knock down someone else's door or at least find the real evidence.

I know, I can't be compelled to incriminate myself. As a guilty suspect, I'd probably avoid it like the plague... but if I did avoid it, wouldn't that tell you something?

This isn't limited to polygraph, there are also vocal and other lie detector methods that could be used.
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Old 03-03-2004, 12:20 PM   #21 (permalink)
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We don't need truth serum, we don't need to kill all the lawyers (they're a bunch of bright people trying their damndest to do their job in a flawed system) What is needed is to open the court system up.

It is enormously expensive to try a case, and if that weren't enough, it takes far too long, and the Rules of Evidence and Procedure are so complicated that a reasonably intelligent individual cannot hope to navigate them successfully, and many important facts are kept from the jury. When a case is tried years after the fact, memories are not fresh, but have been "refreshed" with a lawyer's advice, which does not necessarily lead to the actual truth.

Our courts are clogged with way too many cases for them to handle efficiently. Innocent but poor people remain in jail awaiting their "speedy" trial. People that deserve money aren't getting it, while the money sits in an escrow account, benefitting no one. Guilty people are out on bond, and if their defense attorneys are not anxious for a speedy trial, they can remain that way for a long time. We could fix this by creating more courts, or...
Here's my idealistic prescription:

1. Eliminate many small drug crimes, prostitution, and immigration issues through more effective legislation.

2. Undo the Federalization of many crimes that are already state crimes, but became federal crimes when Congress wanted to "get tough on Crime." Federal courts were not designed to handle this, and apart from being enormously expensive, unfair in that the prosecution gets two chances to convict someone(a generalization but it's too complicated to fully explain here), and preventing other cases that need to be heard, it does not ensure justice at all.

3. Whenever possible, have seperate courts and judges for civil and criminal matters. (Already done, to some extent, but it needs to go further.)

4. Eliminate/seriously alter many of the Rules of Evidence and Procedure. This is where good attorneys can really earn their money, but it does not help get to the truth. A good defense attorney in a civil suit can usually prevent a case from being tried if they want to by using the Rules effectively. Summary judgment on this issue or that issue prevent the jury from considering it at trial. The Rules of Evidence prevent things from getting to a jury at trial. This does not lead to the truth. We should start letting everything in, and having the lawyers earn their money by doing a better job of explaining the evidence, rather than keeping the evidence out.
Examples: an illegally obtained confession- it should come in, but have the lawyer argue that it was obtained in a manner that it's authenticity is questionable!
Hearsay- let it in, but then argue that it should be discounted because the person that said it isn't there to say it to their face, and risk cross examination.
I could go on and on, and on with examples. Seatbelts in car wrecks, semen in a rape victim's panities, a grocery store fixing something after someone fell, prior crimes, etc..
Jury selection designed to eliminate any jurors that would lean one way or the other is not something that is designed to get to the truth, but to help the client, and alters what a reasonable jury would determine as the outcome.

To get to the truth, we need some good legislation, and then to open the courts up so that all the evidence comes in, and good lawyers deal with it at trial, rather than rack up huge fees arguing about legal issues that are designed to keep part of the story away from the jury, only to settle it before trial. Cases that settle, even for nuisance value, hurt everyone eventually. Trust juries to be reasonable. In a sense, have the courts adopt an open marketplace formula but instead of the goal being to make money, the goal is justice. This would not do away with the Bill of Rights, and would be less expensive and, I think, a more reliable way of getting to the truth.

Last edited by dy156; 03-03-2004 at 12:48 PM..
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Old 03-03-2004, 12:44 PM   #22 (permalink)
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What it comes to is this:

Do you believe the state should have the right to come into your home, intoxicate you with mind altering drugs and interogate you under these circumstances.

If you have nothing to hide, and trust that the state will never abuse its power... then you are safe, lets give them all the truth drugs and jack boots they want.
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Old 03-03-2004, 12:46 PM   #23 (permalink)
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I think the legal system works pretty well considering it is the space where many of the immovable objects and irresistable forces within human nature get to duke it out in a civilized way.

It's a pragmatic kind of truth it creates. IMO, on this planet - that's the only truth there is.
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Old 03-03-2004, 02:32 PM   #24 (permalink)
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Now this is the kind of discussion I like

Now Ive noticed that most of the problems we have are based in the 5th amendment, and the protection you have so the government, and the judicial branch of it, cannot force you to testify against yourself..

My question (which may spawn another thread), is.. Is this all because of an inherant distrust of the authority of the government ?
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Old 03-03-2004, 10:18 PM   #25 (permalink)
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i think it may be more of a distrust of those in power. i think the old adage "power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely" would fit really well here. without concrete, albeit confusing and intricate, procedures and rules for the court and police to follow, what is to stop them from absuing their power? one guy on a power trip with nothing to keep them in check could do a lot of damage. and i personally trust enough in human nature to expect that to happen if given the chance.
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Old 03-03-2004, 11:19 PM   #26 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally posted by losthellhound
Now this is the kind of discussion I like

Now Ive noticed that most of the problems we have are based in the 5th amendment, and the protection you have so the government, and the judicial branch of it, cannot force you to testify against yourself..

My question (which may spawn another thread), is.. Is this all because of an inherant distrust of the authority of the government ?

Well, I can't speak about to Canadians, but to the south we had to fight to get our independence from the Crown.

After that, we had a Civil war less than 100 years later which didn't help.

Perhaps the flip question would be fair, why do you trust your government so much?
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Old 03-03-2004, 11:33 PM   #27 (permalink)
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For what it's worth, I trust my government and I do not mistrust those in power unless they give me reasons to do so. Those would have to be far more significant than the reasons typically referred to.

The common mistrust of government and of those in power is corrosive to both self and society.
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Old 03-04-2004, 08:15 AM   #28 (permalink)
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How about Nixon? That's the main root of America's distrust of government. I'll admit that Clinton didn't help that situation any, either.
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Old 03-04-2004, 08:47 AM   #29 (permalink)
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Quote:
Perhaps the flip question would be fair, why do you trust your government so much?
Don't get me wrong, not everyone here in Canada trusts the government. We have scandals and mistrust. The only difference that I can see is that we do not have the 'Big brother' fear that seems to linger in alot of countries. We have not had as many issues as other countries with civil liberty, slavery, segregation, and our Charter of Rights and Freedoms pretty much covers everything..
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Old 03-04-2004, 08:49 AM   #30 (permalink)
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The soundness of the existing constitutional processes certainly proved itself as regards Richard Nixon. He was forced out of office.

That's exactly what I'm talking about.
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Old 03-04-2004, 11:28 AM   #31 (permalink)
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The constitution is our last line of defense from the government. I think it is proof that the founding fathers were very mistrustful of government. Checks and balances reflect their belief that people can't be trusted not to exploit their power for their own aims.
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Old 03-04-2004, 11:59 AM   #32 (permalink)
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The way I see it, in a very essential way, the constitution is the government. It is the guiding document that informs all actions and processes of the government. I don't see a reason to draw a distinction between the constitution and the government - again, that would be my point.
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Old 03-04-2004, 12:11 PM   #33 (permalink)
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I see what you're saying.

I guess i see the need to draw a distinction because the constitution defines the goverment. The goverment doesn't always conduct itself in accordance with the constitution or its "spirit". Just look at the second amendment.

I think the constitution is the rulebook and the government is the game in action. Anyone whose watched any amount of football or basketball could tell you that there is often a certain disconnect between the techical rules of a game and how the game is actually played and refereed.
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Old 03-04-2004, 12:22 PM   #34 (permalink)
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Yep.
Understood.
Perhaps another thread on this would allow the discussion here to refocus on the legal system. Thanks.
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