Border Issues

As many of you will already know, Peter Watts had his day in court yesterday, and has been found guilty. He now faces the possibility of up to two years in prison, although the final sentence could be a lot less (possibly even non-custodial).

Much outrage has already been vented around teh intrawebs, but before you add to it I strongly suggest that you read Peter’s remarkably measured and calm analysis of the case.

There is a tendency, especially amongst those of us who have training in IT or science, to think that laws are something simple and fair; rules by which one can easily be judged guilty or not. That’s often far from the truth, especially when cross-border issues and/or juries are involved. Often laws leave massive room for lawyers to argue a point. Cross-border issues tend to bring out the worst in people. And whether someone is “guilty” or not can often depend very heavily on the views of the jury members (see this article about the Christopher Handley obscenity case for another example).

Peter’s case is, in most ways, much more serious than mine. He has already faced massive legal bills, and could face much worse. Two things, however, we have in common. Both of us have a chance of being on the Hugo ballot in Reno (both through Clarkesworld in different ways) and won’t be able to attend the ceremony if we are. And both of us are caught in a situation where, regardless of the rights and wrongs of the case, we are going to be deemed guilty because it is a border issue and people get very irrational over such things.

In such situations, all you can do is go forward as best you can, and make as much lemonade as is possible of the lemons that life has thrown you. Judging from his blog post, Peter is holding up fairly well. I wish him all the best and hope he can stay that way.

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One Response to Border Issues

  1. Interestingly, in the Port Huron Times-Herald coverage, someone who purports to have been one of the jurors said:

    As a member of the jury that convicted Mr. Watts today, I have a few comments to make. The jury’s task was not to decide who we liked better. The job of the jury was to decide whether Mr. Watts “obstructed/resisted” the custom officials. Assault was not one of the charges. What it boiled down to was Mr. Watts did not follow the instructions of the customs agents. Period. He was not violent, he was not intimidating, he was not stopping them from searching his car. He did, however, refuse to follow the commands by his non compliance. He’s not a bad man by any stretch of the imagination. The customs agents escalted the situation with sarcasm and miscommunication. Unfortunately, we were not asked to convict those agents with a crime, although, in my opinion, they did commit offenses against Mr. Watts. Two wrongs don’t make a right, so we had to follow the instructions as set forth to us by the judge.

    (I can’t figure out a way to link to the specific comment.)