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March 08, 2004

The right to lie

It was a cheesy way to get Martha Stewart. It was like arresting someone for stealing a car and then, upon realizing that there was not enough evidence to prove that a car had been stolen, prosecuting for resisting arrest.

Stewart was not convicted of insider trading in 3,928 shares of ImClone Systems stock. The charges about that were dropped. She was convicted of lying to government employees who were asking questions about it.

The law is Title 18, U.S. Code, Sec. 2001, which you can read here and here.

Basically, if you lie to a government in a material way, even by saying ďI donít know anything about that,Ē when you do know, they can nail you. The law applies even if you arenít under oath. And the law does not apply to what they say to you. They can lie. You canít.

This law was originally written in the 19th century, and rewritten during the New Deal, to nail people who lie to get benefits under federal programs. Like the antiracketeering law, the Patriot Act, the Trading With the Enemy Act and other such pairs of pliers on the federal tool belt, it is useful for prosecutors. It makes the prosecutorial job easier. Of course they like it. But it is dangerous to the citizenís liberty.

I donít like the idea that my government can lie to me and I canít lie to them. If I am not under oath, and some busybody comes around asking questions, maybe I want to lie to them. Maybe I think what they want to know is none of their damn business.

Well, it is a whole lot safer simply to decline to talk. As citizens, we have a right to do that. At least for now.

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Posted by Bruce Ramsey at March 8, 2004 01:31 PM



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