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News The 8th amendment and bails and fines

  1. Dec 15, 2009 #1
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eighth_Amendment_to_the_United_States_Constitution#Excessive_bail

    Regardless of the severity of the crimes, you are protected by the eight amendment for paying for hefty fee beyond its the financial limitations of the person who was arrested. Where is the line drawn for determining what bail is too excessive for a person to pay and what bail is not so excessive, given the finances of the person? Obviously , when the RIAA charges a fee like $150,000 to a person who didn''t buy the song for per song,then they are clearly violating the 8th amendment.What do you guys think? Do you think the eighth amendment is generally overlooked by the public and the eight amendment is never mentioned when people who went to jail are faced with hefty bail fees?
     
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  3. Dec 15, 2009 #2

    BobG

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    Are you talking about bail or talking about the fines imposed? Or are you actually talking about damages?

    Bail should only be high enough to ensure the person will show up for court and is directly related to how serious a punishment the suspect could face if guilty. A crime that could result in life imprisonment could convince a guilty person that fleeing was worth it no matter how high the bail was set, while a high bail could force an innocent person to spend months in jail awaiting trial. I think it's hard to say where the balance should be set for really serious crimes.

    A fine should be high enough to deter others from committing the same crime, but not just a means of generating extra revenue. (Doubling or tripling traffic fines during a budget deficit, for example).

    Neither have much relationship to the offender's ability to pay. Otherwise, a homeless beggar would never be punished by a fine.

    I think you're talking about the results of civil court cases, not criminal court cases. Damages in a civil case have no relationship to the offender's ability to pay whatsoever and has nothing to do with the 8th Amendment. The damages are to compensate the victim - not to punish the offender (except for cases where a specific portion is punitive to discourage situations like the Ford Pinto, where it's cheaper to pay for the dead than to fix an engineering problem).

    A victim does have an obligation to show they actually suffered damages as severe as the result. Did this one person really do this much damage to the RIAA to justify the offender pay the RIAA $1.92 million dollars?
     
  4. Dec 18, 2009 #3
    The 8th amendment does not make exceptions for which type of court cases it would apply to. I supposed one could argue that it only applies to the federal government and not what sorts of fines the State governments are allowed to imposed on the governed population within a particular state . The damages are allowed to compensate the victim? Then damages can be excessive too if the person who is responsible for the damages pays by more than what they stole or destroyed from the victim as the link you posted about the RIAA demanded around 2 million dollars from a person who "stole"(rather duplicated) a copy of one song?

    The prevention of excessive bail was also put into place to prevent and deter corruption in the judicial system. The more money accumulated by the Courts, the higher the chance for the abuse of power within the court system.
     
  5. Dec 18, 2009 #4

    BobG

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    The federal government can demand some pretty large sums as compensation for damages, as well. Terry Barton, a forest ranger, was ordered to reimburse the federal government $14.6 million for damages caused by a forest fire she started (she was burning a letter she received from a husband that was divorcing her and her grief caused her to be a little careless in how she disposed of the burning letter in the middle of the worst drought to hit the area in decades).

    There is no debtor's prison and you can't toss a person in jail for contempt of court when they fail to pay money they don't have. Obviously, the only way the government will ever collect the money Barton owes them is if she wins the lottery (if I were her, I just wouldn't even bother buying lottery tickets when the jackpot was $14.6 million or less).

    Those are empty judgements, although it at least sets things up so the damaged person can collect something from the person causing the damage. They could get around half that person's income (the limit for garnisheeing wages is somewhere near 50%, plus or minus).

    As to the $1.92 million dollar verdict, juries are notorious for just not having a clue about how to determine these types of cases. It's easy to become lost and glassy eyed when the most common reason you're sitting on a jury is that you're not smart enough to figure a way out of serving. The average person might be able to determine if a person is guilty or innocent, but it gets real hard to determine just what the real damage was in some of these cases when both sides are giving such drastically different estimates.

    Unfortunately, the only way to fix problems like that in a system that relies on juries is to pass a Constitutional Amendment requiring Americans to read a book once in a while instead of watching lawyer shows on TV.
     
  6. Dec 18, 2009 #5

    russ_watters

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    The states are bound by the Bill of Rights.
     
  7. Dec 18, 2009 #6

    russ_watters

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    I'm not a fan of the RIAA and I'm not sure what logic was used for that, but one possible logic would be that if the person was sharing the file for upload (as opposed to having just downloaded it), they could multiply the cost of the song by the number of times it is downloaded. Ie, maybe the person provided free copies of the song to a million other people.
     
  8. Dec 18, 2009 #7
    Yeah, that is what occured. The jury found this lady guilty of copyright infringement. I'm not sure what exactly they felt about the fine amount. As well this lady doesn't have to pay that amount anyways.
     
  9. Dec 18, 2009 #8

    BobG

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    Yes, but the absurdity of the whole thing boggles the mind.

    Rasset had to pay $9250 per song after her first trial, and $80,000 per song for a $1.92 million dollar total after her second trial. (That on top of her legal fees, although her lawyers for the second trial worked pro bono)

    Another defendant, Joel Tennenbaum, had to pay $22,500 per song. The irony here is that his case had been consolidated into a single docket for a default judgement against defendants that just ignored the charges against them, but then he actually appeared at court. The judge stopped the default judgement against him and helped him get a lawyer to fight the charges.

    The defendants that ignored the charges were found guilty by default and paid about $750 per song. With defendants downloading an average of 10 songs each, that averaged out to around $7500 per defendant. If you're Tennenbaum (who downloaded around 30 songs and would have been hit for $22,500 total instead of $675,000 total), you're thinking "Thanks Judge. I really appreciate the help you gave me."

    Defendants that figured they were guilty and caught usually settled with the RIAA for around $3000 to $5000 dollars, regardless of how many songs they downloaded.

    It's just an absurd way of doing justice, sometimes. Is it any surprise that the people likeliest to get sued want tort reform?

    Ignoring RIAA lawsuits cheaper than going to trial
     
    Last edited: Dec 18, 2009
  10. Dec 18, 2009 #9

    BobG

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    I'm sure sharing the file for upoad had to figure into the settlement somehow, but there was no proof of the files being downloaded by others in her case. In fact, in the first case, the jury instructions specified that it wasn't necessary for the files to be downloaded at all in order for Rasset to be guilty of distribution. She only had to make the files available for download.

    It was those instructions that caused a retrial. In the second trial, there were no instructions about what constituted distributing the songs illegally and the jury didn't specify one way or the other as to why they assessed the fee they did (it was approximately half way between the $750 per song penalty suggested by the defense and the $150,000 per song penalty suggested by the record company).

    It might sound a little bizarre, but what are the chances of the record companies putting out a CD package containing the songs Rasset and Tenenbaum illegally downloaded. The proceeds could go to paying Rasset's and Tenenbaum's damages, with the recording companies keeping any profits above and beyond what's necessary to pay the damages.

    Rasset's track list (I like hers better):
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capitol_v._Thomas#The_24_songs

    Tenenbaum's track list (he has lousy taste in music):
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RIAA_v._Tenenbaum#31_songs
     
    Last edited: Dec 18, 2009
  11. Dec 18, 2009 #10
    Some of the amendments to the Bill of rights apply to the states. But some of the amendments obviously apply only to the federal government otherwise , some of the amendments wouldn't just say 'Congress shall make no law...' and Congress is a branch of government that is part of the federal government. THe US bill of rights were brought into existence because many of the anti-federalists did not approve of how much power the federal government had in the original Constitution and the US bill of rights represented the limits of how much power the federal government can have.
     
  12. Dec 18, 2009 #11

    BobG

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    Check the 14th Amendment. The Bill of Rights applies to the states, as well as the federal government.

    Don't get too wrapped up in the US as it was when the Constitution was first approved. Starting with the War of 1812, when people realized having your capitol burned down probably meant your federal government was too weak, and ending with the civil war and post-war amendments, power made a steady transition from state governments to the federal government.

    (Up until the civil war, threatening to secede was a sure-fire way to get the rest of the country to give in to your demands. Southern states might have been a little surprised at having the federal government call its bluff.)
     
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