One of our oldest and most cherished principles is that punishing innocent people is to be avoided at all costs. (Blackstone said that ‘it is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer’. Benjamin Franklin raised that from ten to a hundred.) And yet, in the last few months, punishing the innocent has become one of the main activities of government at all levels.
But wait — surely making people stay home, and preventing them from operating their businesses, isn’t punishment. It’s just, you know… precaution. Being careful. Protecting public health. Right?
House arrest has been a form of punishment since before Galileo was forced to stay home after being convicted of heresy — from 1633 until his death in 1642.
Earlier this year, Solomon Stinson of Florida was sentenced to two years of house arrest after being convicted of three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
So please, don’t tell me that being forced to stay home isn’t a punishment. It’s one of the ways we punish convicted felons.
What about not being able to work? Remember Michael Milken? He was permanently barred from the securities industry by the Securities and Exchange Commission after being convicted of violating federal finance laws. The same sort of thing has happened to a lot of less famous financiers and financial advisors (like Lester Burroughs, just a month ago), who are not allowed to work in their professions as punishment for their crimes. And similarly in other professions.
So please, don’t tell me that being forbidden to work at your chosen career isn’t a punishment. It’s one of the ways we punish convicted felons.
Looking ahead, note that some states require convicted sex offenders to wear GPS-enabled ankle bracelets so their locations can be tracked at all times, in case they get too close to someone they shouldn’t. That doesn’t sound a lot different than the contact-tracing apps that are about to become standard features on all new phones, does it?
So please, don’t tell me that having your movements traced 24/7 isn’t a punishment. It’s one of the ways we punish convicted felons.
What people either don’t realize, or don’t want to admit, is that when His Excellency said that ‘public health trumps everything’, he was including our 500-year tradition of rejecting the punishment of persons who haven’t been convicted, let alone accused, of any wrongdoing.
About the only thing I can think of that is sadder than this is the eagerness with which so many people in New Hampshire welcomed it.