What we call justice is a farrago of any old laws which fall into our hands, dispensed and applied often quite ineptly and iniquitously; those who mock at this and complain of it are not reviling that noble virtue itself but only condemning the abuse and the profanation of that venerable name of justice. – Montaigne, On the resemblance of children to their fathers.
Before you hunt for a lawyer’s deskbook on your own legal situation, let me entertain you with a peek into one particular deskbook of which I am hugely fond.
When I worked for lawyers, I had a couple of regular duties, one of which was to take the updated pages that arrived annually for each of the lawyers’ deskbooks to which we subscribed and insert them into each deskbook binder, while throwing out the old, invalid pages.
In 1996, while doing my thing with the Search Warrant Law Deskbook, which summarizes each individual state’s search warrant laws, I found myself reading it. And digging it.
Footnote: what follows is from the 1996 deskbook; maybe the laws have changed in the past fifteen years. But maybe not. So if you’re traveling in these great United States, be advised. Very advised.
I am not making up any of this.
Wherever you travel in the United States, it’s foolish to lug along drugs, guns and money. (Although things have so changed since 1996, that maybe if you’re lugging only one gun you’ll get into trouble.)
And of course every Joe Cop wants to get his judicially inscribed hands into our various premises–vehicles, brothels, pawnbrokers, body cavities and human corpses. You knew that. Still, it might rein in that impetuous urge to fling such items into your luggage along with those three extra pairs of shoes you’ll also come deeply to regret.
But it’s on a metaphysical level where the Deskbook really scores big. Each state’s particular search warrant requirements compose an exquisite mosaic of regional … zeitgeist? Nah, make that goofiness. Like provisions for searching “Lladro figurines.” Or “piglets of approximately six to eight (6-8) weeks in age, being a crossbreed of Yorkshire, Hampshire and Duroc …”
What I’m saying is, some states in our great country may be flopping around in the deep end of the law ‘n’ order pool.
Creeping all over the map, from Idaho to Missouri, there’s that dreary American desire to pinch obscene material. Utah goes so far as to label it “pornographic and harmful.” Utah is Orrin Hatch’s state. I mention this because if Orrin’s state-mates are defining harmful pornography, maybe you won’t want to be reading “Lad, A Dog” while camping out in Monument Valley.
Alabama—now famous for its spanking new and illegal, illegal immigrant search laws—was and maybe still is on the lookout also for beverage containers “unlawfully used or held.” I can’t advise you how to hold a can of Dr. Brown’s Diet Cel-Ray Tonic lawfully in Alabama. Maybe you’d better not go to Alabama.
Oregon, too, has a bee in its bonnet about that “unlawful holding” business. It’s cigarettes in Oregon. Question: what does the State mandate as the lawful way to hold a cigarette, anyway? Between thumb and forefinger, maybe, or dangling from the lower lip, like Bogart? And they don’t mention joints, so I guess “unlawful holding” doesn’t apply here.
And speaking of bees, both Washington and Wisconsin can search and seize [for] them. Now what happens if somebody else’s bee just floats into your car one day? My worst road nightmare, zooming along an interstate at 113 mph, somebody’s bee buzzing around my decolletage, hey, it’s not my bee, I don’t know how it got in my car, I’m in a screaming panic, jackbooted state cops chasing me down…
Kansas issues warrants for eavesdropping. No, not electronic eavesdropping, at least not the way Kansas law is written. Apparently, just acoustic eavesdropping will get you searched and seized. Let’s get this straight: if you listen in on a dopey conversation at a nearby table in a Topeka diner, you’ll be arrested? After which, by the way, Kansas will block your attorney from quashing that warrant for a technical irregularity.
Don’t keep intoxicating liquors in your Nevada domicile. They can search for ’em (dump the merlot, mother, the troopers are at the door!). Nevada will also search veterinarians, why I cannot imagine. Meanwhile, someone should clue in Oklahoma, where they’re still sending out posses to hunt down, oh right, “Communist activities.” (I suppose the nonsense about our current presidential administration being communist sprung out of some oil well in Oklahoma.)
Up in Dakota South, you’d better not be packing “mislabeled potatoes.” They’ll seize ’em. And they’ll also seize your guns, “if used in unlawful taking of elk or buffalo.” Guess you get to keep the ones you use for serial killing of humans, praise the lord. Which brings up Idaho, which was and maybe still is an asylum-of-choice for those adorably violent, tattooed survivalists. Idaho will issue a detention warrant for “obtaining evidence of identifying physical characteristics.” Must be a colorful tale behind that one. Will not be visiting Idaho to research it further.
Radiant, happy, paranoid Hawaii has a widescreen vision: searching for “arms or munitions of war.” Woo. And California can “inspect personal information pursuant to the Information Practices Act.” To that, I say… huh?
Let’s forget going west. We’ll try the south. Louisiana slams dogfighting offenses, grabs weapons of criminal street gangs—but presumably not weapons of plain old street gangs—and searches “seamen, deserted or secreted.” (Did they spell that right?)
Of course Florida noses around nursing homes, “adult congregate living facilities,” physicians’ and osteopaths’ offices. And Georgia? Well, property subject to seizure includes: kidnapped person or human fetus or human corpse and—grab this one—anything the possession of which is unlawful. Whomp. Oh, and P.S., diseased birds.
What have they been smoking in Kentucky, a decidedly inland state? Kentucky cites “warrantless inspection of mussels.” Mussels? Or is this another spelling error? (They should write a federal search warrant for the state of our education!)
Let’s come back to my home territory, the sane Northeast. Rhode Island gets snitty over the sale of noncomplying [sic] shellfish. And Massachusetts probes registered ice cream containers (get your hands off my Häagen Dazs!) and articles belonging to “subversive organizations.” That’s Blue State Massachusetts we’re talking about here.
New Jersey will issue a warrant for unlawfully marketed eggs.
Finally—with trumpet fanfare, illegally possessed fireworks and a private screening of the outtakes from Last Tango in Paris—New Hampshire issues search warrants for unlawful use of oleomargarine. Emphasis added. Yes, ma’am, that’s Section 185:55.
This is perhaps not the time to explain why we should all be grateful for these laws, or to plumb the ontology of the Fourth Amendment. Just have a fun vacation, don’t pack those piglets and, people—let’s all be very careful out there.