Chief Stephen Mills is a municipal police chief in central Oklahoma. He published this assessment of the Norman pipe shop acquittal, in his blog, Peace Officers & Liberty.
Yesterday, a little before 10:00 pm a Cleveland county Jury returned a Not Guilty verdict against the owners and management of the Friendly Market in Norman Oklahoma.
For those of you not familiar with the case, the market owners and management as well as store employees were charged with possession of drug paraphernalia due to the store selling glass ware and items that could be used to consume drugs. There is a state statute that prohibits selling glass pipes knowingly to be used to consume drugs.
Due to the particular zeal of a small group of officers, Norman has long had a zero tolerance policy on the selling of glass pipes. Generally once a store is identified as selling these items the police will notify they store the items are used to consume drugs and therefore can’t be legally sold. If the store refuses to stop selling the items the police will come in and seize all the cash on hand in the store as well as various merchandise items deemed seizable under asset forfeiture laws.
These Not Guilty verdicts have many implications for Oklahoma in many different aspects.
The biggest implication is the Jury determined the government telling you how they believed someone would utilize an item you sell does not constitute you knowing an item will be used for a particular purpose, nor does it mean that you have to agree or believe that is how the item will be used.
This has many broad implications. Let’s just look at gun control. It is illegal to sell a gun knowing that individual you are selling it to is buying it for the purpose of committing another crime. That is a legitimate law, but there are many people who believe guns are only used to kill and commit crimes. They don’t believe there is any legitimate purpose for an honest citizen to own or purchase a gun.
So if the idea the government could decide the sole purpose of an item and prohibit it based on use stood up in court; all the government would have to do to outlaw guns in a jurisdiction is tell the store owners they are used to commit crimes. Any possession of a gun in that jurisdiction would then be illegal as they recognize no legitimate purpose to have the gun other than to commit a crime. Possession of burglary tools is a crime in Oklahoma. A defense to this charge is legitimate use and possession. If this case stood every carpenter and handyman across the state could possibly be put out of business or charged with possession of burglary tools. You say that is taking it to far and that it would never happen. Well once the door is open it’s really hard to keep the flies out. You can’t just say they aren’t allowed to come inside or wont. If the door is open they will.
Or to put it in ranching terms, I can’t just open the gate to the feed bunk and expect just the cows I want to eat out of it to come through and all the others to stay out.
What the jury’s Not Guilty verdict did was put the responsibility for the use of a product back on the individual using the product to commit a crime. At least for a little while we are again free to make our own decisions to do the right thing, and are responsible for our own actions when we don’t.
Yes, this was a great day for Oklahoma. The end never justifies the means and we as law enforcement need to realize that we serve the community and aren't masters of the community. Our number one job is to protect the rights and safety of our community. Sometimes that means we have to let people make their own mistakes. We can’t hold the builders of a road liable because at some point someone will have a Collision on it.
As always, I am happy to read your comments and opinions. We don't all have to agree with each other, we just have to be nice to each other.
Read the other articles of Stephen Mills at Peace Officers & Liberty.