Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Another legal conundrum

Following yesterday's post about the 'hate crime' issue, there's another legal imbroglio that's caught my eye. According to CNN:

[Youssef] Megahed came to the United States from Egypt in 1998 as a legal immigrant when he was 12. His problems started two years ago when, as an engineering student at the University of South Florida, he went on a road trip with a new friend, Ahmed Mohamed.

The men were pulled over on a highway, near Charleston, South Carolina, for speeding.

Police say they searched their vehicle and found PVC pipe with potassium nitrate inside, along with detonator cord inside one of Mohamed's bags.

The government said the materials were "low explosives." Mohamed said they were materials for homemade model rockets.

Youssef Megahed claimed he did not know that the materials were in the car.

. . .

Mohamed pleaded guilty to providing material support to terrorists and is serving a 15-year prison sentence.

However, Megahed went to trial and was found not guilty on two charges of possession and transportation of explosives. He was later set free.

"I'm very happy with this," he said, smiling to reporters after his acquittal.

. . .

Megahed left the courthouse on Friday, April 3, ready to resume his life and his studies. He and his family spent the weekend at the beach at Fort DeSoto, Florida. Three days later, federal agents surrounded him, and his father, Samir, as they left a Wal-mart store near their home in Tampa and he was arrested again.

"They surround us....I'm in shock. They didn't give us a chance to speak to somebody to know what was going on," said Samir Megahed. "I try to open the telephone, but they didn't allow me," he said.

Megahed is now being detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, as someone ICE says is "engaged or likely to become engaged in ... terrorist activity" even though he has never been criminally charged with terrorism.

ICE will present an immigration judge with the very same facts that led to Megahed's acquittal in the criminal case. In immigration court, the burden of proof is significantly less.

The evidence, from a search of the computer at his family's home, includes "numerous videos, documents and an Internet search history that supports Islamic extremism, jihad against the United States...," ICE alleged in court documents.

If found guilty, Megahed will be deported.

CNN requested an on-camera interview with Megahed, but ICE would not allow it.

"Because of the national security implications of this case, ICE cannot allow the use of recording devices during in-person interviews with Mr. Megahed," spokesman Richard Rocha said in an e-mail.

Instead, CNN conducted a phone interview with Megahed from the Glades County Detention Center, near Lake Okeechobee.

"I feel this is double jeopardy because the same allegations here are the same allegations that was there, in the court, in the trial," he said.

Megahed was asked, "Are you a terrorist?"

"I would say this is a false allegation," Megahed responded. "Baseless. And I go to court to fight those allegations again."

ICE spokeswoman Nicole Navas said in response: "He will have the opportunity to present the facts of his case before an immigration judge."

This is not the first time the government has gone to immigration court as a last resort after failing to win a criminal prosecution.

"The government doesn't use this a lot, but I think this is an arrow in the quiver that needs to stay because there are those cases where the government needs to do everything in its power to keep us safe, from some of those same individuals," said former U.S. Attorney Guy Lewis.

"In one context, the real question is, are you going to jail for a long period of time. The other context is, are you going to get to live among us," Lewis said.

But Youssef's father says it's pure discrimination against Muslims.

"They didn't want us to live here. And because he wins the case, they want to destroy him completely," Samir Megahed said.

There's more at the link.

Once again, this raises troubling questions. If Mr. Megahed was acquitted on criminal charges, surely it's double jeopardy to arrest him again on precisely the same evidence, and bring the same charges in another court? I know the courts have held that different charges in different courts don't violate the 'double indemnity' protection afforded by the Constitution, but these don't appear to be different charges. I'm very wary of allowing a legal bureaucracy to pursue such a case on so flimsy a pretext.

What say you, readers? Is suspicion - even what may be well-founded suspicion, if the evidence alleged to exist against Mr. Megahed is, in fact, real - sufficient grounds to overturn the principle of 'double jeopardy'? I maintain that it isn't. The principle is important enough that it should be paramount, in my opinion. However, I also accept that there's a case on the other side, even though I don't agree with it as presented in the article.

What say you? Please let us know in Comments.



reflectoscope said...

Det cord in model rocketry? I doubt that. I know for a fact that it has many uses in full-size rocketry for making things happen though.

As for making an immigration case out of facts which earned he an acquittal on criminal charges? Tricky question, that one. If organized society only works because of adherence to the rule of law, then he was acquitted fair and square, leave he alone already.

I wish I couldn't say, on the other hand...


Strings said...

I'd want to know what this supposed evidence is, first.

So there were "incriminating websites" in his browser history? That could be anything, up to and including someone looking at websites to see what the big deal is about them.

Show me the evidence, and let me decide. Don't just tell me that something is "incriminating": that's a judgment that should be made by a jury.

And yes, this DOES sound an awful lot like double jeopardy...

dave said...

"Change" we can believe in.

raven said...

First off, any model rocket expert could tell in five minutes of conversation whether or not this guy was legitimite user of the materials or not.

Second, the principal of double jepardy has and is routinely violated in this country. Usually there are machinations to give a veneer of legality (like changing the charge or using a different court, as was done in the Rodney King affair.
The point is, once the Government decides you are the target, they can grind you into oblivion- regardless of the merits of the case. They know this, and they count on it.
The spirt of the law is ALWAYS subordinate to the "letter" of the law. The authorities view the law as a tool to use to convict, not as a sifter to isolate the guilty.

Shane said...

I agree with Raven

Old NFO said...

Agree with Raven- PRetty much double jeopardy, but no real way to fight back.

Rick R. said...

I doubt it was "det cord".

They specifically stated that it wasn't "high explosives" -- which det cord is (it's basically PETN in a plastic hose; makes a good steel cutting charge).

I'll bet what he had was either copper wires and an electric match (which is what you are SUPPOSED to use for rocketry), or some kind of burning fuse, like the green Visco fuse commonly used by cannon owners and fireworks buffs (and occaisionally by model rocketry buffs).

Yeah, in my mind this kind of court shopping is double jeapordy. However, a valid (if weak) argument can be made that there IS a difference here. The original charge was a criminal one, punishable by prison time. This is an immigration hearing, where the worst "punishment" possible is that a guest may be asked to leave and not to come back.

You (as a non-citizen) can be denied the right to live in teh US for a variety of reasons wheich would NOT qualify as "crimes" in our legal system, but are considered good enough reason to ban entry.

The fact that this guest has been here peacefully AND LEGALLY for a decade and he is still probably waiting to be allowed to apply for citizenship, while La Raza wants illegal aliens to get immediate amnesty and citizenship is ALSO something that annoys me.

Anonymous said...

He was acquitted. To retry for the same alleged offense using the same evidence is not right.
But I WOULD watch him.

Mikael said...

I'm tired, so I'll try to keep this short:

It IS double jeopardy.
It IS abuse of power.
And given the fact's about det cord from Rick R. I'll go as far as saying both of them were in fact innocent from the get go, so there's a large chance of their already being an innocently jailed man from this incident.
The search of car may have been on flaky terms if they didn't get consent from Mohammed, don't think the probably cause justification would be stronger than "they looked like ragheads".
And finally:
Deporting him back to Egypt after 11 years in the US may very well be a death sentence. Especially if he emigrated due to he or his parents being oppressed/threatened/etc.

Don Gwinn said...

I get why people are concerned, but they put this kid on trial and he was acquitted. Period.

Mark said...

Why have they not sought citizenship.
They have been here long enough, and probably passed the residency requirements, and occupational requirements.
As they are resident aliens, this is not double jeopardy, We have the right to say: "While the evidence was not sufficient for criminal conviction, you may not stay here among we citizens any more." If they were Naturalized citizens then this would be unreasonable.

Rick R. said...

They may HAVE sought citizenship.

It's a long road. For all we know, he was just coming up to the end of it when this happened.

Unless you're a favored group and you can convince someone to wave a magic legislative wand, and BINGO! Even your illegal immigrant family members are citizens!

However, I'll reiterate --

The immigration hearing he is going to is NOT a trial. He will NOT be on trial for anything, nor will he risk being imprisoned.

Thus, by the reasoning that have been applied by the courts for years, it's NOT "double jeapordy".

the government is NOT trying to take away his life, liberty, or property -- they're just trying to tell him (a guest) to leave.

I don't agree with doing it, especially as weak-ass as this case seems to be, and I think it's a travesty.

But it ISN'T "double jeapordy".

The Safety Officer said...

Prosecuters use cases to gain the background they need to further their political careers. Some are more guilty of bending the rules than others.

I spent 30 years in the US Navy and then 15 years after that as a law enforcement officer.

Now retired I found a book titled " Conduct Unbecoming, Gays and Lesbians in the US Military" by Randy Shilts.

Since I spent my last 5+ years in the Navy at the Department Of Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute (DEOMI) at Patrick Air Force Base I thought the book would be a good read.

I am not condoning the life style described, but the misuses of the US legal system described throughout this book are absolutely terrifying. The communists and Nazis come to mind as you read the book.

My point is our legal system seems to be bastardized by many people at many levels...another reason to minimize government control of our lives.

Scott said...

Rick R is correct. Immigration is a civil matter, not criminal. People are brought to civil court (and lose) quite frequently over the exact same issue they were found innocent of in criminal court (O.J. is a well known example). There is no double jeopardy issue.