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Sci-Fi Writer Peter Watts Convicted of Assault

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  • by Gudeldar (705128) on Saturday March 20, 2010 @03:59PM (#31551590)
    It would be nice to know if there was some evidence besides the accounts of the officer and Watts. If what the officers said is true then he is guilty and if Watts said is true then the officers assaulted him.
    • at he can keep being a writer in lockup.

    • by Manip (656104)

      Indeed. And since we can almost certainly guarantee there is video, the question is will this appear in court or is the camera "damaged?"

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The wikipedia article linked to in the summary implies there was a video of the incident.

      "A local newspaper, the Port Huron Times-Herald, submitted a FOIA request to US Customs and Border Protection to be given the video recording of the incident. On January 14, 2010, the paper reported that the agency denied the request because "it is an ongoing investigation."[15]"

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Watts#Border_incident

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by erroneus (253617)

        Great! So as he has been convicted, it is no longer "an ongoing investigation." Now can we see for ourselves what happened and then, if their case is BS, file an appeal?

    • Peter Watts describes in much more detail events of the trial and conviction on his blog [rifters.com].

      It would be nice to know if there was some evidence besides the accounts of the officer and Watts.

      In a previous blog entry Watts mentioned there was video surveillance of the incident that would be used in court, but now he makes no comment on it. Maybe the video wasn't as helpful to him as he first said it would be (or maybe there wasn't any after all).

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Well, the way he describes it, he was convicted for failing to comply immediately with the official's order, which is something it seems that he doesn't deny. So the videotape wouldn't have helped with that.

        Let's hope that Michigan judges have discretion in sentencing. Chances are they do.

      • Re: (Score:2, Redundant)

        by jjohnson (62583)

        Jurors watched complete video of the entire incident. In interviews afterwards, they said the border guards acted like assholes, but Watts was guilty of the law as explained to them.

        • by Doctor_Jest (688315) on Saturday March 20, 2010 @05:05PM (#31552108)
          That's always the problem in these sorts of things, because there is always going to be more than a "stink" if you scuffle with officers, even if they're being assholes.

          I remember one 4th of July night I was stopped by a State Trooper and I immediately was required to step out of the vehicle. If I had been a dick, I probably would've been in jail for a few days. They were looking for a vehicle like mine, and when they found it wasn't mine, I got a "warning" of going over 60. The officer looked in the bed of my truck (it was a Red truck, go figure) and I must've stood on the side of the highway for oh, 20 or so minutes while they conferred and other nonsense. It was bullshit, and they knew it... but other than me having to stand on the side of the road, it was just an inconvenience. (They never asked to search inside the vehicle...)

          Moral of the story: Most cops are okay... but there are dicks and bitches in uniform. Getting frisky with them will do nothing but make more trouble for YOU, and the dipshits in uniform will continue to be dipshits. It's best to handle this from outside the incidents in question, rather than escalating an already asinine situation. I'm not saying that Watts was right or wrong... just the circumstances of "penises with badges" always end in disaster for the victim if they escalate it. *shrug* I don't have a perfect answer for the problem either.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Fnkmaster (89084)

        His blog entry seems to suggest that the question the jury considered was whether his failure to comply with a command was sufficient to warrant his conviction. In other words, the issue wasn't who slugged whom first, because it was conceded that the border guard hit him in the face first. The issue was after that, he failed to comply with the border guard's order promptly and that was what he was convicted for, not for assaulting the border guard, which was disproven in court.

        If his account is honest, it

    • by Bartab (233395) on Saturday March 20, 2010 @04:32PM (#31551828)

      Oddly, a grand jury found reason enough to charge, and a second criminal jury found reason enough to convict.

      • by billstewart (78916) on Saturday March 20, 2010 @05:15PM (#31552176) Journal

        There wasn't really much argument about whether or not Watts immediately and obediently complied with the order - he says he asked them what they were doing and why. It took the jury about four days to decide that the law said that meant he was technically guilty of not complying. The juror who commented on Watts's blog also said that the cops had acted badly in the way they attacked Watts, but that this case was against Watts and not an assault or brutality case against the cops so they had no official judgement about that.

    • Yeah, it'd be great if the article linked to items relevant to the conviction (you know, the primary focus of the article) instead of the preliminary stories that have already been reported many times on /. How about a link to the CBS story reporting the conviction? Isn't that the frickin' title of your story? FAIL SJrX.

    • I am a criminal defense attorney. My experience is that whenever it's the word of the police versus the word of the person accused of a crime, the accused loses. In most jurisdictions in the US, judges and juries tend to believe the cops. Unless the case was tried by a jury in a large metro area with significant minority population ( and the jury is reflective of that), chances are a guilty verdict will result.

    • by elbow_spur (749878) on Saturday March 20, 2010 @05:00PM (#31552060)
      The following points were established during the trial. http://www.rifters.com/crawl/?p=1186 [rifters.com]
      • 1. The incident occured as Watts was exiting the US. He was stopped by US border patrol for a random "exit inspection"
      • 2. Watts initially got out of the car and requested an explanation. At that point, one of the border patrol officers told him to get back in the car. He did so
      • 3. An officer named Beaudry rushed over to the scene, got into the car with Watts, struck him in the face and told him to get out.
      • 4. Watts exited the car and Beaudry ordered him to get to the ground.
      • 5. Watts did not comply, but rather demanded an explanation.
      • 6. Beaudry pepper-spayed watts and threatened him with a baton. At that point Watts lay down, was handcuffed, and placed under arrest.

      At no point did Watts engage in a physical confrontation with the CBP officers. Upon cross-examination the "choking" accusation and the "aggressive stance" accusations were shown to have been fabricated.
      The conviction stemmed solely from point #5 Here are a couple of post-trial juror statements. One was posted on Watts own site. The other was posted as a comment to the Port Huron report on the verdict; see
      http://www.thetimesherald.com/article/20100319/NEWS01/3190308/Jury-remains-out-in-Watts-trial?plckFindCommentKey=CommentKey:e3d49247-c265-47a6-9721-5713e32cc7ed [thetimesherald.com]



      As a member of the jury that convicted Mr. Watts today, I have a few comments to make. The jury’s task was not to decide who we liked better. The job of the jury was to decide whether Mr. Watts “obstructed/resisted” the custom officials. Assault was not one of the charges. What it boiled down to was Mr. Watts did not follow the instructions of the customs agents. Period. He was not violent, he was not intimidating, he was not stopping them from searching his car. He did, however, refuse to follow the commands by his non compliance. He’s not a bad man by any stretch of the imagination. The customs agents escalted the situation with sarcasm and miscommunication. Unfortunately, we were not asked to convict those agents with a crime, although, in my opinion, they did commit offenses against Mr. Watts. Two wrongs don’t make a right, so we had to follow the instructions as set forth to us by the judge.



      Peter,

      I believe your description of the trial and deliberations is more accurate than you could know. As a non-conformist and “libertarian” (who has had some experiences not unlike yours) I was not comfortable with my vote, but felt deep inside that it was consistent with the oath we took as jurors. I believe nearly all the jurors searched for a legitimate reason to vote differently. In the end it came down to the question “Was the law broken?”. While I would much rather have a beer and discussion with you than Officer B. I never the less felt obligated to vote my conscience. I also believe most, if not all, the jurors sincerely hope that you are handled with a great degree of leniency, we, unfortunately have no say in that matter.

      • by Fnkmaster (89084) on Saturday March 20, 2010 @05:07PM (#31552120)

        That's pathetic. Regardless of the letter of the law, if the guy didn't do anything that should amount to criminal behavior, and his behavior was reactive - a response to being unjustly assaulted - then the jury failed utterly to do its job. If the law is being applied unjustly or unfairly in a case, as it seems to have been here (the assault was committed by an officer, not by the defendant), then jury nullification is a justifiable, and in fact morally obligatory, response.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Bigjeff5 (1143585)

          I don't know if you know this, but refusing to comply with a law enforcement official has a couple hundred years precedent stating that it amounts to criminal behavior.

          As the juror said, two wrongs don't make a right. If you want to screw the cops, you behave like a model citizen and then sue the shit out of them when they abuse their position.

          then the jury failed utterly to do its job.

          I'm guessing you've never been on a jury before, and so have absolutely no idea what a jury is there for. Juries don't know the law. They aren't expected to. That

          • by ChipMonk (711367) on Saturday March 20, 2010 @06:33PM (#31552788) Journal

            no man should have the power to be judge and jury.

            Nonsense. Any single juror can pronounce the defendant "not guilty," and it would have the force of law behind it. Same goes for a summary judgment of "not guilty" from the bench, or a refusal by the assigned judge to hear the case. There has to be full agreement between the grand jury, the judge, and the petit jury for a conviction. That's at least 25 people, maybe more if there's more than 12 grand jurors.

            As for "only Peter Watts was on trial," the answer for that is simple. Ask all the jurors, "Faced with the same situation, would you have done the same thing? And if you did, could you still see yourself as a law-abiding citizen?" Any one juror answering "yes" to the second question would mean an acquittal.

            When two police officers are giving contradictory orders, as in this case, and the result is a charge of "failure to comply," it's entrapment, pure and simple. The shocking thing is, as I type this, I see no mention of the term on here, in well over 100 comments.

          • by Attila Dimedici (1036002) on Saturday March 20, 2010 @07:08PM (#31553134)

            I'm guessing you've never been on a jury before, and so have absolutely no idea what a jury is there for. Juries don't know the law. They aren't expected to. That's what the Judge is for. Judge and Jury act as two sides of the same coin.

            The jury is there is part to decide if the law should apply in this case. If we just wanted people to decide if the law had been followed, we would be better served by creating professional juries who were trained in the law. Lawyers (and judges are lawyers) don't want the general populace to understand this because it reduces the importance of their carefully written laws that require years of study to understand what they mean. The purpose of juries is to decide if the defendant has committed a crime, regardless of what the law says. The justification for the judges' very strict instructions is that the jury's discretion is only supposed to work one way: find the defendant not guilty even if he violated the letter of the law, if the jury thinks the defendant is guilty of what should be a crime but did not violate the letter of the law, they are supposed to find him not guilty.

          • by Maxo-Texas (864189) on Sunday March 21, 2010 @12:31AM (#31555096)

            The reason a jury of your peers is involved is so they can refused to return a guilty plea if they think the crime wasn't committed, was justified, or the law is bogus.

            The legal system has been so corrupted that following the laws as written just means you are screwed. Hell, they've probably executed a couple hundred innocent people at this point.

            Every time you serve as a juror (as i will next week), you protect your right to jury nullification. If they ask you questions about your beliefs on it (or "will you follow the law as written") then your correct answer is that you will do so. And then once you are on the jury- do what is right- do what is just.

            Don't argue jury nullfication in the jury room and do not tell any other juror you believe it . Simply say, "not guilty- not convinced- not sure- but not guilty".

        • by Blakey Rat (99501)

          I'm guessing you've never served on a jury.

          The jury's job is to decide if the law was broken. Period. They don't get to "make allowances" for how nice people are, they get zero say in the sentencing.

          I had a similar experience where I had to vote guilty to a guy who I don't believe deserved the punishment the court would be required to hand down, but there was nothing else I could do... he did break the letter of the law.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by LordLucless (582312)

            They don't get to "make allowances" for how nice people are, they get zero say in the sentencing.

            No, they do. Juries get to decide whether there will even be a sentancing, by voting either Guilty or Not Guilty. Juries are not required to give a reason for their vote. Although often the judge will tell them they can only consider the law, this is not the case, and has not been since the inception of America.

            Juries have the right to vote Not Guilty for no other reason than the promptings of their own conscience. The fact that officers of the court routinely try and suppress knowledge of this right is an

      • by MurphyZero (717692) on Saturday March 20, 2010 @05:49PM (#31552428)
        The 6 points do establish that the border patrol agents gave conflicting orders (2 and 3+4). From that, the fact that Watts asked for an explanation. The officer that was ordering him to the ground was conflicting the order from the first officer. An explanation would be appropriate as officer #2 is asking him to violate an order from officer #1. From such, asking for an explanation is an aid to the officers not a non-compliance, in fact it was Beaudry that resisted the actions of the first officer. As a juror, I would have found as such and therefore Watts was not guilty.
      • Jury Nullification (Score:4, Insightful)

        by UberDude (70424) on Saturday March 20, 2010 @05:49PM (#31552432)

        IANAL...

        You would have been entirely within your rights to acquit, if you felt that it was unjust to convict him under the circumstances. You're not forced to follow the directions of the judge, otherwise there wouldn't be any point in having a jury at all. If I was Peter Watts' lawyer, reading your message, I would be filing an appeal on Monday morning, on grounds of misdirection.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by CODiNE (27417)

        Peter is lucky he isn't deaf. That could have ended a LOT worse.

      • by Sir_Lewk (967686) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (kwelris)> on Saturday March 20, 2010 @06:35PM (#31552810)

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jury_nullification [wikipedia.org]

        Every citizen eligible for jury duty should know about this.

      • by Anonymous Cowpat (788193) on Saturday March 20, 2010 @07:01PM (#31553032) Journal

        I believe your description of the trial and deliberations is more accurate than you could know. As a non-conformist and “libertarian” (who has had some experiences not unlike yours) I was not comfortable with my vote, but felt deep inside that it was consistent with the oath we took as jurors. I believe nearly all the jurors searched for a legitimate reason to vote differently. In the end it came down to the question “Was the law broken?”. While I would much rather have a beer and discussion with you than Officer B. I never the less felt obligated to vote my conscience. I also believe most, if not all, the jurors sincerely hope that you are handled with a great degree of leniency, we, unfortunately have no say in that matter.

        I'm not sure if you're quoting (I've seen that exact block of text in 3 places now), or if you're actually saying it. Here's is my response.

        I was not comfortable with my vote

        I also believe most, if not all, the jurors sincerely hope that you are handled with a great degree of leniency, we, unfortunately have no say in that matter.

        Actually, you do. Or, rather, you did, until you threw it away by not putting the khybosh on the case (by doing what you admit that you thought was right) by refusing to convict.

        but felt deep inside that it was consistent with the oath we took as jurors.

        I'm glad to see that you put your oath (aka some words that you said) ahead of justice. Quoth Einstein "Never do anything against conscience even if the state demands it."

        I believe nearly all the jurors searched for a legitimate reason to vote differently.

        Peter Watts was confused and disorientated by conflicting orders, 2 punches in the face and pepper spray. It is not certain that he was physically or mentally capable of immediately processing and obeying he instruction when given.
        That took me around 20 seconds to think of - what the hell were you doing that 12 of you couldn't figure it out over a period of several hours?
        On a related note, you don't NEED to find a reason why you should do the right thing. What you've just said is "we couldn't find a reason to justify doing the right thing, so we did the wrong thing"

        In conclusion, you're a fool who utterly failed to discharge his duty as a juror properly, and has significantly harmed an innocent man as a result.

    • One of the jurors in the case commented on Watt's blog that he wasn't convicted of assault, just refusal to comply with the officer's orders. It wasn't clear whether he was also convicted of obstruction, I think not. The juror also commented that he thought the officers acted criminally in their treatment of Watts, but that wasn't part of this court case so they came to no official conclusions.

  • by LostCluster (625375) * on Saturday March 20, 2010 @04:07PM (#31551640)

    He will be sentenced April 26th

    The sentence will be sent to his editor May 5.
    They'll have it proofread and the final edit will be done June 7.
    Armed truck drivers will deliver the sentence to Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and Borders locations on an undisclosed date.
    The sentence will go on sale August 11.

    Please, no spoilers before the release date.

  • Whatt? (Score:4, Funny)

    by angiasaa (758006) on Saturday March 20, 2010 @04:08PM (#31551648) Homepage

    So when someone said "Watts the problem",
    He said "I'm certainly not!"

    That kind of attitude with the police can earn you a can of pepper-spray!
    Also, that kind of attitude in court could certainly earn you some jail-time!

  • by Hortensia Patel (101296) on Saturday March 20, 2010 @04:29PM (#31551816)

    From Watts' own blog [rifters.com]:

    Here at the Sarnia Best Western I don't have the actual statute in front of me but it includes a lengthy grab-bag of actions, things like "assault", "resist", "impede", "threaten", "obstruct" -- hell, "contradict" might be in there for all I know. And under "obstruct" is "failure to comply with a lawful order", and it's explicitly stated that violence on the part of the perp is not necessary for a conviction. Basically, everything from asking "Why?" right up to chain-saw attack falls under the same charge. And it's all a felony.

    Making Light put it more caustically [nielsenhayden.com]:

    Peter Watts has been found guilty of being assaulted by a border guard. The actual charge was obstructing a border officer. The other charges were refuted in court, but there remained the fact that Watts, having just been punched twice in the head, did not immediately drop to the ground when ordered to do so, instead asking what the problem was. Apparently, this is a felony.

    • by Bartab (233395) on Saturday March 20, 2010 @04:52PM (#31551968)

      Both the blogs are biased, uninformative, and basically uninteresting.

      Furthermore, the source chosen for the slashdot posting seems to have been searched for and specifically chosen so as to be the least informative and lacking in interest. A better one is at Toronto Star [thestar.com]

      Among the information in that paper is a statement by Watts that the trial was fair, and a direct contradiction to "Making Light's" timeline of events.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Watts' blog is biased, uninformative, and basically uninteresting, so... you link instead to the Toronto Star quoting that same blog, and quote the quote of that blog just for good measure?

        At least the Star's description - resisting and obstructing, not assault - is an improvement on the Slashdot one.

        The ML post, I'll grant, was exaggerating a little for the sake of snark.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Random Data (538955)
        Perhaps you should go back to the grandparent and the parent, and read Watts' own words. He states that he has no problem with the trial, judge, defense, prosecutor, jury or even the guards conduct in court. It's the law itself in this case, which says that if you don't immediately comply with a command you are guilty of assaulting a police officer. That's what he's been convicted of, and although not happy he claims he will abide by the court's decision. It might be interesting to grab the transcript. Wat
    • by Cederic (9623)

      So surely there's an appeal possible around a plea of self-defence, and indeed remarkable constraint in not putting the border guard's head through his car window?

  • the problem... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by hitmark (640295) on Saturday March 20, 2010 @04:32PM (#31551840) Journal

    is twofold:

    1. what he was found guilty of is that of obstructing the border guard from doing his job. and that part of the law is so vague, that simply asking what the problem is can be seen as obstruction.

    2. the jury was not there to consider the guard behavior, but about point 1.

    so in essence, watts was screwed from the moment his car got stopped while leaving USA (yep, he had gotten in just fine, it was while going back to canada that the trouble started).

    • Re:the problem... (Score:4, Interesting)

      by MichaelSmith (789609) on Saturday March 20, 2010 @04:40PM (#31551904) Homepage Journal

      I visited the US with my then girlfriend in 1997. We applied for visas at the US consulate in Melbourne, Australia. We had such a bad experience at the consulate that I am sure it would have ended as badly as this if we had been in the US at the time.

      But then we entered the US at Newark and departed at Los Angeles and had no problems at all. The officials we interacted with were very polite and professional. I think its just the luck of the draw.

  • by ishmalius (153450) on Saturday March 20, 2010 @05:01PM (#31552070)

    "Watts arrested for resistance"

  • by russotto (537200) on Saturday March 20, 2010 @05:41PM (#31552366) Journal

    If a cop socks you in the face for no reason, and decides to bring you up on charges for "resisting a police officer", you'll be convicted on the grounds that your face impeded the free movement of the cop's fist. (and no, I'm not exaggerating).

    Any juror who won't essentially agree to convict will be dismissed during voir dire.

  • by Zobeid (314469) on Saturday March 20, 2010 @06:42PM (#31552860)

    From what I've read about this incident, and about the trial, I'm outraged. It really burns me up.

    First up, I find myself wondering what was wrong with the jurors. Whenever jurors come out of a trial wringing their hands with anguish and making all kinds of sorrowful excuses for their own verdict, and start crying about how they "had to" convict someone who they didn't really think did anything wrong, I find myself wanting to tear my own hair out in frustration. Are they nuts? How did our society come to this point? When the jury is called upon for a verdict, they are responsible. They've got no business putting the blame on the judge's instructions, or on some minute technicality. They are supposed to think for themselves at least a little bit. This is why we have jury trials.

    Secondly, I find myself wondering about the prosecutor. Somebody made the decision to press this case and bring it to trial with this evidence and these arguments. He clearly wasn't doing the public any service. His community should be told about this. His neighbors should be told about it. Let him face their opprobrium, and then see if he's eager to pull this sort of stunt again!

  • by pydev (1683904) on Saturday March 20, 2010 @06:55PM (#31552974)

    From all the comments, it appears that Watts was convicted not for assault, but for non-compliance with instructions from a border guard. The jury convicted him for that because, technically, he really was guilty of that, even though it may have been understandable.

    So, if you don't like this verdict, you need to change the law. But how do you want to change the law? Under what circumstances should someone crossing the border be permitted not to comply with instructions by a border guard?

    • by Sabriel (134364) on Saturday March 20, 2010 @08:30PM (#31553742)

      Under what circumstances should someone crossing the border be permitted not to comply with instructions by a border guard?

      When the guard is performing, or has just performed, an illegal act (e.g. assault and battery), thereby revoking their privilege of authority.

      I have to wonder if that's covered anywhere under "colour of law" legislation. If it isn't, it should be.

  • by argent (18001) <peter AT slashdo ... taronga DOT com> on Saturday March 20, 2010 @09:14PM (#31554038) Homepage Journal

    Jesus Christ, it's bad enough when the mainstream press repeats crap like this, but I would have thought Slashdot posters were capable of reading plain English.

    He was convicted of failing to follow direction quickly enough for the border guards. The accusations of assault were found to be baseless.

  • by knewter (62953) <josh...rubyist@@@gmail...com> on Sunday March 21, 2010 @09:28AM (#31557078) Homepage

    He was convicted of obstructing/resisting, not assault.

    http://www.rifters.com/crawl/?p=1193 [rifters.com]

  • by ConfusedVorlon (657247) on Sunday March 21, 2010 @10:43AM (#31557500) Homepage

    It seems that the prosecution doesn't contest that the border guard got into Peter's car and punched him in the face.
    Nobody seems to be arguing that there was any need for the guard to do this in order to perform their job.

    Does this mean the border guard will be investigated for assault and sacked?

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