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Sunday, February 12, 2012

Essay on Slippery Slope

Essay on Slippery Slope

Slippery Slope is an example of a logical fallacy in which the proponent of an argument tries to persuade another to accept a conclusion by using a series of statements that have a superficial connection with one another.  In effect, the proponent claims that a certain event will inevitably result from the occurrence of an event even if there is a superficial connection between the two events.  This is a fallacy that is often committed not only by politicians, commercial advertisers, legislators, and advocacy groups but even by ordinary citizens. Most often, people become victims of this fallacy and they tend to accept the validity of the argument and its conclusion.

One of the most common examples of the slippery slope argument is in relation to the conduct of stop and frisk search.  The Fourth Amendment requires that searches and seizures must be accompanied by a lawful search warrant.  The Fourth Amendment aims to protect the privacy of private individuals against unreasonable search and seizure conducted only to harass, annoy and intimidate them.  In Terry v. Ohio (392 US 1), however, the Supreme Court declared that it is not a violation of the Fourth Amendment for an officer to detain and search a man’s person for a weapon despite the absence of a search warrant provided that the police officer acts upon a reasonable belief based upon the existing circumstances that the man who is subject of a search is armed and dangerous.  The said decision was later on affirmed in Whren v. United States (517 US 806) where the Supreme Court declared that “the temporary detention of a motorist upon probable cause that he has violated the traffic laws does not violate the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against unreasonable seizures, even if a reasonable officer would not have stopped the motorist absent some additional law enforcement objective.”

While these two Supreme Court decisions have been used as part of the proactive policing on the part of our police officers giving them sufficient power to prevent the occurrence of crime instead of simply apprehending the perpetrator of the crime, the two decisions have been used by police officers to stop and interrogate innocent civilians.  There are those who argue that these two decisions have given police officers the authority to single out the minority thus conducting racial profiling (Peter Siggins, 2005, p.1).  They fear that over time, more African Americans, Latinos and Asians will become targets of occasional traffic stops hoping that police officers will find evidence of the commission of a crime.  They say that there is evidence that a great majority of the people who have been stopped and detained by police officers are African Americans, Latinos and Asians.  

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Another example of slippery slope is in relation to the government’s war against terrorism.  Soon after the 9/11 attack against our country, it was determined that the ethnicity and the national origin of the suspects were of Middle Eastern descent.   As a result, several months after the 9/11 attack the government has monitored, investigated, detained people majority are of Arab descent.  People who fit the profile are systematically being prohibited from boarding their flights to the United States, detained and investigated even if they have not committed any crime.  The problem was even aggravated by the enactment of the USA Patriot Act which gave extensive powers to some government agencies like the FBI.  The FBI’s functions and powers had been expanded so as to deal with the problem of terrorism.  They have been authorized to send national security letters to banks, telecommunication companies, and internet service providers.  The purpose of these national security letters is to secure information, such as bank accounts, phone bills, email message, about the people who are subject of the investigation.  They say that time will come where everyone, not only Arabs and Muslims, will become the subjects of investigation.  They say that we will never know about it until it is too late for us to do anything about it.

The Supreme Court decisions in Terry v. Ohio and Whren v. United and the enactment of the USA Patriot Act have all triggered a slippery slope that gave police officers and investigators so much leeway in the performance of their duties.  This created complex problems in the administration of criminal justice agencies in the sense that law enforcement officers now think that Terry v. Ohio and Whren v. United States are the rule and that the Fourth Amendment right is merely an exception.  In effect, these two decisions gave the wrong signal to law enforcement officers that the conduct of search and seizure is allowed even without a search warrant.  The unwritten rule, seems to be, is that any person can be stopped by a police officer while on the road.  He can be questioned, detained and his car can be checked because the police officers think that he acted suspiciously.  If in the course of the interview and the search, the person was found to be in possession of drugs or a weapon, then he can be arrested even without a search warrant.  In this scenario, the rights zealously guarded and protected by our founding fathers will be lost.

The same is true with the enactment of the USA Patriot Act giving FBI broad power to check and inquire about the people’s bank accounts, email message, and phone records.  FBI agents now think that they can use their own agency to investigate any person regardless whether he did not have any former dealings or connections with terrorist groups.  They now think that the right to privacy is only an exception and that the national security concern is of paramount importance to the point that the right to privacy can now be sacrificed.  In effect, everybody now is presumed to be a terrorist unless proven otherwise.  This negates the presumption of innocence which is a basic constitutional right. 

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