Friday, September 29, 2006

Travis Biehn wins on appeal

Travis Biehn, the Newfoundland-born teenager who was convicted in Pennsylvania last year of making a bomb threat against his school and possessing explosives, has won his appeal. Biehn's conviction was overturned last month, and the DA has not filed a counter-appeal.

Travis emailed me last week to let me know that common sense had prevailed, and earlier this week he emailed me a link to the text of his appeal, which unfortunately has gone dead, so I can't link to it here.

To summarize, the appeal court reached the same conclusion that any reasonable person would: the evidence against Biehn was insufficient to warrant a conviction.

Biehn was originally convicted of making a bomb threat, but there was absolutely no evidence that he had made the threat. In fact, he was one of two students who reported the threat, and the teacher's aide to whom he reported it did not take it seriously enough to take it any further.

He was also convicted of possessing bomb-making materials, which, at the time, I erroneously wrote was more or less a slam-dunk. I was trying to take the most balanced view that I could, but I was wrong. In fact, under Pennsylvania law, it is only an offence to possess bomb-making materials if you have the intent to commit a crime with them. And of course, the DA had no evidence whatsoever that Biehn had any such intent. On the contrary, the evidence showed that Biehn had legal purposes for the materials.

The DA's argument was essentially circular: Biehn must have made the threat, because he possessed explosive materials, and he must have had criminal intent, because he made the threat. The only "evidence" supporting either charge was the existence of the other charge, and Biehn was convicted based on innuendo. The second charge, of possessing explosives, is a felony.

The appeals court drew the obvious conclusion, the conclusion that the trial judge should have drawn, and overturned the convictions.

Congratulations, Travis. Reason has finally won the day.

From Canadian newspapers and television, which treated Biehn's conviction as a major story, there has not been one peep. Consequently, a Google search on Biehn's name won't find that his name was cleared. The media is good at reporting stories, but is usually piss-poor at correcting them, or following them up months after the fact. If Travis Biehn's original conviction was big news, then the fact that it was overturned is equally important. But that sound you hear is, as the song says, the sound of silence.

Before we start waxing triumphant about the world o' blogs, let me direct you to the Trenchcoat Chronicles, which has reacted to news of the appeal by insisting that the trial judge was right all along. That would be the much-touted "self-correcting nature of the blogosphere" at work, folks.

The really important thing, when you're running a single-issue blog like the Trenchcoat Chronicles, dedicated to the proposition that schools are filled with out-of-control, dangerous kids, is never to admit that you could be wrong. Because it's hard to piss your pants if you let go of fear.

Fear is what this whole sorry story is about. Biehn was charged, in the absence of evidence, because of fear. He was convicted, based on innuendo, in a climate of fear. His conviction became news touted by a media that acts to magnify that fear, and commented on by bloggers who were, by and large, too busy pissing themselves to use their brains.

The results is that whenever anyone Googles Travis's name, they'll find a pile of hysteria suggesting that he was once a mad bomber.

That's the crime here.

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