A police state, as I understand it, is not necessarily the same thing as a totalitarian state. A totalitarian state is necessarily a police state, but not vice versa. I think of a police state as one in which the government can find a charge to put you in prison even though you did nothing wrong. That's part of my definition. If I need to be one of the people who presents in Vegas, I'll come up with a tighter one.
One controversial new law can hold animal-rights activists criminally responsible for protests that cause the target of their attention to be fearful, regardless of the protesters' intentions. Congress passed the law in 2006 with only about a half-dozen of the 535 members voting on it.
How about this:
In 1998, Dane A. Yirkovsky, a Cedar Rapids, Iowa, man with an extensive criminal record, was back in school pursuing a high-school diploma and working as a drywall installer. While doing some remodeling work, Mr. Yirkovsky found a .22 caliber bullet underneath a carpet, according to court documents. He put it in a box in his room, the records show.
A few months later, local police found the bullet during a search of his apartment. State officials didn't charge him with wrongdoing, but federal officials contended that possessing even one bullet violated a federal law prohibiting felons from having firearms.
Mr. Yirkovsky pleaded guilty to having the bullet. He received a congressionally mandated 15-year prison sentence, which a federal appeals court upheld but called "an extreme penalty under the facts as presented to this court." Mr. Yirkovsky is due to be released in May 2013.
An incident from 2002 illustrates the sometimes messy process of drafting legislation. That year, Congress passed the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which set new punishments for white-collar crime following the scandals at Enron, WorldCom and other companies. Several legal experts were about to testify on key provisions of Sarbanes-Oxley before a Senate subcommittee when the chairman called a break in the meeting. The reason: The senators needed to vote on the very provisions the panelists were there to discuss.
The hearing resumed two hours later, after the provisions were approved 97-0. The witnesses went on to testify about the dangers of weakening criminal-intent standards, as Sarbanes-Oxley did.