Getting Tough on Crime: When Will We Learn?
I was recently sent an invitation on Facebook to support a cause. The cause was to demand that people convicted of molesting children be given mandatory sentences of life in prison, and for people convicted of killing children to be sentenced to death. The request to join this cause reminded me of several debates on bulletin boards about similar topics.
I’m not sure that anyone supports child molestation except, possibly, child molesters. However, what to do to them always seemed to propel into what I call "bar talk" through which, it seemed, whoever could come up with the cruelest punishment must certainly have the largest penis. There were proposals ranging from dismemberment all the way to stoning them to death.
The problem, of course, is that any law passed to do any of these things would not pass Constitutional muster. When, in these bulletin board debates, I suggest that they go ahead and exact the punishment they propose since it is already as legal as it ever will be, I receive everything from balks about they would if it were legal to being called names for supporting the rights of perverts. In other words, those who proposed the harsh punishment were not so much willing to exact the punishment as they were willing to allow others, namely government employees, to cast the stones or weild the knives.
A few years back, some well-meaning politicians in Washington State passed a law in honor of a dead person (usually the worst types of laws on the books) that tied the crime of second degree murder to any felonious act that resulted in the death of a victim or bystander. It was applauded, and it made sense because if someone robbed a bank and a person died, the bank robber would be guilty of murder even if there were no intention to commit murder.
One of the crimes that prosecutors used to convict people of murder without proving intent to kill was felony assault. This practice went on for years, and several dozens of people were convicted of murder for deaths caused during felony assaults. Alas, some of these convictions were appealed to the State Supreme Court which rightfully overturned the convictions because there already is a crime on the books for deaths consequential to assaults: manslaughter. Since prosecutors had not proven intent to kill, and the convicted were not found guilty of manslaughter, there were some sixty or seventy people who either needed to be retried or released.
One case involved a guy who stabbed another guy seventy times in a bar fight. Another case involved a guy who put his infant child in boiling water. There were other heinous cases in which it would not have stretched one’s imagination to conclude that the intention was to kill, but on which the prosecutors relied upon a law that only required them to prove a death was attributable to a felony assault. The law did not work as intended, and prosecutors were forced to do their jobs properly and prove intent to kill as a prerequisite for a murder conviction.
In another situation recently, a lady made her way to the roof of a courthouse and threatened to jump rather than testify against a man who was accused of raping her, and who was acting as his own attorney. I cannot imagine the torment she was feeling facing the prospect of reliving her horrible experience made worse by answering to the person who allegedly committed the crime. Apparently, neither could some politicians who tried to put together a law that would restrict a defendant from acting as his own attorney in a rape case, or to not allow him to question the alleged victim if he were to act as his own attorney.
Fortunately, it did not make its way to a vote because of concerns about its Constitutionality. If it had made it to vote, and it passed, it would only be a matter of time before we would rightfully be faced with convicted rapists getting retrials or being released because their Constitutional rights were violated. If there is anything worse than victims reliving horrible experiences, it is forcing them to relive it twice!
There is nothing heroic or patriotic about spouting off with cruel and unusual punishments that could be imposed upon people we as a society detest. Miranda was a thug, but he did not know that he did not need to talk and that he had a right to an attorney. It will almost always be those we detest who serve to uphold our rights.
This works both ways. I was surprised to read the writings of people who generally support rights of the accused when Rush Limbaugh’s medical records became the subject a few years ago. Some of the same people who seem to understand that one reason what a person tells his doctor should be confidential is that they may have a disease that will spread and will seek treatment, rather than forcing the doctor to tell his probation officer of a possible parole violation, were hoping that Rush would lose his case so it could be proven that he illegally obtained pain killers. It was as if they did not consider that his medical records may not have proved that he was guilty, but the decision would establish a precedant! They lost their objectivity over the subject!
Not all who are accused are guilty. Not all who are guilty are convicted. Still, it is better that be the truth rather than sending innocent people to prison, allowing the guilty to go free because of a technicality, or burden society with new trials, just because we want to get tough on crime to show child molesters, murderers, rapists, and right-wing talk show hosts who has the bigger penis.
Some other things I've written about: