I’m sure PETA thinks this is fair; I’m not sure that I do.
No goldfish for you!
Tammy Brown,47, a disabled Moon Lake, Florida woman trying to make ends meet on her $508-a-month government check, argued that she was not able to afford veterinary care for Harley, her 14-year-old dog who had a painful ear infection as well as skin problems, periodic tumors, heartworms and ear mites. Because she did not get treatment for Harley, however—the fact that she tried to treat the dog’s problems with over the counter ointments wasn’t enough to mollify the judge— Brown was convicted of felony animal cruelty. She spent more than a month in jail awaiting sentencing, and then received six months of house arrest, 300 hours of community service, three years of probation, and $1,000 in court costs. Circuit Judge William Webb also commanded, “I don’t want you to own any animals. Not even a goldfish!” (Hartley had been euthanized.)
Apparently Harley’s physical condition was shockingly poor, so much so that jurors found photos hard to look at. An Animal Services officer testified that Harley couldn’t stand up without support. The prosecutor wanted Brown imprisoned.
Has society become so animal-sensitive that it has lost its priorities? Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz is this: Assuming that Harley’s lack of treatment was due to lack of resources and neglect rather than malice…
Was Tammy Brown’s sentence fair, or was it excessive and cruel? Continue reading
Trust me, guys, you really don’t want to vote for Greg Ball again…he’s embarrassing your district.
Every now and then, a public official says something so brain-meltingly ridiculous that I wish I had a traditional blog and could write, “What an idiot!” and leave it at that. This is one of those times.
Republican New York State Senator Greg Ball must represent the troglodyte section of New York—you know, that famous district heavily populated with prehistoric cave-dwellers who were discovered frozen in 1989, thawed out alive, and became politically active?—based on his unapologetic,nail-spitting, un-American tweet regarding the younger, surviving terrorist brother who engineered the Boston Marathon bombing:
What an idiot.
No, no, I can’t say that.
This is an unethical tweet. It’s an irresponsible tweet. Supporting torture “to save more lives” explicitly rejects the principles of the Declaration of Independence as well as the Constitutional requirements of Due Process and the Bill of Rights prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment and compelled testimony against self-interest. The “anything to save more lives” illogic, though recently adopted, to his shame and disgrace, by the presumably less idiotic President Obama in his quest for more gun regulations, is, of course, the open door to martial law and the permanent trade of liberty for security. I wrote about this at some length in the wake of the Abu Ghraib fiasco; reading “The Ethics of American Torture” again now, I would hold the same today, as would, I hope, most of you. (Don’t bother to read this, Senator Ball; it’s more than 140 characters, and you wouldn’t understand it anyway.) I wrote in part, Continue reading
(This is my favorite judge picture, and I like to use it every year)
Kimberly Lightsey, 30, was being sentenced on four counts of child abuse for leaving her four children, ages 2 to 11 at the time, at a hotel while she went out to play. She had an arrangement with another mother in the hotel to watch the children, but that woman also was partying hard, it seems—so hard that she forgot what room Lightsey’s children were in. Meantime, one of Lightsey’s children, who was confined to a wheelchair, rolled out into the hallway and fell over.
Prosecutors asked for a 32-month jail sentence, but Judge Ernest Jones Jr. offered Kimberly a chance to avoid jail time. He would give her two years of house arrest and 13 years of probation, provided this aspiring Mother of the Year agreed not to have any more kids during that period.
She took the deal, but now The American Civil Liberties Union and her lawyer are wondering if the sentence is legal. My guess: it’s not, but that isn’t the issue. Let’s say this is within a judge’s power, and the sentence is legal. Your Ethics Alarms Quiz Question, the first of the new year, is this:
Here’s a pop quiz for you.
The topic: crime and punishment
“Off with his head!” Uh, Queen? Isn’t that just a tiny bit severe?
An attractive woman falls asleep on an airplane, and the stranger sitting next to her, a card-carrying, pig-man creepazoid, takes that opportunity to “feel her up.” He is caught in the act, and arrested when the plane lands. What should be the maximum penalty imposed for such a violation of the poor woman’s privacy, dignity, and person?
If you said “life in prison,” go to the head of the class. The federal government has exclusive jurisdiction over sexual abuse cases that occur on American airplane flights, and sets the penalties. A New Jersey man is currently awaiting trial after allegedly engaging in such in-flight molestation. How can such an extreme sentence be justified or even contemplated? What is this, “Midnight Express”? Rumania under the wise rule of Vlad the Impaler? Continue reading
I don’t understand this story at all.*
Not THAT Larry Storch! That Larry Storch made sense to me.
Larry Storch is no relation to the late comedian of “F Troop” fame, but is a defiant, uncivil 89-year-old scofflaw who insists on driving around his North Carolina community with his sound system at eardrum-popping levels. “They’ve been giving me noise tickets for years,” Storch said. “I guess they thought their tickets would deter me, but every time I paid off a ticket I’d stop by the speaker place on the way home and add a little more boom to my zoom.” Good for you, Larry; by the way, you’re an asshole. His latest arrest for breaking noise ordinances brought him before a judge who was ready to throw the book at Storch, but who had a peculiar way of doing it. Lenoir County District Judge Robert T. Ironside—who is no relation to the wheelchair-bound Robert T. Ironside played by post- “Perry Mason” Raymond Burr in a CBS detective show—told him:
“You’ve come before this court many times over the years Mr. Storch. In the past I’ve fined you, sentenced you to community service, and at one point even forced you to watch the fourth hour of the ‘Today Show.’ Since none of those punishments have done anything to curb your jackassory behavior, I’ve decided to get medieval on where your butt — if you had one — would be.” Continue reading
Let’s me get this straight: this is only a “macabre spectacle” if the guy strapped down to be poisoned isn’t crazy. Right?
In the case of Steven Staley, Texas has itself one of those periodic ethical/legal conundrums surrounding capital punishment that leave me feeling cynical, puzzled, and worried that I am missing an important part of my compassion apparatus.
Staley’s problem, or his perhaps stroke of luck, is that he is a little more crazy now than he was when he committed the crimes that placed him on death row. In September 1989, Staley escaped from a Denver prison and started robbing everything he encountered, looting nine businesses across four states. Finally he hit the Steak and Ale Restaurant in Tarrant County, Texas. Staley and his accomplices gathered the employees at gunpoint and forced the manager to hand over the contents of all the registers and the store safe. He then took the manager into the getaway car as a hostage, and executed him as Staley tried to elude the police. Continue reading
If backing gay marriage earns a rainbow halo, stopping prison rape at least warrants this….
The Justice Department just announced the first comprehensive federal rules aimed at “zero tolerance” for sexual assaults against inmates in prisons, jails and other houses of detention. The new policy has teeth in it, decreeing that states that don’t take adequate measures to prevent sexual assault on prisoners will lose federal prison funds. This initiative was disgracefully long in coming, but begins the repair of the human rights atrocity going on in the nation’s prisons literally since the first cell door clanged shut. It is the right kind of “no-tolerance” policy, because allowing prisoners to rape other prisoners—it is estimated that at least 10% of all inmates experience sexual assault—-should never have been tolerated. That it has also been used by law enforcement and popular culture to enhance the deterrent power of imprisonment, essentially making rape a culturally and governmentally sanctioned element of the penal system, should weigh heavily on the national conscience for years to come. It was un-American, as vile a desecration of the principles of our country as torture. Continue reading
I keep an informal score each television season of how often one of the heroes in a cop or other law enforcement drama will pointedly tell a finally-cornered criminal that he can now look forward to being raped in prison. Of course, this is only representative of the shows I actually see. Even counting only them, however, I have heard such a speech four times in 2011. (The all-time champs in this celebration of prison rape are Dick Wolf’s Law and Order dramas.)
Think about what this means. The scriptwriters are presuming that such a forecast of impending sexual abuse will be enjoyed by the audience, a case of just desserts for the wicked. The casual acceptance of prison rape in America’s penitentiaries is a continuing scandal, and an indictment of our society’s compassion and commitment to the Constitution. Continue reading
Maybe Tom Cruise knows how they stored the prisoners in "Minority Report"---that seemed to be a quiet and pleasent prison environment...
Dwayne N. Zechman makes trenchant observations and raises difficult questions in his comment to the post, “Exposing America’s Dungeons: The New York City Bar Report on Supermax Prisons.” The report to some extent answers Dwayne’s primary point by stating that the need for special high-security prisons to prevent violence to inmates and guards cannot justify an unconstitutional solution. If the conditions in the supermax prisons are as described in the report, there can be no doubt that it violates the prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishment.” That is an absolutist position like the prohibition against torture: ethically, arguing that “it works” or “there’s no other way” or “oh yeah? What would YOU do?” won’t and cannot prevail…unless we conclude that when we have to choose the lesser of two evils, forcing violent and otherwise uncontrollable criminals to live in dungeon-like condition is preferable to having them kill people might be the winner. Continue reading
“…The overriding rationale for supermax confinement is to impose order and maintain safety in the prison environment. The unmitigated suffering caused by supermax confinement, however, cannot be justified by the argument that it is an effective means to deal with difficult prisoners. The issue, we believe, is not whether supermax achieves its purposes or is effective at controlling and punishing unruly inmates.
Instead, the question is whether the vast archipelago of American supermax facilities, in which some prisoners are kept isolated indefinitely for years, should be tolerated as consistent with fundamental principles of justice. Even prisoners who have committed horrific crimes and atrocities possess basic rights to humane treatment under national and international law. Although the Constitution “does not mandate comfortable prisons,” it does require humane prisons that comport with the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against punishments that are “incompatible with ‘the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society” or which “involve the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain.” More recently, the Supreme Court stated that “[p]risoners retain the essence of human dignity inherent in all persons. Respect for that dignity animates the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.”
“Supermax confinement as extensively implemented in the United States falls short of this standard and must be substantially reformed.”
—-The New York City Bar in its just-released report on “supermax” prisons in the United States. The report declares supermax imprisonment, which currently holds 80,000 prisoners, to be the equivilent of torture and a violation of international human rights standards.
The report is harrowing, horrifying, and a source of shame for all Americans. The lack of concern by the public and its elected representatives in maintaining humane conditions in our prisons is understandable but inexcusable nonetheless. The New York City Bar has performed a great service by issuing the report; it is up to us to insist that it is acted upon without delay. The United States of America should not be operating dungeons.
You can, and must, read it here.