Tag Archives: justice

Seeking Justice And Fairness in Topeka, And Arriving At Stupid

With a song!

With a song!

In Topeka, Kansas, Judge Mark Braun was confronted with a legal and ethical dilemma, thought hard, and arrived at ridiculous decision, with the of best intentions.

Defendant Lance Franklin was in the fourth day of his trial for rape when he decided that he didn’t like his lawyer’s face or something and thus sucker-punched him in open court. Franklin is  is six-feet, three-inches tall and weighs at least 260 pounds; he devoted attorney weighs about 170 pounds and is considerably shorter. This sort of thing happens now and then (it happened in Kansas earlier this year) does not go over well with juries. Imagine, for example, if Mike Brown hadn’t been killed and was being tried for assaulting an officer, and he did this to his lawyer right after his mother had told the jury what a gentle, promising child he was. The display would, one would think, undermine his credibility when he swore he was just meekly surrendering….well, with the racist jurors, anyway.

Thus, when this happens, judges declare mistrials because a fair trial is no longer possible. Ah, but Judge Braun has seen it all: you can’t trick him. He knows that if Kansas defendants see one accused criminal get to start all over because he cold-cocks his lawyer, they’ll all do it if the trial is going badly. So after senior assistant district attorney Dustin Curry begged him not to reward Franklin for his unmannerly gesture, Braun ruled that declaring a mistrial would “essentially put a target on any defense attorney’s back.”

The trial goes on, presumably with a new lawyer. And, when Franklin is found guilty, a successful appeal and new trial is virtually guaranteed, because a fair trial after something like this is impossible.

The judge was trying to be careful and considerate; he should be commended for not making an automatic decision to call a mistrial just because that’s what every other judge has done. He kept an open mind, and listened to a novel argument. Sometimes, however, an open mind lets stuff in causes havoc. In his effort to prevent lawyers from becoming in-trial punching bags, he guaranteed one defendant a second trial, and just moved that target somewhere else.

For example, I’m pretty sure attacking the jury mid-trial is a sure-fire recipe for a mistrial if battering one’s lawyer won’t work.

Or better yet, deck the judge!

Deck the Judge to get a mistrial
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la
Punching lawyers s’not for this trial
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la
If your trial is going badly
Fa-la-la, la-la-la, la-la-la.
Rush the bench while swinging madly.
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la!

____________________

Pointer: ABA Journal

Facts: Capital-Journal

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Unethical Quote of the Week: Dick Cheney

Hello, I'll be your torturer today. Now, if you are innocent, please understand, on balance this works.

Hello, my name is Skug, and I’ll be your torturer today. Now, if you are innocent, please understand, on balance this works.

“I’m more concerned with bad guys who got out and released than I am with a few that, in fact, were innocent.”

—Former V.P. Dick Cheney, giving his reactions on “Meet the Press” regarding the Senate’s critique of the Bush Administration and the CIA’s interrogation methods.

I try to be fair to Dick Cheney, whose character has been distorted beyond all recognition by his partisan foes. Sunday, however, he was apparently attempting to validate all the most terrible things anyone has said about him, as well as providing future students of ethics real life examples of ethical fallacies.

The one quoted above is the pip: so much for the jurisprudential principle that It is better that ten guilty persons escape, than that one innocent suffer.”   Chuck Todd reminded Cheney that 25% of those detained were apparently innocent. The Cheney variation: “It is OK if some innocent persons are unjustly punished as long as the bad guys get what they deserve.”

It is hard to pick the most unethical assertion, however; there are so many horrible statements to choose from. Such as: Continue reading

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Transparency, Causation, Eggshells, Trust : Seven More Ethics Issues In The Eric Garner Case

jigsaw-puzzle-record

1. There is near unanimity in the response to the non-indictment by the Staten Island jury in the Eric Garner case. In light of the graphic video, it is hard to see how there wasn’t probable cause to indict. The coroner verdict of “homicide” would see to provide sufficient evidence all by itself. However, in the absence of the complete record of what the grand jury heard and saw, nobody can be certain that this was a miscarriage of justice. However, given the context of the case and its deleterious impact on faith in the justice system, that is no solace and scant mitigation. As in Ferguson, it is prudent and essential that the public see what the decision was based upon. It is true that those who are determined to see injustice, bias and racism will do so regardless of what the evidence shows–again, as in Ferguson—but the only evidence that has been made public, the various videos and the officer’s testimony–only makes the non-prosecution more suspicious.

2. Can the non-prosecution be justified? If so, the only reason I can see would be lack of proof of causation. Causation is tricky, and  juries get confused about how to analyze it. Since it is fair to assume Daniel Pantaleo did not intend to kill Eric Garner, the issues are a) whether his actions during the arrest were negligent, and b) whether they were the proximate cause of Garner’s death. That his conduct was negligent is not enough to sustain and indictment—that negligence had to be the reason Garner died. Remember, he was not choked to death. The medical examiner ruled that Garner died from a collection of factors: compression on his chest and throat, the position he was forced into, his obesity, weak heart, and asthma, all causing asphyxia.

  • If Pantaleo’s actions alone would not have caused Garner’s death, then it could be legitimately argued that he was not guilty of a crime. The other officers were given immunity for their testimony, which seems like either a bad decision by the district attorney, or intentional sabotage of the case against Pantaleo’s. If it was the collective action of the police that caused Garner’s death, it would be unjust to make Pantaleo the sole officer punished. If some of the testimony from the unchargeable cops made the case that it was another officer, or several, who really caused Garner’s death, that would explain the no indictment result.

In the widely seen video of the arrest, Pantaleo can be seen with his arm around Garner’s neck as Garner is taken to the ground and for some time thereafter, but in watching the video it’s difficult to determine whether Garner was in fact choked. And if he was, it did not appear it was long enough even to render him unconscious, much less kill him…I saw nothing excessive in the manner in which the officers subdued Garner. He was neither beaten with batons nor even punched. To me, it appeared to be a fairly typical scuffle with a large man who had clearly demonstrated his unwillingness to be arrested peacefully.

He misses the point. The question is whether the take-down was excessive for Garner, not some theoretical average arrestee. It is true that with a normal, healthy subject, what the officers did would not typically cause death….but Garner was obviously not normal, nor healthy. He was morbidly obese, and 350 pound middle-aged people tend to have the kinds of heath issues Garner in fact had. Nobody would argue that an elderly woman or a ten-year old girl or someone in a wheelchair should be manhandled like that. Such treatment was negligent for Eric Garner, and the deadly result could and should have been anticipated.

It is true that the officers couldn’t know that Garner had a weak heart and suffered from asthma, but it doesn’t matter: the rule in negligence is that “you take your victim as you find him.” If your negligence is the proximate cause of someone’s death, the fact that it wouldn’t have caused anyone else’s death is no defense. This is the so-called “Egg-shell Skull” rule.

Garner was an egg-shell perp. Continue reading

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Observations on the Eric Garner Non-Indictment

The New York Times, among others, reports that the Staten Island grand jury has brought no indictment in the Eric Garner case, in which a large African American man resisted arrest and was brought down by multiple cops, as one, Daniel Pantaleo, used a choke hold to restrain him. After saying that he couldn’t breathe, Garner, who was asthmatic, stopped breathing and died

Observations:

1. I haven’t seen all the evidence, and stipulate that there may be some good reason for the non-indictement that I am not aware of. That aside, however, it certainly seems like this case embodies many of the features that were not present in the death of Michael Brown but that the media and activist narrative attributed to it nonetheless. Garner’s case, in contrast, appears to demonstrate an unwillingness of the law enforcement and justice system to hold police officers accountable for the results of excessive force, even when the result is death.

2. Again, absent some significant evidence that has not been made public, I believe that the video of the fatal arrest, the fact that the choke hold tactic is prohibited by police department policy [ Note: I originally wrote that it was illegal; that was in error, and I apologize for the mistake], and the coroner’s verdict that Garner’s death was a homicide should have been sufficient to mandate the grand jury finding probable cause for at least a charge of negligent homicide.

3. This seems like a result worthy of protest. It is one more reason why activists continuing to use Brown’s death as a rallying point is foolish and wrong. For their purposes, it is a weak case. Garner’s is not. Continue reading

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Incomprehensible Ethics Quote Of The Month: Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY)

Rangel

“I always try to find something good that comes out of conflicts like this, and perhaps people realize that this is not a Ferguson problem at all; it’s a problem around the country. And as long as people feel awkward and embarrassed in talking about the racism that exists, we can never, never, never attack it…The indifference of the patrol officer’s an indication that good people ought to say that you should be sorry when you take anybody’s life. It’s not just the question of what you thought of whether you were afraid…. his total indifference just polarized that community, and I only wish that — that they had not vented themselves in a violent way and taken advantage of people coming together, white and black, and saying that you should at least be able to say you made a hell of a big mistake at least.”

—–Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY), wandering confused in the ethics wilderness while discussing the Ferguson mess on MSNBC.

I supposed we should expect Rep. Rangel to be completely muddled when it comes to ethics, given his own history. Still, seldom have I seen such a dog’s breakfast of responsible sentiments and ethics ignorance in the same set of comments:

  • Congratulations are due to Rangel for admitting that this Ethics Train Wreck unfairly settled in Ferguson, which is being made to suffer disproportionately for the conduct of many communities and elected officials across the country, as well as the political opportunism of civil rights activists.
  • However, public officials have an obligation to be clear. What “racism that exists,” exactly? Anywhere in the U.S.? Absolutely: let’s talk about it. In the shooting of Brown? No racism is in evidence at all: if that’s what Rangel is referring to, and many will assume its is, the statement is irresponsible. Was he talking about the grand jury decision, which was the context of the interview? Prove it, Charlie. Otherwise, stop planting distrust with a population that is paranoid already.
  • Michael Brown’s actions, from Wilson’s point of view, forced him into a situation that has resulted in his career being ruined and life being permanently marred….and Rangel thinks Wilson should apologize? This is completely backward. Wilson owes no apologies to Brown, and certainly none to Brown’s parents, who have been carrying on a vendetta against him, calling him a murderer while expressing no acknowledgment that the son they raised had any responsibility for the confrontation that took his life. If anyone owes anybody an apology, it the parents who owe Wilson. Rangel thinks Wilson should apologize for trying to do his job, for not letting Brown take his gun, for not letting him resist arrest, for not letting himself be attacked, and that is ridiculous.

Continue reading

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Verdict: The Grand Jury Process Was Fair and Just

abstract door grand jury room

The accusations and complaints about the Darren Wilson grand jury just don’t hold up.

Criminal law professor Paul Cassell consolidates several issues raised in the comments here and in the news media in his excellent analysis in the Volokh Conspiracy, here.

Among the criticisms he addresses…

1. Using a Grand Jury Deviated from Normal Process.
2. The Grand Jury Took Too Long.
3. The Grand Jury Got Too Much Evidence.
4. The Grand Jury Operated in Secret.
5. The Grand Jury Was Exposed to Pressure.
6. The Grand Jury Did Something That Grand Juries Ordinarily Don’t Do.
7. The Grand Jury Misunderstood the Standard of Proof.
8. Robert McCulloch was Biased and Should Have Recused Himself.
9. The Grand Jury Evidence Shouldn’t Be Released.

He also echoes my conclusion about many of the protesters, as he ends his piece with this: Continue reading

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Ethics Dunces, Ferguson Ethics Train Wreck Files, “Seriously Confused” Division: The Looters of Ferguson Market and Liquor

Ferguson Market

Ferguson Market and Liquor was looted last night, targeted by protesters demanding “justice” for Michael Brown.

I’d like someone to explain the logic of that act to me, please.  Please. That was the store where Michael Brown was captured on video shoplifting and assaulting a clerk prior to his fatal encounter with Officer Wilson.

How dare that store be robbed by an unarmed teen! No, that doesn’t work. How dare an employee be assaulted by a shooting victim! Hmmm…no, no, that’s stupid. How dare the business allow the media to mention its name in connection with the examination of whether Mike Brown was just a gentle giant who wouldn’t hurt a fly or intimidate a clerk!  That can’t be it, can it? Or is it, “Let’s honor Mike by really hurting that small business where he stole some blunts  and shoved that  little clerk!” Really?

What exactly is the theory of justice here? My mind is open, it really is. I so want to understand.

Absent a persuasive explanation, however, I must conclude that anyone who sees “justice” in punishing Michael Brown’s innocent victims, however the teen met his demise, no more understands the concept of justice than I understand string theory, and I have no interest at all in listening to such an individual’s theories, protests, or rants about a subject about which that they are not only embarrassingly ignorant, but deluded as well.

What they did is injustice. They don’t know the difference between injustice and justice, which tells me that neither they nor anyone allied with them, supporting them or sympathetic with them should be taken seriously or heeded.

And when we are told, “The police are biased against people who think looting a store is justice!,” I am compelled to answer,

“As well they should be.”

 

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