No “Affluenza” Defense Here: A Judge Lowers The Boom On A Teen Predator

"Well, maybe she can be rehabilitated..."

“Well, maybe she can be rehabilitated…”

Perhaps you have read about the horrific bullying case in Southern Maryland, where two teenaged girls victimized an autistic boy who attended their school who thought—indeed still thinks, apparently—that they were his friends. A recent Slate story gives you the flavor of it:

“A teenage boy identified as Michael and described as autistic started writing love letters to a pretty girl at his Southern Maryland high school. They became friends and started hanging out with the girl’s older friend, 17-year-old Lauren Bush, who was a cheerleader. On days when their parents weren’t around—mostly snow days—the girls began to toy with Michael. Bush put a knife to his throat and scared him, kicked him in the groin, dragged him by his hair, and tried to get him to have sex with the family dog. His younger “girlfriend” took video of the incidents on her cellphone. Once they got Michael to walk on a half-frozen pond. He fell through the ice, and they didn’t help him. Then, Sunday’s Post story revealed they didn’t let him ride in the warm car because he’d get the seats wet. Instead, they made him ride in the trunk.”

Nice girls!

As the older girl awaits possible trial as an adult on charges of first-degree assault, false imprisonment and child-pornography solicitation, the 15-year-old girl has just had the book thrown at her by admirable Judge Michael Stamm, who sentenced this aspiring monster to a secure juvenile facility until the age of 21 unless authorities believe that her rehabilitation is progressing more quickly. The girl, despite her attorney’s assurances to the court that she was overcome by remorse, forgot to say she was sorry for what she did while pleading with the judge to keep her out of jail. Factoring into the judge’s decision was evidence that Michael was not the first disabled boy the two girls targeted for bullying and abuse, just the first to press charges.

Some observations while I try to find a way to close by gaping mouth:

  • The younger teen’s lawyer apparently didn’t attempt some kind of creative defense like the successful defense of the out-of-control teen by the attorney in the “affluenza” case, relying instead on those old stand-byes, “she’s really sorry,” “it was the other girl’s fault,” and “my client was a victim of circumstance.” Should he? Interestingly, Maryland’s ethics rules, like those of most jurisdictions, doesn’t obligate a lawyer to use tactics that he personally finds distasteful even if they would be legally permissible and considered “zealous representation.” If he couldn’t keep his gorge from rising while arguing that the girls was a victim of an inadequate and negligent upbringing, then that is an argument he doesn’t have to make. Or, knowing the judge perhaps and fearing that his head would end up in a jar, the lawyer may have just decided that such a defense was too risky.
  • However, I am compelled to ask, what about the parents of the two girls? They appear to have raised two creatures that make the fictional teens in “Mean Girls” look like the Bobbsey Twins. Again, bullying is in part a problem of lax and valueless parenting. The owners of vicious, inadequately trained and confined dogs get prosecuted and sometimes jailed. I see no reason why parents who produce near-adults capable of what was done here shouldn’t face at least as serious punishment. “Tried to get him to have sex with the family dog????
  • The Post doesn’t give the name of the 15-year old bully, saying it is their policy. Oh, great: then after she’s released, we won’t know when she’s next door. I think, in cases like this (if there are any cases like this), having the perp’s name published should be part of the sentence.
  • Post Metro columnist Petula Dvorak, writing about the case, includes this mysterious phrase: “Among the alleged incidents recorded on a cellphone…”  Whaa??? Petula, I appreciate the sensitivity of maintaining the use of the adjective “alleged” regarding incidents at the heart of a criminal case not yet decided in court, but how the hell does one record “alleged incidents” on a cell phone? Once an incident is committed to video, it is no longer alleged. It happened.

_______________________________

Sources: Slate, Washington Post 1,2

Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts, and seek written permission when appropriate. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work or property was used in any way without proper attribution, credit or permission, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at jamproethics@verizon.net.

 

26 thoughts on “No “Affluenza” Defense Here: A Judge Lowers The Boom On A Teen Predator

  1. One of the first questions you have to ask in any case of juvenile delinquency (or child exploitation) is the defining one of “where were the parents?”. The answer can usually be summed up in those parents having other priorities beyond their central one of raising decent children who won’t be a scourge on society even before they grow up. At least, it’s encouraging to note that a judge in Maryland (!) apparently understands this, along with a judge’s role when such cases come before him.

  2. This actually made waves around the internet a few weeks ago, and I was just as unsurprised then as I am now. We just don’t tell our kids no anymore. We don’t watch them, we don’t guide them, we get charged if we discipline them. (Did you hear about the case of the adult woman who was suing her parents for the cost of her tuition?) That doesn’t make it less monstrous. But what surprises me a little is the lack of self-reflection that comes with cases like this. The young monster’s mother? (Her father is never mentioned, I assume single motherhood, but I might be wrong) She defends her spawn, and blames the older girl. The older girl’s mother (again, no father mentioned) stands by her spawn, and blames the younger girl. Meanwhile society in it’s entirety gets hung up on which of the maybe half dozen involved names they’re going to blame while completely ignoring the issue that is the lack of empathy we are instilling in entire generations.

  3. Sarcasm Alert:
    Is it possible that these poor children misunderstood the entire notion of female empowerment that our village was raising them to embrace. For countless centuries women and girls have been taught to be submissive and they are simply expressing what they understood as control of their own destiny. Their actions are merely the result of hundreds of years of oppression at the hands of males that hold them up as sex objects. To them it was their turn. By engaging in this behavior they elevated their sense of self esteem by turning the tables on the predatory male.

    Gack, I cannot continue my own sarcasm.

  4. Aaaand there goes my innocent notion that, nowadays, even the nastiest kids in school tend to cut the special ed students a break.

    That said, it’s heartening to see this case handled with no BS, and that assaults were treated as assaults rather than “bullying” (used as too broad a term, in my opinion, which is part of why the “bullying” issue gets abused, over-cited, and mishandled).

    On the same note, I’m not so far out of high school that I wouldn’t want to see the author of a We Hate Jessica Petition get legally nailed for libel.

    As to releasing the younger girl’s name, though, I do think the factors are in place for her rehabilitation, or at least neutralization–the girls in juvie will likely sit on her something fierce. Also, if she’s truly remorseful, living with what she’s done for the rest of her life will be punishment in itself. Once she’s done her time and grown up, she may have earned a chance for a fresh, anonymous start.

    So I say rationally, anyway. My gut agrees with Jack. I’d want to know my neighbor was guilty of those things before I hire her to babysit my kids, and someone still capable of such atrocity doesn’t always give off red flags.

    Long comment short, I’m torn and still figuring it out.

    I hope the dog was removed from that household.

  5. “…at the heary of a criminla case not yet decided in court, but how the hell…”
    Jack, you got to typing too fast. My guess, you’re as sickened by this as I am. All I can say is GACK! (That’s actually me, choking).

    • You’re too kind, d-d. 1) I can’t really type at ALL 2) I added that paragraph at the last minute as I was running out, and didn’t proof it. 3) So I am careless and negligent. I do apologize.

  6. I should have stated that my earlier sarcasm originated after reading the following from Hanna Rosen’s Slate article that was cited above.

    “For a boy like Michael, wooing a girl, winning her trust, and then trying to participate in her pranks, even while they made him uncomfortable and put him in some danger, took courage.

    Interpretation: He was a willing participant and he had sufficient mental acuity to know and assess the danger. It’s all part of the game of wooing the girl.

    “The girls betrayed that, and Michael’s persistence in defending them is something to explore. [sic] About the pond he says he felt “coerced” at the time, which is an honest and sophisticated feeling to recognize and requires a fair degree of self-awareness.

    Interpretation: So the girls betrayed his trust. Is Michael not telling the whole story? Does he bear some blame?

    “Michael definitely showed bad judgment in continuing to hang out with these girls, but was it a different order of bad judgment than many other teenagers? Than, say, a slightly unpopular boy who is so besotted by the attention of a mean-girl cheerleader that he would beat up someone on her behalf, buy her drugs, spread rumors about a girl she hates, blow his savings on Rainbow Loom bracelets she was selling? Or for that matter, than what the average (nonautistic) frat boy might do on a Saturday night while his friends are watching? [sic] Whether or not the girls should be prosecuted depends on the border between prank and crime; frat boys have ended up in jail for what they called mere hazing when the hazed get seriously hurt.

    Interpretation: Michael was not seriously hurt and boys do this all the time to each other so why prosecute when girls simply act as boys do.

    “But reducing Michael’s responses and feelings to an embarrassing tic of the severely disabled will not lead to justice—or confidence or empowerment—for Michael and people like him. It will only cause a different kind of harm, which is to make him a perfect victim”.

    Interpretation: Prosecution of the girls will not bring justice to Michael The girls did not victimize Michael the system is doing so by making him feel like a victim.

    Hanna Rosen could have been far less verbose and more accurate in HER sentiments if she had just told Michael to put on his big boy pants and grow a pair. Typical double standard.

    • Hanna Rosen is a self-proclaimed feminist, and ascribes heavily to the part of feminist doctrine that is the man-abuser, woman-victim narrative, and the whole group routinely ties itself into knots trying to hide, explain away or mitigate instances of female on male violence. I am AMAZED that she was as even handed as she was in this article, her history speaks for itself. Hanna Rosen is a dishonest, rape-apologizing, insane piece of shit.

  7. H.T
    I don’t know her politics and rarely read Slate unless it is cited as a reference. However, the inferences she made suggest that she was siding with the perpetrators. As I read the piece, the only thing the girls were guilty of were betraying his trust.

    I went back to the Slate article and clicked on her bio link which took me to her book review:

    The End of Men
    A landmark portrait of women, men, and power in a transformed world.

    “Men have been the dominant sex since, well, the dawn of mankind. But Hanna Rosin was the first to notice that this long-held truth is, astonishingly, no longer true. At this unprecedented moment, by almost every measure, women are no longer gaining on men: They have pulled decisively ahead.”

    So, apparently, my interpretations were correct. If Ms. Rosen is correct would (does) she advocate for the elimination of women as a protected class? I doubt it.

  8. An Excerpt from Starship Troopers, Chapter 8, by R.A. Heinlein

    I found myself mulling over a discussion in our class in History and Moral Philosophy. Mr. Dubois was talking about the disorders that preceded the breakup of the North American republic, back in the XXth century. According to him, there was a time just before they went down the drain when such crimes as Dillinger’s were as common as dogfights. The Terror had not been just in North America — Russia and the British Isles had it, too, as well as other places. But it reached its peak in North America shortly before things went to pieces.

    “Law-abiding people,” Dubois had told us, “hardly dared go into a public park at night. To do so was to risk attack by wolf packs of children, armed with chains, knives, homemade guns, bludgeons… to be hurt at least, robbed most certainly, injured for life probably — or even killed. This went on for years, right up to the war between the Russo-Anglo-American Alliance and the Chinese Hegemony. Murder, drug addiction, larceny, assault, and vandalism were commonplace. Nor were parks the only places — these things happened also on the streets in daylight, on school grounds, even inside school buildings. But parks were so notoriously unsafe that honest people stayed clear of them after dark.”

    I had tried to imagine such things happening in our schools. I simply couldn’t. Nor in our parks. A park was a place for fun, not for getting hurt. As for getting killed in one — “Mr. Dubois, didn’t they have police? Or courts?”

    “They had many more police than we have. And more courts. All overworked.”

    “I guess I don’t get it.” If a boy in our city had done anything half that bad… well, he and his father would have been flogged side by side. But such things just didn’t happen.

    Mr. Dubois then demanded of me, “Define a ‘juvenile delinquent.’ ”

    “Uh, one of those kids — the ones who used to beat up people.”

    “Wrong.”

    “Huh? But the book said — ”

    “My apologies. Your textbook does so state. But calling a tail a leg does not make the name fit ‘Juvenile delinquent’ is a contradiction in terms, one which gives a clue to their problem and their failure to solve it. Have you ever raised a puppy?”

    “Yes, sir.”

    “Did you housebreak him?”

    “Err… yes, sir. Eventually.” It was my slowness in this that caused my mother to rule that dogs must stay out of the house.

    “Ah, yes. When your puppy made mistakes, were you angry?”

    “What? Why, he didn’t know any better; he was just a puppy.

    “What did you do?”

    “Why, I scolded him and rubbed his nose in it and paddled him.”

    “Surely he could not understand your words?”

    “No, but he could tell I was sore at him!”

    “But you just said that you were not angry.”

    Mr. Dubois had an infuriating way of getting a person mixed up. “No, but I had to make himthink I was. He had to learn, didn’t he?”

    “Conceded. But, having made it clear to him that you disapproved, how could you be so cruel as to spank him as well? You said the poor beastie didn’t know that he was doing wrong. Yet you indicted pain. Justify yourself! Or are you a sadist?”

    I didn’t then know what a sadist was — but I knew pups. “Mr. Dubois, youhave to! You scold him so that he knows he’s in trouble, you rub his nose in it so that he will know what trouble you mean, you paddle him so that he darn well won’t do it again — and you have to do it right away! It doesn’t do a bit of good to punish him later; you’ll just confuse him. Even so, he won’t learn from one lesson, so you watch and catch him again and paddle him still harder. Pretty soon he learns. But it’s a waste of breath just to scold him.” Then I added, “I guess you’ve never raised pups.”

    “Many. I’m raising a dachshund now — by your methods. Let’s get back to those juvenile criminals. The most vicious averaged somewhat younger than you here in this class… and they often started their lawless careers much younger. Let us never forget that puppy. These children were often caught; police arrested batches each day. Were they scolded? Yes, often scathingly. Were their noses rubbed in it? Rarely. News organs and officials usually kept their names secret — in many places the law so required for criminals under eighteen. Were they spanked? Indeed not! Many had never been spanked even as small children; there was a widespread belief that spanking, or any punishment involving pain, did a child permanent psychic damage.”

    (I had reflected that my father must never have heard of that theory.)

    “Corporal punishment in schools was forbidden by law,” he had gone on. “Flogging was lawful as sentence of court only in one small province, Delaware, and there only for a few crimes and was rarely invoked; it was regarded as ‘cruel and unusual punishment.’ ” Dubois had mused aloud, “I do not understand objections to ‘cruel and unusual’ punishment. While a judge should be benevolent in purpose, his awards should cause the criminal to suffer, else there is no punishment — and pain is the basic mechanism built into us by millions of years of evolution which safeguards us by warning when something threatens our survival. Why should society refuse to use such a highly perfected survival mechanism?
    However, that period was loaded with pre-scientific pseudo-psychological nonsense.

    “As for ‘unusual,’ punishment must be unusual or it serves no purpose.” He then pointed his stump at another boy. “What would happen if a puppy were spanked every hour?”

    “Uh… probably drive him crazy!”

    “Probably. It certainly will not teach him anything. How long has it been since the principal of this school last had to switch a pupil?”

    “Uh, I’m not sure. About two years. The kid that swiped — ”

    “Never mind. Long enough. It means that such punishment is so unusual as to be significant, to deter, to instruct. Back to these young criminals — They probably were not spanked as babies; they certainly were not flogged for their crimes. The usual sequence was: for a first offense, a warning — a scolding, often without trial. After several offenses a sentence of confinement but with sentence suspended and the youngster placed on probation. A boy might be arrested many times and convicted several times before
    he was punished — and then it would be merely confinement, with others like him from whom he learned still more criminal habits. If he kept out of major trouble while confined, he could usually evade most of even that mild punishment, be given probation — ‘paroled’ in the jargon of the times.

    “This incredible sequence could go on for years while his crimes increased in frequency and viciousness, with no punishment whatever save rare dull-but-comfortable confinements. Then suddenly, usually by law on his eighteenth birthday, this so-called ‘juvenile delinquent’ becomes an adult criminal — and sometimes wound up in only weeks or months in a death cell awaiting execution for murder.You — ”

    He had singled me out again. “Suppose you merely scolded your puppy, never punished him, let him go on making messes in the house… and occasionally locked him up in an outbuilding but soon let him back into the house with a warning not to do it again. Then one day you notice that he is now a grown dog and still not housebroken — whereupon you whip out a gun and shoot him dead. Comment, please?”

    “Why… that’s the craziest way to raise a dog I ever heard of!”

    “I agree. Or a child. Whose fault would it be?”

    “Uh… why, mine, I guess.”

    “Again I agree. But I’m not guessing.”

    “Mr. Dubois,” a girl blurted out, “but why? Why didn’t they spank little kids when they needed it and use a good dose of the strap on any older ones who deserved it — the sort of lesson they wouldn’t forget! I mean ones who did things reallybad . Why not?”

    “I don’t know,” he had answered grimly, “except that the time-tested method of instilling social virtue and respect for law in the minds of the young did not appeal to a pre-scientific pseudo-professional class who called themselves ‘social workers’ or sometimes ‘child psychologists.’ It was too simple for them, apparently, since anybody could do it, using only the patience and firmness needed in training a puppy. I have sometimes wondered if they cherished a vested interest in disorder — but that is unlikely; adults almost always act from conscious ‘highest motives’ no matter what their behavior.”

    “But — good heavens!” the girl answered. “I didn’t like being spanked any more than any kid does, but when I needed it, my mama delivered. The only time I ever got a switching in school I got another one when I got home and that was years and years ago. I don’t ever expect to be hauled up in front of a judge and sentenced to a flogging; you behave yourself and such things don’t happen. I don’t see anything wrong with our system; it’s a lot better than not being able to walk outdoors for fear of your life — why, that’shorrible!”

    “I agree. Young lady, the tragic wrongness of what those well-meaning people did, contrasted with what theythought they were doing, goes very deep. They had no scientific theory of morals. They did have a theory of morals and they tried to live by it (I should not have sneered at their motives) but their theory waswrong — half of it fuzzy-headed wishful thinking, half of it rationalized charlatanry. The more earnest they were, the farther it led them astray. You see, they assumed that Man has a moral instinct.”

    “Sir? But I thought — But he does!I have.”

    “No, my dear, you have a cultivated conscience, a most carefully trained one. Man hasno moral instinct . He is not born with moral sense. You were not born with it, I was not — and a puppy has none. Weacquire moral sense, when we do, through training, experience, and hard sweat of the mind. These unfortunate juvenile criminals were born with none, even as you and I, and they had no chance to acquire any; their experiences did not permit it. What is ‘moral sense’? It is an elaboration of the instinct to survive. The instinct to survive is human nature itself, and every aspect of our personalities derives from it. Anything that conflicts with the survival instinct acts sooner or later to eliminate the individual and thereby fails to show up in future generations. This truth is mathematically demonstrable, everywhere verifiable; it is the single eternal imperative controlling everything we do.”

    “But the instinct to survive,” he had gone on, “can be cultivated into motivations more subtle and much more complex than the blind, brute urge of the individual to stay alive. Young lady, what you miscalled your ‘moral instinct’ was the instilling in you by your elders of the truth that survival can have stronger imperatives than that of your own personal survival. Survival of your family, for example. Of your children, when you have them. Of your nation, if you struggle that high up the scale. And so on up. A
    scientifically verifiable theory of morals must be rooted in the individual’s instinct to survive —and nowhere else! — and must correctly describe the hierarchy of survival, note the motivations at each level, and resolve all conflicts.”

    “We have such a theory now; we can solve any moral problem, on any level. Self-interest, love of family, duty to country, responsibility toward the human race — we are even developing an exact ethic for extra-human relations. But all moral problems can be illustrated by one misquotation: ‘Greater love hath no man than a mother cat dying to defend her kittens.’ Once you understand the problem facing that cat and how she solved it, you will then be ready to examine yourself and learn how high up the moral ladder you are capable of climbing.

    “These juvenile criminals hit a low level. Born with only the instinct for survival, the highest morality they achieved was a shaky loyalty to a peer group, a street gang. But the do-gooders attempted to ‘appeal to their better natures,’ to ‘reach them,’ to ‘spark their moral sense.’Tosh! Theyhad no ‘better natures’; experience taught them that what they were doing was the way to survive. The puppy never got his spanking; therefore what he did with pleasure and success must be ‘moral.’

    “The basis of all morality is duty, a concept with the same relation to group that self-interest has to individual. Nobody preached duty to these kids in a way they could understand — that is, with a spanking. But the society they were in told them endlessly about their ‘rights.’ ”

    “The results should have been predictable, since a human being hasno natural rights of any nature.”

    Mr. Dubois had paused. Somebody took the bait. “Sir? How about ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of
    happiness’?”

    “Ah, yes, the ‘unalienable rights.’ Each year someone quotes that magnificent poetry. Life? What ‘right’ to life has a man who is drowning in the Pacific? The ocean will not hearken to his cries. What ‘right’ to life has a man who must die if he is to save his children? If he chooses to save his own life, does he do so as a matter of ‘right’? If two men are starving and cannibalism is the only alternative to death, which man’s right is ‘unalienable’? And is it ‘right’? As to liberty, the heroes who signed that great document pledged themselves tobuy liberty with their lives. Liberty isnever unalienable; it must be redeemed regularly with the blood of patriots or italways vanishes. Of all the so-called ‘natural human rights’ that have ever been invented, liberty is least likely to be cheap and isnever free of cost.

    “The third ‘right’? — the ‘pursuit of happiness’? It is indeed unalienable but it is not a right; it is simply a universal condition which tyrants cannot take away nor patriots restore. Cast me into a dungeon, burn me at the stake, crown me king of kings, I can ‘pursue happiness’ as long as my brain lives — but neither gods nor saints, wise men nor subtle drugs, can insure that I will catch it.”

    Mr. Dubois then turned to me. “I told you that ‘juvenile delinquent’ is a contradiction in terms. ‘Delinquent’ means ‘failing in duty.’ Butduty is anadult virtue — indeed a juvenile becomes an adult when, and only when, he acquires a knowledge of duty and embraces it as dearer than the self-love he was born with. There never was, there cannot be a ‘juvenile delinquent.’ But for every juvenile criminal there are always one or more adult delinquents — people of mature years who either do not know their duty, or who, knowing it, fail.”

    “And that was the soft spot which destroyed what was in many ways an admirable culture. The junior hoodlums who roamed their streets were symptoms of a greater sickness; their citizens (all of them counted as such) glorified their mythology of ‘rights’… and lost track of their duties. No nation, so constituted, can endure.”

      • You mean you don’t like the Army (Mobile Infantry) being depicted as Waffen SS? I know exactly what you mean…I nearly blew a gasket when I went to see it. The book remains one of my all-time favorites and the section Tex quoted is one of my sub-favorites (if there is such a word).

        • Elitist literary reviewers practically fell over themselves denouncing the book as “fascist”. The science fiction writers of the day disagreed, though, and gave it the Nebula Award for best novel of 1965. In actuality, Heinlein’s future society was heavily based on the Roman Republic. not Nazi Germany.

  9. My interpretation of the “Alleged incidents recorded on the cell phone camera” is that it’s all to be taken as one thing. It’s not “alleged incidents” that WERE recorded, that would make no sense. Nor would it be proper to describe them as incidents that were “allegedly recorded,” as that implies that they DID happen as stated and only the fact of the recording is in doubt. Rather, it appears to be used to indicate that it is alleged that these incidents happened and were recorded. Awkward phrasing to be sure, but I don’t know how else you’d do it. “Alleged incidents that were allegedly recorded” makes you sound like a cartoon.

      • If two boys got in a fist fight, as boys do, and towards the end one boy was knocked down and the other jumped on him, and a third party records the last bit, then someone sees the video. This clip, isolated from the greater whole could allegedly show an attempted murder.

        The video WAS taken, but until the greater context is proven or disproven, it is an alleged video of the incident.

        • I don’t see that in this case. Res Ipsa Loquitur. If the vieo itself would be enough to prove the prosecution’s case, then there’s nothing alleged about it. Nobody need to allege a thing. Jack Ruby did not allegedly shoot Lee Harvey Oswald, for example.

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