Tag Archives: innocence

Aaron Hernandez And The Weird Legal Doctrine Of Abatement Ab Initio

The predator priest, the corrupt CEO, and the murderous Patriot, all innocent because they’re dead….

Massachusetts judge Judge E. Susan Garsh ruled that the state’s law required her to vacate the 2015 murder conviction of former New England Patriots star Aaron Hernandez. Because Hernandez’s appeal was pending when he committed suicide in his cell, she said,  the common law doctrine known as abatement ab initio applied: a defendant’s death before an appeal erases his conviction. Prosecutors argued that Hernandez’s purpose in hanging himself on April 19 was to to void his conviction, but Judge Garsh responded that she was bound to follow state law anyway, especially since Hernandez’s motives were unknown. She had presided at the trial in which a jury found Hernandez  guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the murder of semi-professional football player Odin Lloyd.

The fact that some legal and ethical puzzles have proven unsolvable despite troubling lawyers, judges, legislators and scholars for decades (and sometimes centuries) is one of the best proofs I know for The Ethics Incompleteness Principle, which holds that no rule or principle makes sense in all circumstances, and that human beings are incapable of articulating perfect laws and rules that will work as intended in every case. Abatement ab initio is a classic example.

Abatement is the dismissal or discontinuance of a legal proceeding “for a reason unrelated to the merits of the claim.” It is available in both a civil and  criminal context. Traditionally, the death of a criminal defendant following conviction  but before an appeal can be made mandates abatement. The effect of  the doctrine is to discontinue all proceedings  and to dismiss the appeal as moot, overturn the conviction, and dismiss the indictment. The deceased defendant reverts back to his status before being charged. In the eyes of the law, he is innocent…again. Continue reading

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Filed under Family, History, Law & Law Enforcement

Comment of the Day: Daily Comics Ethics: When Did Erection Gags Become Appropriate For The Funny Pages?

unicorn

Traversing such seemingly unrelated topics as aphrodisiacs, “Mr. Ed,” post-war culture, literacy, and the evolution of childhood,  Penn’s Comment of the Day is one of my all-time favorites. Here it is, a response to the post, “Daily Comics Ethics: When Did Erection Gags Become Appropriate For The Funny Pages?” I have a lot of reactions, but here are three:

  • If kids really don’t read the funny papers any more, what good are they? Who does read them? The Washington Post and other papers used to take “Doonesbury” out of the section and place it in the main body of the paper on the theory that it’s humor was “adult.” (Of course, “Doonesbury’s” humor has also been non-existent since around 1978—but I’ve never seen an erection joke there, either.)
  • Just because little kids are familiar with the term “horny” doesn’t mean they have any idea of what it refers to.
  • I like the “Mr. Ed” song!

In reply to your rhetorical (and tertiary) query, Jack, you missed (that small part of the) evolution just as we all did and do, because it was an evolution, a slow-moving American tsunami of post-war change beginning in the late 40s.

As a child, I recall controversy, strictly among adults, over things that wouldn’t be even thought of today such as the idea of having a girl (Lois Lane?) take up a weapon against a villain instead of waiting, albeit bravely, for Superman, to come rescue her. It was argued to be unladylike – and therefore, unsuitable for children’s comics — for females to fight for themselves if there was a man around, even as the WACS, nurses and ambulance drivers returned home, joining widowed moms & rosie-riveters in job-hunts. Or unless it was Wonder Woman. And oh the struggles to allow Wonder Woman — she of the skin-molding, crotch-height tights and the noticeable chest bumps, however well armored — into the son’s bedroom. Or the daughter’s wardrobe (next, she’ll want a bra!) Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Childhood and children, Comment of the Day, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Etiquette and manners, Gender and Sex, Humor and Satire, Journalism & Media, Marketing and Advertising, Popular Culture, U.S. Society

Daily Comics Ethics: When Did Erection Gags Become Appropriate For The Funny Pages?

Grimm cartoon

When did I miss the evolution of the newspaper comics, always regarded as the young tyke’s entry into the newspaper perusal habit, into one more entertainment medium requiring ratings and advance parental review? The comic above appeared in today’s Washington Post and elsewhere. I think it’s funny—for a Playboy cartoon. Maybe it’s not too racy for the New Yorker. But the funny pages? Seriously? This is an erection joke! In a strip with Mother Goose in the title! (The strip is “Mother Goose and Grimm” by Mike  Peters, who is also an award-winning political cartoonist.) It refers to the classic naughty line that had censors screaming when Mae West said it (after writing it.) My Dad read the daily comics to me before I could read, then explained the jokes that I couldn’t understand. Is this the kind of joke toddlers will be having explained to them now? Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Childhood and children, Etiquette and manners, Humor and Satire, Journalism & Media, U.S. Society

There May Not Be A War On Christmas, But Whatever It Is, Christmas Is Losing

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I don’t think it’s my imagination, or that I’m watching too much Bill O’Reilly (since I almost never watch Bill O’Reilly), but it became very clear to me this year that Christmas, as a society-wide cultural convergence in America, is losing its grip.

The reasons are varied and many, and to pick out any in particular one would betray my own biases. But I am a fairly obsessive observer of the popular culture, and there was markedly less Christmas this year in every way. Religious references to the Christmas story—the manger, the Wise Men, the Star of Bethlehem and the rest, are almost invisible outside of church. On television, that part of Christmas is taboo, apparently; on radio too, traditional carols, which once were standard fare, whether sung by pop singers like Bing Crosby or classical artists, are mostly relegated to the classical music channels. On the other stations, there was less Christmas music than I can ever recall, and perhaps because of that, I was very conscious of how dated virtually all of it is. The last non-frivolous Christmas standard to enter the playlist was 1962’s “Do You Hear What I Hear?, ” and the other newer ones  are either songs about romance using Christmas as a backdrop, anti-Christmas novelties (“Grandma Got Run Over By  A Reindeer”), or just lousy.

Meanwhile, listening to the parade of pop yule classics is an exercise in morbidity. Almost all of them are sung by dead artists that no one under the age of thirty (or forty?) could have ever heard or seen perform live. Bing, Dean Martin, Karen Carpenter, Andy Williams, Burl Ives, Gene Autry, Judy Garland, Nat King Cole, Mel Torme, Frank Sinatra—Andy just left us, but most of the rest, with the lingering exceptions of Johnny Mathis and Harry Belafonte, are not merely dead, but long dead, like Marley. No one has taken their place in this genre, and that means that it’s a dying genre.

It is obvious that Christmas movies are being run on television less than ever before, too. It was once impossible to avoid encountering several versions of “A Christmas Carol,” and sometimes the same one would keep popping up, annoyingly so. Not any more. “It’s A Wonderful Life” had its annual showing, and I stumbled upon “White Christmas” a couple of times, but the pickings were slim.   The lousy Richard Attenborough “Miracle on 34th Street’ turned up; Turner Classics ran through most of the old Christmas classics once, but you had to look for them. There haven’t been any new Christmas movies from Hollywood that have made the grade for a very long time: with the exception of the first “The Santa Clause,” what Hollywood has been churning out are more or less bitter comedies (“Christmas With The Kranks,” “Jingle All The Way,” “Bad Santa,” “Christmas Vacation”–even the “Home Alone” films) that portray Christmas as suburban hell.

Then there are the wan or missing town hall and town center Christmas displays (Gotta watch out for those law suits), the tasteless Christmas TV commercials (the men in boxers jingling their “bells” is gross, in my opinion), and the hesitation you hear in strangers’ voices as they try to guess whether “Merry Christmas” will offend you or not.  I used to encounter carolers several times every Christmas, in shopping malls if nowhere else. The malls are disappearing, and kids don’t go caroling any more. They don’t know carols any more, because if their school teaches them one (because it’s a lovely song) some fanatic will raise a stink and claim its religious indoctrination.  Children, in a more innocent, less cynical age, were allowed to believe in Santa Claus well past the age of 5. (I was 26 before I knew the truth.) No longer. Christmas just feels half-hearted, uncertain, unenthusiastic now. Forced. Dying.

It was a season culminating in a day in which a whole culture, or most of it, engaged in loving deeds, celebrated ethical values, thought the best of their neighbors and species, and tried to make each other happy and hopeful, and perhaps reverent and whimsical too.  I think it was a healthy phenomenon, and I think we will be the worse for its demise. All of us…even those who have worked so diligently and self-righteously to bring it to this diminished state.

But anyway,

Merry Christmas.

For what it’s worth.

________________________________

Graphic: Stacy Gustafson

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Education, Journalism & Media, Popular Culture, Religion and Philosophy, U.S. Society

Comment of the Day: “Unethical Blog Post of the Week: ‘But What About Caylee?”’

As comments, accusations and retorts featuring the Ethics Alarms All-Stars were flying around on the blog in reaction to the Casey Anthony verdict and my reaction to some of those reactions (here, here, here, and here), Lianne Best came through with an  especially measured take, one that was immediately cheered by other commenters.

There is nothing wrong with feeling deeply, and emotions are important; after all, Mr. Spock had limitations as a leader. When emotion rather than analysis drives public opinion, however, there is a risk of real harm: those attempting objective analysis may be vilified, marginalized or ignored, and rash, reckless decisions and consequences can result.  (I could, but won’t, argue that the 2008 presidential election was a classic case in point.)  Lianne cuts to the real issue deftly. Here is her Comment of the Day:

“I too often find myself embroiled in emotional opinion, with no basis in facts. It’s easy here: an adorable and completely innocent, dependent little girl was killed. Virtually every human, particularly parents, want to see that vindicated, justice found and brought. That somehow makes it better. But you know what? It doesn’t make it better to go racing off on just a blazing gut reaction, not when people’s lives are affected by our lack of thought and analysis. I was a juror in a kidnapping and murder trial. It was an immensely difficult two weeks, and the decision was agonizing. Luckily, it was also popular; it would have been awful to suffer through loud, manic public criticism of our reasoned decision on top of the process … loud, manic public criticism by people who weren’t there, who knew less (or at least differently) than we did. We have a jury system for a reason, 12 people found Casey Anthony not guilty (13 if you count the alternate juror) and we have to trust them.

“Personally, I appreciate Jack’s cooler head prevailing when my mother’s heart is shrieking.”

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Filed under Comment of the Day, Law & Law Enforcement, Love, U.S. Society

Marcia Clark, Exploiting the Anthony Verdict for Her Own Sake

Marcia Clark. OK, this really isn't Marcia, but the real picture of her doesn't look like her either.

Marcia Clark’s article on the Casey Anthony verdict is so tainted with obvious conflicts of interest that it should have been rejected by The Daily Beast…or rather would be rejected by any website more selective and less shameless than the Daily Beast. This would be any fair site that does not deal in over-the-top opinion as a matter of course.

Marcia, like her colleague Chris Darden, is a rather tragic figure these days. The former lead prosecutor in the O.J. case is struggling to make it as a pundit, freshly botoxed and rendered almost unrecognizable so as to be fetching in those close-ups. After she sold the inevitable cash-in book about the Trial of the Century, she has wandered in the C-List celebrity wilderness, and will soon join Newt Gingrich and William Shatner as a celebrity novelist. She will be remembered, quite correctly, as the prosecutor who botched the O.J. murder trial, even if we give Darden an assist for the gloves debacle. (Why cable news shows insist on recycling failures as experts is an enduring mystery, the mystery being “how can the producers look themselves in the mirror after choosing recognizable flops over less well-known but more accomplished authorities?”)

But Clark apparently saw an opportunity in the Casey Anthony verdict to rehabilitate her tarnished reputation, and grabbed it. The result is “Worse Than O.J.!”, a new low in self-serving analysis. Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Professions

Unethical Blog Post of the Week: “But What About Caylee?”

Sad but true: the trial's purpose was not to find justice for Caylee.

If I responded to even one out of a hundred ethically muddled, logically addled posts by the hoard of bloggers in cyberspace, I’d have time for nothing else. Now and then, however, I am directed to a post that typifies the kind of free-floating, fact-starved gut sentiment that rots public discourse in America and that helps keeps the public confused and panicked.

In this case, I was directed to the post by the blogger herself, who managed to annoy me by accusing my post on the Casey Anthony jury of being callous to the victim in the case, two-year old Callie. I re-read my post; there wasn’t anything callous toward the child in any way. Puzzled, I went to the blogger’s page, a blog by someone who calls herself wittybizgal, and called Wittybizgal. Sure enough, there it was: an anguished lament about the verdict in the Casey Anthony trial entitled, “But What About Callie?”

The post is frightening, because I am certain that this kind of non-reasoning is epidemic in the United States, nourished by touchy-feely bloggers, pundits and columnists and made possible by the ingrained habit of having opinions without knowledge. Since their opinions are not supported by facts or reasoning, they can’t be debated. If you aren’t persuaded, you’re just mean, that’s all. That’s no way to decide what is right and wrong, but it certainly a popular way. Here is wittybizgal’s argument, one fallacious step at a time: Continue reading

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Filed under Citizenship, Law & Law Enforcement, The Internet, U.S. Society, Unethical Blog Post