Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Solution in search of a problem
Tue, September 25, 2007 | link
When I heard the Federal Bureau of Prisons' plan to standardize all prison religious libraries
with 200 or so government-approved religious (per major religion) texts and prohibiting everything not on that list, my first
thought was that someone had far too much time on his hands. First, you gotta love the name, "Standardized Chapel Library
Project." The name oozes that bland bureaucratese that cloaks profoundly boneheaded government actions. The project
grew from a report
that radical books that incite violence could
creep into prison chaplain libraries. The report, by the Justice
Department's Inspector General, did not cite a single instance of any radical book actually being in the library, it just
noted that the collections had not been re-screened since September 11, 2001. The report focused on whether Muslim religious
services were a means of introducing radical Islam into the federal prison system.
Apparently taking an inventory of all prison chaplain libraries was too burdensome, so the BOP opted to standardize the
material with lists of approved tests for 20 major religions. I wonder if the Bible passed muster, and if so, how.
The Bible has been used to incite violence for ages. The books of the Bible are filled with violent images and vengeance.
The deviant Alex in "A Clockwork Orange"
delighted at the violence he found in those pages. Not only is violence depicted, but it is often encouraged.
Abraham is praised for being willing to kill his son
sacrificed his daughter as a burnt offering after winning a battle. Saul massacred the Amalekites
, killing "men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys," but spared the king. When Samuel
learned of this, he took his sword and killed the king
. Lot's wife
turned into a pillar of salt for looking
at Sodom. Uzzah killed instantly
the Ark of the Covenant to keep it from falling off the wagon. All of these acts are things that
today we would condemn as genocide, murder, child abuse or insanity.
So if the Bible is allowed, how can you come up with logical standards of what to exclude fearing it might incite violence?
To me that just shows the silliness of the whole BOP exercise. Maybe there are some books that prisoners should not
be allowed to read, "The Great Escape Manual
" for example. But the list of truly dangerous books must be fairly short. The idea that religious books are a
threat that requires government vetting of religious texts is laughable. The BOP needs to find a real problem to solve.
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Insanity, legal fiction, dogs, ponies and political suicide
Wed, September 19, 2007 | link
A local court has to decide if a man who killed four people in 1988, but was found not guilty by reason of insanity should be released
from the mental hospital, Dix, where he has been confined since 1989.
The hearing is still going on today. I know because the TV trucks were parked behind the courthouse today.
My guess at the result for Michael Hayes: no way, no how will he get out. Ever. I asked a friend of mine (a lawyer) if
there was any set of facts that Hayes could establish that would lead to his release, he just laughed. If you read the law
Hayes must be released if he shows by a preponderance of the evidence that he no longer has a mental illness or
no longer dangerous to others. If you read the local tea leaves (or a local pundit
) you know Hayes won't get out.
According to news accounts,
all of the six mental health workers (at least two psychiatrists) who have treated Hayes have testified that he is no longer
mentally ill or a danger to others. Rightly or wrongly, Dix psychiatrists have a reputation among defense attorneys
as a rubber-stamp for the prosecution. The fact that they are all testifying in favor of Hayes is significant.
They are also in a better position to know about his mental condition than anyone else since they have regular contact
It might be defensible to enact a law that provides: if you kill someone but are determined to be insane at the time
of the killing, you will be confined in an institution for the rest of your life. Maybe in balancing the risks we could
rationally conclude that lifetime confinement is needed to protect the rest of society, even if the killer is not morally
culpable. Maybe that position is unduly harsh on the mentally ill. At least it would be honest.
The law now creates a legal fiction
, if you can prove you are no longer dangerous you can go free, but the very fact that you killed means that no set of facts
that you could show will ever satisfy a court. It is probably true that Hayes is no more dangerous than many others
walking the streets. It is probably also true that any judge who releases Hayes had better have alternate employment
lined up. A local columnist candidly called a ruling that would release Hayes "political suicide
." If I were the judge who had to hear the evidence and decide, I'd probably be reluctant to release Hayes, too. It
would be hard to discount the chance, however slight, that Hayes could get into trouble or create a tragedy again.
But brutal honesty, just coming out and saying "Sorry Mr. Hayes, we can't risk letting you out," would be better than the
annual dog and pony show
we have now.
Court opinions from earlier hearings:
(release denied by same judge presiding in current case)
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
"Use to be's" don't count anymore
Tue, September 18, 2007 | link
I miss the old U.S.A.
We used to be able to honestly say "in America, we just
don't (insert some human rights violation)."
The list of things that could plausibly
go in the parentheses gets shorter every day.
Ten years ago I would have ruled
out each of the following, now, not so much:
Thursday, September 6, 2007
Forget a real lawyer, I want a psychic
Thu, September 6, 2007 | link
I saw this ad shortly after reading a blog post
about a public defender whose client wanted to hire a "real lawyer." I'm not a public defender, but the majority of
my criminal caseload, state and federal, is court appointed work so I have been in S.C. Ruffey's
shoes. Sometimes the defendant says something like "Don't be offended, but I am hiring a real lawyer." That reminds
me of the way mafiosos say things like, "With all due respect, you are a lying sack of shit," because if the sentence contains
"with all due respect" no one will be offended.
Getting dumped for a paid lawyer does not bother me much anymore. Partly because I would not hesitate to take a
court-appointed client away from another lawyer. I think there are several things that make the average criminal defendant
think that a paid lawyer is better than an appointed one. One is that you tend to value things more if you have to pay
for them. Getting something for free sends the message that it is not worth much. Another is that in the world
that most criminal defendants live in there are few examples of people who get satisfaction from doing something because
you believe in what you are doing. Even if that job is not financially rewarding. That view is not limited the
ranks of the lower economic classes. Martha Stewart and Scooter Libby could have plucked a typical PD (or me) and paid
the equivalent of several years of our annual income to have our experience by their side at trial, but they chose traditional
highly compensated lawyers.
At least those are the things I tell myself when I hear I am being replaced by a paid lawyer. However, when I get passed
over for a psychic, I will be pissed.
Wednesday, September 5, 2007
Singing the middle aged white non-gay senator blues
Wed, September 5, 2007 | link
My life is askew 'cause I tapped with my shoe, but I'm busted
Polling is down near to the ground and I'm busted
I've got an excuse that won't fly, and folks think I am gay
The negative press gets bigger each day
The Senate may take my office away I'm busted!
I told the cop that I was alone, I was busted
I hated to beg like a dog for a bone, I was busted
The cop told me there ain't a thing I can do
been complaints of gay sex in the loo,
I was in that bathroom with you, you're busted!
Lord I'm not
gay but a man can go wrong when he's busted
The party I conned three times is gone and I'm busted
outlook is bleak and I promised to flee,
But now I am trying to withdraw my plea,
Oh what in the world
has happened to me, but I'm busted!