28 September 2009

Polanski's Baby

More than 30 years ago the director Roman Polanski had sex with a 13-year-old girl. Even without knowing the details of the incident, we can probably (most of us) agree that there is an unacceptable power differential between an adolescent teen and a forty-something man of the world. To avoid a likely sentence of 16 years, and a max of 50, Polanski fled the United States and hasn't been back. A few years ago the United States Marshal's Office decided to get him back, and arranged with neutral or extradition-friendly governments to trap this man. They got him last week in Switzerland, where money is more honored than, well, honor.

Polanski is 76, and his "victim" is 44, and neither want anything more to do with the justice system than they did 31 years ago, which is to say they wanted and want nothing to do with it. The case was poorly handled then by a publicity-loving judge who was opposed in his sentencing plan for Polanski by both defense and prosecuting attorneys. Having examined every possible aspect of the case, two sets of probation investigators and more psychiatrists decided probation, and not prison, was the appropriate remedy for what Polanski did. A very good documentary about the case, "Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired," makes a compelling argument against the judge, and against an uninformed opinion about what justice in this case would mean. It's available at Netflix, and elsewhere.

17 September 2009

Funny You Mention It

The Darwin Awards, given annually by...someone, salute "the improvement of the human genome by honoring those who accidentally remove themselves from it."

In the interest of bringing some (more) humor to the blog, and because I'm too busy to generate some actual original content just now, I'll occasionally post one of the winners under this rubric.

And the first:

When his .38-caliber revolver failed to fire at his intended victim during a holdup in Long Beach, California, would-be robber George Marner did something that can only inspire wonder. He peered down the barrel and tried the trigger again. This time it worked.

25 June 2009

Criminal Climate

NASA's climate expert, James Hansen, was arrested the other day. He committed the kind of crime a defense lawyer just loves to defend: a crime against a crime without a corresponding statute.

Mr. Hansen trespassed at the Goals Coal plant, in West Virginia. They're taking the top off a mountain there, using a mining practice which not only sort of messes with the natural skyline, but pumps enough carbon dioxide into the air that someday we'll be able to enjoy a year-round tropical paradise anywhere on earth.

And while I like skimpy bathing suits as much as the next guy or gal, some of the other effects of global warming constitute an environmental crime worth committing a crime against, a crime worth defending.

04 June 2009

50,000 Volts Can't Be Wrong

A Niagara County, New York, judge ruled here that when the police ask you nicely for a DNA cheek swab, you better open up your mouth and say "Ahhhh," or you've got an awful shock coming.

When a prisoner said instead, "No way," police zapped him with a 50,000-volt stun gun for encouragement. Judge Sara Sperrazza said that's okay. She's the only judge in the country who's said that, but it must have likewise brought some encouragement to former VP Dick Cheney, who doesn't understand why more people don't climb on the torture bandwagon he's worked so hard to put together.

14 May 2009

See No Evil

President Obama has decided citizens of the United States, and especially citizens of other countries, ought to remain blindfolded to the photographs that show (probably not) the worst torture inflicted by our military on suspected terrorists (torture 'em enough and they'll soon all be confirmed terrorists). This is good, he says, because then people who don't like America much can't get any further worked up by actually seeing what it is they don't like about us.

This dovetails pretty well with his lack of interest in seeing any of the architects of torture -- guys like President-once (finally?)-removed George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and their terrific lawyers -- held accountable in the sort of tribunals we've presided over when what we like to call "the bad guys" were in charge of these things before we took over the terrible responsibility for torture and other war crimes.

But if we just close our eyes...

08 April 2009

The Death Penalty Is Killing Us

There's yet another bill to end the death penalty in Colorado. I'm tired of these bills, tired of seeing them year after year, because we shouldn't have to see them again, ever, because the state legislature should somehow at last discover its collective humanity and pass this bill. I don't know whether you are a Republican, Democrat, or something else. I register Independent. But this is something that should speak, not to your politics, but to your own humanity.

I don't want the death penalty to end because I think the men and women who are sentenced to death don't deserve it. I think in most cases they richly deserve it. But I don't think I deserve it. I don't think my friends and neighbors deserve it. And I don't think you deserve it. You, I, and all of us who do not take human life as these criminals have done, do not deserve to be made like them. Having lost their connection to the value of human life, we do not deserve to tarnish our own connection by taking their lives. They are not worth our own debasement.

The organized campaign legislators are seeing this time emphasizes the economic costs of the death penalty, and urges them to vote their wallets (yours, really) by spending the money, now used to execute our worst criminals, instead to fund cold case investigations that otherwise will remain in deep freeze. I know that these unsolved cases are without question deserving of funding, but I cannot bring myself to associate a dollar value with the dignity of a human being, myself or others.

So I do not join that campaign, that argument. Mine is directed at the recognition and preservation of what some may call the soul, what others may call the spirit, or what I would call our basic human goodness. I simply ask that we not sacrifice that fundamental quality of our collective human existence for the sake of vengeance on a sick, or lost, or maybe simply evil individual.

I am certain you, or someone you know, has a personal connection with someone who has been harmed by capital crime, or who has done this harm. I have written in these pages about my own connection. Many years ago, when I was yet a boy, the State of California strapped my cousin Foster to a chair and made him breathe poison gas. My mother told me that Foster had shot his wife as she slept. He held a pillow against her face and pressed the gun against it so the noise wouldn't disturb his kids sleeping upstairs. It woke them anyway, and the police found Foster kneeling on the floor, his arms around them, rocking back and forth, Foster's shirt soaked with their tears and their mother's blood.

Maybe Foster deserved to suffer for his crime. But his children, decades later, still suffer from the fact that not only had Foster taken their mother from them, but the state went him one better, and made orphans of them. These children I once played with cannot bear the pain of either of their parents' deaths; one of them cannot even bear to speak of it.

This family shines the light on perhaps the darker and usually unseen shadow of our death penalty jurisprudence. We all know that when the murderer kills his victim, in many ways the victim's family dies with him; we need only look at the anger and hatred that has become the life mask of Ron Goldman's father to see that. When the state in turn kills the murderer, the murderer's family suffers no less a death of spirit. Two families are murdered. With my cousins, that family died twice.

We don't have to keep carving these black holes in our souls, our spirits, our human goodness, for the sake of retribution against the killers in our society; our society needn't -- mustn't -- remain a killer too. I would ask my representatives to vote to lay down this legal weapon that reaps death upon death, suffering upon suffering, and raise their voices in affirmation of life -- our own, decent, life.

07 April 2009

Drunk & Disorderly at the Bar

This particular bar is the American Bar Association. It's been so long since I've paid any attention to this blog (and maybe since anyone has), that I've been disbarred by the ABA. Taken off the list of ABA blogs. I deserved it. I've been out of touch with my own writing.

Right now I'm going to climb back on the wagon, if that's the right expression, and try to keep up with myself. Not just for the ABA. For myself. Talk to you soon.