News: Justice, Crime
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By Chuck Colson
As she sat in her boyfriend’s car, a young Texas woman named Dee Dee Washington was shot and killed—an innocent bystander of a drug deal gone bad. For 14 years, the man who fired the shot, Ron Flowers, never admitted to killing her—not until, that is, Ron was admitted to the InnerChange Freedom Initiative® (IFI), the prison program launched by Prison Fellowship in Texas.
IFI applies principles of restorative justice by confronting offenders with the harm they have done to their victims. During one of IFI’s Victim Awareness sessions, Ron finally admitted that he did commit the murder, and he prayed that his victim’s family would forgive him. He wrote a letter to Dee Dee’s mother, Mrs. Anna Washington, expressing his repentance and deep remorse.
For her part, Mrs. Washington had written angry letters every year to the parole board, urging them to deny Ron parole. But when Ron confessed, Mrs. Washington felt an overwhelming conviction that she should meet the man who had killed her daughter.
Prison Fellowship staff carefully prepared Mrs. Washington and Ron for the meeting. Mrs. Washington finally could ask the questions that virtually every victim wants to ask: “Why did you do it?” “How did it happen?” Ron reassured her that her daughter was not involved in the drug deal. As Ron told her about the day that he killed her daughter, Mrs. Washington took his hands in hers and said, “I forgive you.”
I was in Houston for Ron’s graduation from IFI. As Ron crossed the stage to receive his diploma, Mrs. Washington rose from her seat and walked over to embrace Ron, the man who had murdered her daughter. She then told all of us in the audience, “This young man is my adopted son.”
After Ron’s release, Mrs. Washington helped him adjust to the community, sat with him at church, had him over for dinner, and even stood by him when he was married.
Only God could bring about such reconciliation and healing.
Unlike our criminal justice system, which focuses solely on public safety and order, restorative justice is also about repairing the harm caused by crime. An important part of the reparative process is victim-offender reconciliation. These meetings allow “victims, offenders, and community members” to discuss what happened and its “aftermath”—to seek repentance and forgiveness.
This is more than an ill-defined sense of “closure.” Coming face-to-face with victims can cause offenders to think about their actions and their consequences in a way that punishment alone never can.
Anyone who has spent time around inmates knows that many view themselves as victims—something that is harder to do when you have spoken to the real victims. Research suggests that inmates who meet with their victims are more likely to pay court-ordered restitution than those who do not.
You see, as I have said countless times, crime is a moral and spiritual issue. That being the case, rehabilitation can happen only when offenders see their offenses as more than rule-breaking: They must see them as a transgression against God and other people.
While promoting order is the God-given role of government, there is more to justice than police, prosecutors, and prison. Justice also means repairing the harm caused by crime, which requires going where government cannot go—to the human heart.
Recent study on all-time high incarceration rates highlights need for Christ-centered rehabilitation programs, says Prison Fellowship Vice President
Pat Nolan, vice president of Prison Fellowship, says a new study reporting incarceration rates at an all-time high and the national reincarceration rate unchanged shows the need for Christ-centered rehabilitation programs that teach inmates how to live with a “moral compass.”
The study released by the Pew Center on the States’ Public Safety Performance Project on Thursday reports that 1 in 100 Americans are in prison. That statistic translates to approximately 2.3 million adults in U.S. prisons at the beginning of 2008.
Meanwhile, the national recidivism rate remains unchanged, the report finds, with about half of released inmates returning to jail or prison within three years.
The stagnant reincarceration rate is a “shocking testament to the failure of our current prison program” and highlights the need for Christ-centered rehabilitation programs, Nolan told The Christian Post.
“At its root, crime is a moral problem” but traditional prison programs fail to address the moral aspects behind the crime, he said.
The result: packed prisons which are breaking the bank for state governments – at nearly $50 billion a year – while offering no guarantee of public safety, according to the study.
Lawmakers in Texas, which has one of the highest incarceration rates in the nation, virtually remade the state corrections systems last year in an attempt to avert spending millions of dollars on new prisons. According to the Star-Telegram, the state has been diverting more nonviolent offenders to probation, building treatment centers for dug and alcohol abusers, and easing punishment practices for parole violations.
Still, Nolan believes that it is important work with inmates to develop their whole person – spiritually, intellectually, emotionally, and physically.
Programs like Prison Fellowship’s InnerChange Freedom Initiative (IFI) work with inmates two years before they are released and one year after, helping them to develop a “moral compass so they can live law-abiding lives when they are released,” said Nolan. The spiritual and moral formation part of the program is based on the life and teaching of Jesus Christ.
“Character is what you do when no one is looking, and we try to help them make moral choices in all circumstances,” he said.
A study of the IFI program in Texas found that only 8% of graduates were reincarcerated after two years – a remarkable success rate compared to the national reincarceration rate.
The researcher found that mentors from the local church were the largest factor in helping the men stay on the right track.
For women inmates, who often suffer from domestic abuse or drug abuse, Nolan said the focus is on building healthy relationships. Prison Fellowship helps these women find a church where they can connect with loving members in a supportive environment, he noted.
To better assist returning inmates, both men and women, Nolan said Prison Fellowship is currently developing “communities of care” to help them find a home church and assist them in locating employment, housing, health care, and drug abuse treatment.
Prison Fellowship was founded by former Nixon aide Chuck Colson in 1976. It is the world’s largest prisoner-focused organization that works with prisoners, ex-prisoners and their families across the United States and in 110 countries.
Phyllis Schlafly put herself through college working the night shift at the St. Louis Ordnance Plant, firing rifles and machine guns in order to test ammunition for troops during World War II. Sixty years later, she has lost none of her nerve, none of her energy, and none of her aim. Now, she has leveled her powerful intellectual guns at an out-of-control judiciary, and her new book The Supremacists is a powerful manifesto for our times.
Mrs. Schlafly is known to most Americans through her work as a conservative activist, her radio show, and her many public appearances. In many ways, she invented the modern conservative movement as a mobilization of grassroots efforts. Her 1964 book, A Choice Not an Echo, was a manifesto for citizen activism, and a generation of Americans—especially women—rallied to her cause. In 1972 she founded the group now known as Eagle Forum, and she deserves credit for leading the charge against the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. Having just celebrated her eightieth birthday, Phyllis Schlafly shows no signs of retirement—much less of retreat.
In The Supremacists, Mrs. Schlafly issues a cogent and well-considered warning to her fellow Americans. “The United States Constitution did not create judicial supremacy or consign us to be ruled by a judicial oligarchy,” she reminds. “On the contrary, the Constitution separated the vast powers of the federal government into three branches—legislative, executive, and judicial—with an ingenious system of checks and balances so that each branch can serve as a continuing check on the others.” Nevertheless, though the founders did not create judicial supremacy, this nation has experienced a usurpation of power by judges that may well undermine the integrity of our national government.
Phyllis Schlafly is a trained and experienced lawyer, and she addresses this issue as both lawyer and citizen. Her passion is evident, even as her documentation is convincing. Mrs. Schlafly takes her reader back to the founding era, when James Madison wrote in Federalist 51 that the government’s constituent parts must, “by their mutual relations, be the means of keeping each other in their proper places.” In Federalist 78, Alexander Hamilton advised that the judiciary “will always be the least dangerous” branch of government. Of course, he had a constitutionally restrained judiciary in mind.
As Mrs. Schlafly reminds, the Constitution invests no legislative authority in the judiciary—none at all. Nevertheless, activist judges have usurped a legislative power even if they are denied a legislative authority. As she explains, “The judicial supremacists refuse to be bound by the words of the United States Constitution or the intent of its Framers. Instead, they espouse the theory that the Constitution is a ‘living document’ which can change according to judicially directed ‘evolution’.” A series of activist judges, including several seated on the United States Supreme Court, have pressed this agenda of judicial supremacy. As Mrs. Schlafly explains, when the late Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan argued in 1982 for “the evolution of constitutional doctrine” and for the law to “transcend the printed page,” he was setting the philosophical framework for judicial supremacy. Similarly, when the late Justice William O. Douglas referred to the Due Process Clause in the Constitution as “the wildcard to be put to such use as the judges choose,” he was asserting the spirit and the substance of judicial supremacy in action.
What happened? Phyllis Schlafly suggests that nothing less than a revolution has taken place, driven by activist judges. She cites Judge Robert H. Bork who argues that the courts are now dominated by “faux intellectuals of the Left” who practice “politics masquerading as law.” As Mrs. Schlafly explains, “Americans believe that revolutionaries usually come dressed in military garb, but Judge Bork details how America has suffered a coup d’etat by men and women in black robes who have changed the rule of law to the rule of judges.”
The judges are not acting alone, of course. “All over the nation, special interest advocacy groups are forum-shopping to find judges willing to bypass the Constitution and write their own social and sexual preferences into the law,” Mrs. Schlafly explains. “Plaintiffs are seeking out judges willing to cooperate in deconstructing our culture by abolishing the Pledge of Allegiance and the Ten Commandments to please the atheists, and by abolishing marriage standards and anti-pornography statutes to induce the nation to condone unrestricted sex.”
Mrs. Schlafly then takes readers through a review of the various fronts in our contemporary culture war, demonstrating how the courts, especially at the federal level, have legislated federal liberalism at the expense of constitutional sanity. Judges have moved to “censor acknowledgement of God,” she argues. Yet, “Nothing in the Constitution confers on the federal courts the final authority to decide how other entities of government may acknowledge God.”
Judges are also redefining marriage. Referring to the November 18, 2003 decision by the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts legalizing same-sex marriage throughout that state, Mrs. Schlafly remarks, “It’s hard to find a more outrageous example of activist judges asserting judicial supremacy that the 4 to 3 decision in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health by the Massachusetts Supreme Court mandating same-sex marriage licenses. The Massachusetts state constitution was written by John Adams and adopted in 1780, and any notion that it was intended to include same-sex marriage is absurd.” Judges are “taking sides in the culture war,” she insists, and homosexual activists now know that the courts represent their best hope for social progress—all at the expense of democratic principle.
Mrs. Schlafly offers a particularly incisive critique of the Lawrence v. Texas decision handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003. “The out-of-the-mainstream attitudes expressed in the majority opinion in Lawrence v. Texas dealt a devastating blow to long-standing American laws and beliefs about morals and self-government, striking down our right to legislate against immoral actions and doing so without advancing any argument that reasonably relates to the U.S. Constitution. No constitutional argument justified the decision that created the new right of sodomy. The decision evolved out of the social preferences of the justices and their pandering to liberal elites.”
Beyond this, the judicial usurpers are undermining U.S. sovereignty by citing foreign sources and ceding authority to foreign courts. “Every judge, upon taking office, swears an oath to the United States Constitution. What, therefore, should we say about a judge who by-passes the U.S. Constitution and laws and instead applies a foreign court’s opinion? Is such a judge not faithless to his oath of office?” she asks. When judges cannot find a precedent for their preferences in American law, they tend to look elsewhere. Justice Anthony Kennedy looked to sources ranging from the British Parliament and the European Court of Human Rights to a brief filed by former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson in framing his opinion for the Court in the Lawrence v. Texas case. In overruling a previous decision, Bowers v. Hardwick , Justice Kennedy specifically criticized references made by [former] Chief Justice Warren Burger to the nation’s Judeo-Christian heritage. “The judicial supremacists think it is their mission to dictate a new regime of sexual mores to replace our Judeo-Christian moral and ethical standards, which they believe are obsolete,” she explained.
In other cases, judges have promoted pornography, citing “social value” as a license to produce, promote, and publish pornographic material. This has led to what Judge Bork has called “suffocating vulgarity,” and explains why sexually-related businesses are offered so much legal protection by the courts. “We can’t hope for any revival of civility and morality in the entertainment industry,” Mrs. Schlafly warns, “until Congress clips the power of the Imperial Judiciary to overturn legislative attempts to maintain decency.”
Of course, abortion stands as the touchstone issue of judicial activism. Mrs. Schlafly points to the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision as “an extraordinary exercise of judicial supremacy and . . . the godmother to a whole series of subsequent decisions on many subjects for which no basis exists in the Constitution.” But abortion is not the only agenda pressed by activist judges on behalf of women. The Imperial Judiciary wants nothing less than the total neutralization of differences between men and women and the eventual reconstitution of a society aligned with their secular utopianism.
As every student of constitutional history knows, the courts cite the 1803 Supreme Court decision, Marbury v. Madison, as the warrant for judicial review and judicial supremacy. Mrs. Schlafly directs her powers of legal analysis directly to this argument, explaining that the 1803 decision represented not an expansion of judicial power, but an exercise of judicial restraint. It would be more than a half century before the Supreme Court would declare another federal law unconstitutional, but the last half of the twentieth century would see the Supreme Court cite judicial review as constitutional permission for a legal revolution.
In response to the threat of the Imperial Judiciary, Mrs. Schlafly suggests that the United States Senate must reform its rules in order to break the minority’s power to delay or prevent the confirmation of federal judges by filibuster. Beyond this, Congress should exercise its constitutional authority to limit the power of the Courts to consider issues that should be outside judicial review. Since the Constitution explicitly allows Congress to make “exceptions” to the types of cases that can be decided by the Supreme Court, Mrs. Schlafly asserts: “This is the most important way that Congress can and should bring an end to the reign of judicial supremacy.”
Justice Antonin Scalia once asked: “What secret knowledge, one must wonder, is breathed into lawyers when they become justices of this Court, that enables them to discern that a practice which the text of the Constitution does not clearly proscribe, and which our people have regarded as constitutional for 200 years is in fact unconstitutional?” As he lamented, the Supreme Court “is busy designing a Constitution for a country I do not recognize.”
All Americans are in Phyllis Schlafly’s debt for revealing both the problem of judicial activism and the solution offered within the Constitution. Her book is a brilliant and much-needed call for citizen action. Her call must be heeded—and fast. Otherwise, we will soon find ourselves, along with Justice Scalia, citizens of a nation we no longer recognize.
[Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on October 13, 2004]
R. Albert Mohler, Jr. is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.
Our era might be described in the famous phrase used to describe the era of the French Revolution — “the best of times and the worst of times.”
It is the best of times in terms of life expectancy and a level of economic prosperity exceeding anything our grandparents would have imagined. It is an era of technological wonders providing instant interactions by phone, fax or the Internet with friends in Europe, Africa, or New Zealand, not to mention worldwide television broadcasts and other scientific achievements.
Yet, within living memory, there was a time when we were not afraid to go out at night, even in low-income neighborhoods, when parents didn’t have to fear for their children’s safety in schools, much less teachers have to fear for their own safety. There was a time when pornography was not being mass-marketed to adults, much less thrust on children.
There was a time when criminals had to fear the courts but honest people did not, a time when doctors did not have to spend tens of thousands of dollars a year for malpractice insurance to guard against frivolous lawsuits.
When we look at which people and institutions have produced the best of times and which have produced the worst, we can see the irony that many of those who have created economic, technological, and medical advances are less likely to be lionized and more likely to be sued.
Meanwhile, many of the signs of social degeneration can be traced to the courts that are supposed to be upholding law and order but which have too often become places for judges to indulge their egos and impose fashionable theories as the law of the land.
Some judges and Supreme Court justices may flatter themselves that they are helping the poor and the disadvantaged but their arbitrary notions often hurt the less fortunate most of all.
Whose homes are going to be bulldozed to make way for a new shopping mall or hotel complex under the Supreme Court’s expanded notion of eminent domain? Mansions in Beverly Hills? Condos on Park Avenue? Or working class homes and apartment buildings?
The fact that the NAACP and the AARP filed briefs on the side of the homeowners should be a clue.
When a handful of hoodlums can prevent a whole class from learning, as a result of judicial rulings that make it more dangerous to the school to crack down on classroom disrupters than to tolerate their destroying all the other children’s education, whose children are most likely to see their whole future lost this way?
Children whose parents can afford to put them in private schools? Children in upscale neighborhoods who get a lot of their education at home anyway? Or poor children for whom a decent education is likely to be their only ticket out of poverty?
The civil rights organizations have not yet come to understand and protest the staggering lifelong price to be paid by a whole generation of low-income and minority youngsters when liberal judges create new “rights” for hoodlums in school.
When such judges find ever more flimsy and esoteric reasons to turn violent criminals loose, to whose neighborhoods are these criminals most likely to return and resume their violence? The upscale neighborhoods where the judges and their families and friends live? Or the places where people at the other end of the economic scale live?
Although liberals like to flatter themselves that they are friends of the poor, promoting dependency and subsidizing irresponsible behavior helps only that minority among low-income people who are a plague to the other low-income people who have to put up with them living in their midst.
People of every income level and social background are made worse off when the rule of law dissolves into a fog of uncertainties created by “nuanced” judicial fiats. Frivolous lawsuits flourish in these uncertainties, crippling businesses, destroying jobs, and driving up the cost of medical care to cover both the lawsuits and the defensive medicine to ward off lawsuits.
When it comes to the havoc created by “mainstream” judicial activists, send not to know for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.
When it comes to judicial nominees, especially nominees to the Supreme Court, you might think that the only thing that matters — the thing that trumps all other considerations — is whether the nominee is for or against legalized abortions.
Many people are too young to realize that there was never a federal ban against abortions before Roe v. Wade created a “Constitutional right” to abortion out of thin air. Before that, the federal government had nothing to say about the subject and the various states had a variety of laws regulating abortions.
Political hype has long since drowned out the truth on this subject, as on so many other subjects.
What is even more dangerous than this political fixation on abortion is the underlying notion that judicial nominees are to be confirmed or voted down on the basis of how they might rule on particular policy issues.
The separation of powers means not only that judges should stay out of policy issues that belong to legislative bodies but also that the Senate should respect the judicial branch and not try to predetermine how judges will rule on legal issues.
What Senate liberals of both parties want to do is extract some kind of commitment that judicial nominees will not reverse Roe v. Wade. Judicial nominees should not be chosen by the President to reverse Roe v. Wade or rejected by the Senate if they don’t pledge to uphold it. Respect for the Constitutional separation of powers should apply to all three branches of government.
President Bush has said that there will not be a policy litmus test used to select judicial nominees but the Senate has not made any such pledge when it comes to voting on these nominees. Senate liberals want to micro-manage the judiciary, their last bastion of power in a world where voters have repeatedly rejected liberalism at the polls.
The upcoming Supreme Court confirmation battles in the wake of the retirement of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor are seen by too many people in terms of the Senate’s comity and consensus. You can always get a consensus by surrendering.
With Senate Democrats united and Senate Republicans divided, comity and consensus mean letting the minority party determine what kind of Supreme Court will be making laws for our children and grandchildren to live under. What is the point of having elections if the winners are going to act like losers and vice versa?
Too many conservative Republican administrations have put too many liberal judicial activists on the Supreme Court already by trying to avoid confirmation battles and trying to get along with Senate Democrats.
Statements by Republican Senators Specter and Warner after the retirement of Justice O’Connor suggest that, once again, the Republicans’ favorite exercise may be running for the hills. All the people who contributed their time and donated their money to get Republicans elected may well be forgotten in the Senate Republicans’ desire to get along with the Democrats.
When the shoe is on the other foot and the Democrats control the White House or the Senate, there is no such effort to appease Republicans. The Clinton administration put hard left judicial activists Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer on the Supreme Court, and the Republicans could like it or lump it.
Some media pundits wonder whether the Democratic Party will destroy itself politically, with shrill and irresponsible outbursts by people like Howard Dean and Senator Dick Durbin alienating moderate voters. But the Republican Party can destroy itself by alienating the very people who voted them into office, only to see the Republicans’ nerve fail when it comes to fighting for the things that got them elected.
The media add to the confusion by constantly labeling judges “liberal,” “conservative” or “moderate,” rather than distinguishing judges who are activists who ad lib versus judges who follow the laws as written, including the Constitution.
That is the distinction that will determine whether this country will live under the rule of law as a self-governing people or whether we will continue to become more and more subject to the fiats of unelected judges. That issue trumps comity, consensus and particular policy issues combined.
In addition to the havoc wrought by the judiciary in our times, there is the havoc wrought on the judiciary itself by others.
Some have blamed the murders of a judge not long ago, and the murder of another judge’s family, on critics of judicial activism. But, in each of these cases, the motive seems plainly to have been personal animosity growing out of a judge’s ruling against the particular individuals concerned.
It is doubtful if these murderers had ever read a law journal article or a Federalist Society paper on judicial activism. It is one of many signs of the shameless dishonesty in discussions of courts that anyone would try to silence criticisms of activist judges with unsubstantiated claims that such criticisms have resulted in violence.
What makes such claims even more shameless is that many of the same people who decry criticism of judges’ official acts do not hesitate to engage in personal smears and outright lies against judicial nominees who do not meet the liberal test of political correctness.
The harm that this does is not confined to the particular nominees who are demonized and insulted on nationwide television during confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Nor is this a necessary part of the “advise and consent” duty of the Senate because any Senator can vote against any nominee for any reason without taking personal cheap shots.
Can anyone doubt that these smear campaigns make judicial appointments less attractive to some — perhaps many — highly qualified people, who tend to have alternative careers available to them, almost invariably at far higher pay?
It is one thing to be willing to sacrifice income in order to serve your country, it is something else to have a lifetime reputation for integrity, honesty, and dignity destroyed by noisy and shameless politicians playing to the gallery of special interests.
“All questions are legitimate,” declared Senator Charles Schumer, one of the most shameless of them all. “What is your view on Roe v. Wade? What is your view on gay marriage? They are going to try to get away with the idea that we’re not going to know their views. But that’s not going to work this time.”
“You cannot ask a judge to prejudge a specific matter,” was the very different view of Senator Jeff Sessions, a former judge himself.
Senator Orrin Hatch put it best: “Any member of the committee can ask whatever they want, no matter how stupid. But I don’t think nominees have to answer certain questions. They don’t have to answer questions about how they are going to vote in the future. They don’t have to answer stupid questions. They don’t have to answer argumentative cases.”
There is no need for any nominee to demean himself and the high office for which he has been nominated in order to try to appease politicians who are likely to vote against him anyway.
A Justice confirmed to the Supreme Court by a narrow vote in the Senate will have just as much authority as a Justice confirmed unanimously.
Regardless of who is nominated to fill the Supreme Court vacancy created by the retirement of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor or what the outcome of the confirmation vote may be, something urgently needs to be done to stop Senate confirmation hearings from being scenes of public humiliations that can deprive the American people of the services of highly qualified individuals.
We certainly need better quality people than most of those now serving on the Supreme Court. Putting nominees through a cheap hazing circus on TV is not the way to get such people.
It will of course always be possible to get warm bodies to put on the judicial benches. But the Supreme Court already has too many warm bodies without much else besides big egos and an ear for fashionable rhetoric. Such people are too easily corrupted by the flattery of the media and the intelligentsia.
Cynics say every man has his price but some of these prices are remarkably cheap — especially for betraying the Constitution of the United States.
With the retirement of Supreme Court of Canada Justices Louise Charron and Ian Binnie announced on May 13, Canada’s high court will boast two vacancies in the near future. And with three more justices on track to hit the court’s mandatory retirement age of 75 over the next few years, Stephen Harper will have a total of five spots to fill over the lifetime of the current government. Add to that the two appointments that Mr. Harper already made in 2006 and 2008 (one of whom, Marshall Rothstein, will have to be replaced by 2015), and by the end of Mr. Harper’s term, six of nine sitting judges likely will have been appointed under his watch. These judges will influence public policy for decades, rendering decisions not only on appellate cases that come up through lower courts, but also on direct government references, such as the 1998 secession reference made by the Liberal government under Jean Chrétien.
Whom will Mr. Harper put on Canada’s top court? If his previous nominations provide a guide, judges who have at least a decade of service to give, who enjoy a good reputation among their colleagues and who don’t subscribe to judicial activism — from either the right or the left end of the political spectrum.
Which is as it should be: The high court should not be a political instrument of the government of the day. As Justice Rothstein put it during the hearings into his appointment in 2006, judges should “apply the law, not depart from it and not invent it.” When courts are “forced” into policy decisions by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as they inevitably will be, they must take “the least intrusive approach,” and when asked to overturn democratically passed laws, “approach the matter with some restraint.”
Much of our social landscape has been shaped by court decisions — such as the 1988 decision in R. vs. Morgentaler that struck down the country’s existing abortion law, the series of decisions that led to the legalization of gay marriage in the middle part of the last decade, the de facto proscription of the death penalty and the decriminalization of marijuana for medical use. Until the Conservatives came to power, in fact, our federal government actually encouraged aggrieved groups in society to pursue judge-made law through the publicly subsidized Court Challenges Program. But with the Charter turning 30 next year, the pendulum has swung back in the other direction — in part because so many contentious social issues already have been litigated (though a few, such as prostitution and polygamy, remain to be settled). Indeed, conservatives might worry less about the Supreme Court and more about quasi-judicial bodies such as human rights tribunals, which employ laxer evidentiary requirements and mete out more activist judgments than do regular courts.
In terms of the process by which judges are appointed to the high court, our Constitution allows the prime minister to name them at his or her discretion. But to his credit, Mr. Harper is making efforts to open up the process. He has pledged to make his next appointments from a pool of candidates recommended by senior lawyers, the attorney-general for the appointee’s province of origin and the general public. These will be culled by a selection panel made up of five Members of Parliament — including three Conservatives, one NDP and one Liberal MP — who will provide an unranked short list of six qualified candidates to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Justice for their consideration. The selected candidates will then appear at a public hearing to answer MPs’ questions.
Unlike in the United States, however, where members of Congress are allowed to vote on nominees, MPs would still have no say over the candidates’ appointments. No matter what is revealed at the hearings, they will not have the chance to pronounce themselves, or veto the prime minister’s choices. While the process represents an improvement over the way the Liberals did business — which consisted of simply announcing the PM’s pick as a fait accompli — it still lacks the rigour of the appointments process south of the border, where candidates for the top job must answer questions in public. Moreover, as we saw in the case of Mr. Harper’s second appointee, Thomas Cromwell, it can be abandoned entirely for the sake of political expediency.
Mr. Harper has an unprecedented opportunity to shape a thoughtful, prudent and experienced court, one which respects both the rights of litigants and the limits of judicial power. We hope that the Prime Minister chooses his appointees wisely, and that he does so through a transparent process that allows both MPs and the Canadian public to understand the legal philosophy of the men and women who sit on our top court.
Results of the recent elections showed that growing numbers of Americans are fed up with “public servants” who act as if they are public masters. This went beyond the usual objections to particular policies. It was the fact that policies were crammed down our throats, whether we liked them or not. In fact, laws were passed so fast that nobody had time to read them.
Whether these policies were good, bad or indifferent, the way they were imposed represented a more fundamental threat to the very principles of a self-governing people established by the Constitution of the United States.
Arrogant politicians who do this are dismantling the Constitution piecemeal—which is to say, they are dismantling America.
The voters struck back, as they had to, if we are to keep the freedoms that define this country. The Constitution cannot protect us unless we protect the Constitution, by getting rid of those who circumvent it or disregard it.
The same thing applies to judges. The runaway arrogance that politicians get when they have huge majorities in Congress is a more or less common arrogance among federal judges with lifetime tenure or state judges who are seldom defeated in elections to confirm their appointments to the bench.
It was a surprise to many— and a shock to media liberals— when three judges on Iowa’s Supreme Court were voted off that court in the same recent elections in which a lot of politicians were also sent packing.
These judges had taken it upon themselves to rule that the voters of Iowa did not have the right to block attempts to change the definition of marriage to include homosexual couples. Here again, the particular issue— so-called “gay marriage”— was not as fundamental as the question of depriving the voting public of their right to decide what kinds of laws they want to live under.
That is ultimately a question of deciding what kind of country this is to be— one ruled by “we the people” or one where the notions of an arrogant elite are to be imposed, whether the people agree or not.
Those who believe in gay marriage are free to vote for it. But, when they lose that vote, it is not the role of judges to nullify the vote and legislate from the bench. Judges who become politicians in robes often lie like politicians as well, claiming that they are just applying the Constitution, when they are in fact exercising powers that the Constitution never gave them.
If they are going to act like politicians, then they should be voted out like politicians.
Media liberals, who like what liberal judges do, spring to their defense. The media spin is that judges were voted off the bench because of “unpopular” decisions and that this threatens judicial “independence.”
Since this was the first time that a justice of the Iowa Supreme Court was voted off the bench in nearly half a century, it is very doubtful that there was never an “unpopular” court decision in all that time. The media spin about “unpopular” decisions sidesteps the far more important question of whether the judges usurped powers that were never given to them by the Constitution.
As for judicial “independence,” that does not mean being independent of the laws. Being a judge does not mean being given arbitrary powers to enact the liberal agenda from the bench, which means depriving the citizens of their most basic rights that define a free and self-governing people.
While removing three state Supreme Court justices at one time in Iowa is news today, the very same thing happened in California back in the 1970s. Every single death penalty imposed by a trial court in California was overturned by the state Supreme Court, with Chief Justice Rose Bird voting 64 times in a row that there was something wrong with the way each trial had been conducted. That was world-class chutzpa.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that Arizona does not have a right to require proof of citizenship before someone can vote. Where does it say that in the Constitution?
The time is long overdue to stop treating judges like sacred cows, especially when they have so much bull.
[KH: senseless killing]
SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) -- A Syracuse, N.Y., teenager says he was the sniper who gunned down a city worker outside the victim's home in January.
Sixteen-year-old Shawn Rhines pleaded guilty to second-degree murder for killing 47-year-old Casimir Snyder. Snyder was getting into his car when he was hit in the neck by a bullet fired from the attic window of a home across the street.
Rhines will be sentenced to 10 years to life as part of a plea deal Thursday. Prosecutors say he will serve the sentence in state prison.
Another youth who was in the attic was originally charged with Snyder's murder after he falsely confessed to being the gunman.
The two teens told investigators they would shoot target practice from the attic. That escalated to shooting at animals and, finally, Snyder.
Somali pirates are becoming more brazen in their attacks on commercial and passenger ships off the coast of Africa, and — thanks to international law — there is little that can be done to stop them.
Pirates... You just can’t hang ‘em anymore.
In the 18th century, the British government made a “great show of how wicked pirates were” by hanging them in public, said David Cordingly, author of “Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates.”
“Often their bodies were coated in tar and wrapped up in chains and then hung from a gallows at the entrance of a port or harbor,” Cordingly said. “The idea was to make it seem that it wasn’t a very good career option to become a pirate.”
But now, three centuries later, pirates sail the high seas with near impunity — stealing, blackmailing and intimidating commercial ships. And it’s not clear who can or should be the pirate police.
“The authorities have to be very careful with the law of the sea and United Nations charters,” Cordingly said. “Nowadays you can’t simply charge in with warships, blast the pirates and hang them on the waterfront.”
An international fleet of warships, including American, British, Danish, Italian, Greek, French and Canadian ships, has moved into the waters off Somalia, where the International Maritime Bureau estimates 100 attacks have occurred this year.
But protecting the sea is difficult. On Sunday, pirates tried to attack a U.S. cruise ship, the MS Nautica, with over 1,000 people on board. The Nautica was able to outrun the pirates, but other ships have not been so lucky — like the Saudi oil tanker seized late last month with its crew and $100 million worth of oil.
“There are statements in international law that say pirates are the ‘enemies of all mankind,’ and that goes back to the 1600s,” said Linda A. Malone, director of the human rights and national security law program at the William and Mary Law School in Virginia.
“It’s a form of terrorism, but it’s not done for political reasons. It’s done for financial gain, although those lines are starting to blur,” Malone said. “It’s one of the oldest international criminal law offenses.”
Barry Hart Dubner, a law professor at Barry University in Florida who has written extensively on piracy, said that on the high seas, anyone can step up to battle the pirates.
“It gets trickier when you try to get them in territorial waters (within 7.5 miles of the coastline), because theoretically you need permission of the coastal state. But they can use any force they want because they’re considered enemies of mankind,” Dubner said.
Bringing weapons on board ships is “strongly discouraged” by the United Nations’ International Maritime Organization, and experts agree that arming commercial crews is a bad idea.
“If you hire a company to do it or even arm your crew personnel, I think it would put them more at risk than if they weren’t. If they start shooting… now you have an international incident,” said Michael Lee, assistant vice president at Miami-based “non-lethal” security company McRoberts Maritime Security.
Having weapons on board isn’t just a health and liability hazard, it also increases insurance costs “exponentially,” Lee said. Armed guards cost between $1,000 and $1,500 a day.
“The problem is that most ship owners will not allow crews to carry weapons on board the ship. Most of these crews come from the Philippines and other areas and they’re worried they’ll kill each other. They’re more worried about that than they are about piracy,” Dubner said.
Since they don’t carry weapons, ships have to resort to non-violent methods to ward off pirates. Among them are long-range acoustic devices that blast loud, irritating noises at them. “It’s the most annoying sound you’ve ever heard in your life — you literally cannot operate. It makes you nauseous,” Lee said.
Other non-lethal methods include electric fences and hoses. Ships can spray pirates with water and knock them off their ladders into the ocean before they can climb on board.
But non-violence isn’t always effective, as was proved last week when pirates struck the MS Biscaglia, a chemical tanker that is operated out of Singapore but flies a Liberian flag, in the Gulf of Aden.
In that hijacking, three guards from a British anti-lethal security company, Anti-Piracy Maritime Security Solutions (APMSS), were unable to fend off the pirates and threw threw themselves overboard to avoid capture.
The U.N. Security Council extended its authorization for countries to enter Somalia’s territorial waters with advanced notice and to use “all necessary force” when combating piracy, the Associated Press reported on Tuesday.
American security firm Blackwater Worldwide, which protects American diplomats and congressmen in Iraq, announced in October that it was making its 183-foot ship, the McArthur, available to companies looking to hire security.
The company said it is available to escort merchant vessels in the Gulf of Aden and is outfitted with helicopters that can patrol ships rather than put armed guards on board the vessels.
“This recent attack over the weekend on a U.S. cruise ship really ups the ante, I think, because once the attacks are going beyond merchant ships or isolated attacks against small pirate ships and are directed against passenger vessels with civilians from many states, that’s going to prod the international community into being even more proactive,” said Malone.
Yet, nobody wants to take the pirates on board and be responsible for them, especially when they come from war-torn places like Somalia, and that restricts how effective law enforcement can be, Cordingly said.
“They can’t just hand the pirates over to a country where they can claim asylum,” he said. “It does get all very tricky. One has to say that everything at the moment seems to be on the pirates’ side.”
By Mark Earley
Americans behind Bars
Note: This commentary was delivered by PFM President Mark Earley.
According to a recent report by the Pew Center on the States, there are more than 2.3 million people in American prisons and jails: one in every 99 adults. We are by far the world’s largest jailer. Our closest rival, China, has a third fewer prisoners than we do, despite having four times as many people.
The numbers get worse the closer you look: One in 30 men between the ages of 20 and 34 are behind bars. And for African-Americans, the number is one in nine.
Then there are the costs: an average of nearly $24,000 a year to incarcerate one inmate and that does not count the building. At least five states spend more on corrections than on higher education. For the rest, the cost of corrections is “saddling cash-strapped states with soaring costs none of them can afford.”
These increases in prison population and the “soaring costs” are the result of policy choices we have all made. Since the late ‘80s, elected officials have responded to the public’s fear of crime by lengthening sentences and enacting laws like “three-strikes” and you are out. I know, I was a Senator and Attorney General during that time and was in the midst of it.
If these measures had made us safer, they might be worth it. But they have not. For starters, most of the increase in prison populations took place after crime rates began to go down and continued even after they bottomed out. In a sense, the process is on “auto-pilot,” doing what it does regardless of the crime rates.
As a result, according to David Muhlhausen of the Heritage Foundation, “we are not incarcerating all the people who commit serious crimes—but we are probably incarcerating people who even don’t need to be.”
Among the people “who don’t need to be” in prison are nonviolent offenders—especially nonviolent drug offenders. The lion’s share of the increase in prison population has been driven by drug offenders. And we are not talking “drug kingpins,” either. As Kentucky’s Justice Secretary put it, “We are just getting the people who went out and got caught. We are getting the low-hanging fruit.”
This cannot continue indefinitely. “Tough” has had its chance—it is time for “smart.” We need to punish “low-risk offenders” in ways “that save tax dollars, hold offenders accountable,” and actually rehabilitate them.
This is the position that Prison Fellowship and its criminal justice affiliate, Justice Fellowship, have advocated for nearly three decades. Non-dangerous offenders should be punished in ways that “make it more likely [that they] will be able to pay victim restitution, child support, and taxes.”
That includes things like intensive probation, electronic monitoring, and community service. The only limit here is our creativity.
And our foundation is Scripture. When Zacchaeus admitted to Jesus that he had defrauded tax payers, he offered to pay restitution—which was in keeping with the Law.
Christians can lead the way. We can move beyond the mere “toughness” rhetoric that locks up Americans in expensive prison cells for reasons that are only tangentially related to public safety. Let’s lock people up that are a danger to society. Let’s not lock people up whom we are just mad at.
A Toronto man is facing more than two dozen criminal charges following a three-month police investigation into a multimillion-dollar fraud scheme with ties to Nigeria.
Toronto police allege that the 39-year-old man told various companies in the Greater Toronto Area that he was a representative of various corporations that later turned out to be fictitious, a news release said Monday.
When he gained the trust of the companies, he used counterfeit cheques to buy a range of equipment from them, ranging from printers, fax machines, electronics and generators, police allege.
The equipment was then placed in rental cars and shipped overseas. Once the containers cleared customs, the rental cars were reported stolen by the accused man, the news release said.
Investigators said they’ve found tens of thousands of dollars of wire transfer statements from Toronto to Nigeria.
“The operation is global and police estimate that millions of dollars worth of equipment and vehicles have been shipped overseas already,” the statement said.
Police have also recovered $5.5-million worth of counterfeit certified cheques and $2-million worth of additional frauds to “numerous companies across Canada.”
Three photography labs have also been seized, believed to be valued at $80,000 each, along with boxes full of counterfeit ownership documents, master keys and paperwork related to a number of stolen cars that were shipped overseas.
Thirty fraudulent credit cards, 20 fraudulent driver licences, a number of identity cards, passports, social insurance number cards, health cards and chequebooks from across the country were also found.
Investigators have also discovered personal information of about 1,000 potential victims of credit card fraud.
Edmund Ezemo, 39, of Toronto, faces 26 offences, including seven counts of fraud, nine counts of possession of property obtained by crime, attempted fraud, eight counts of theft, and illegal entry into Canada.
The charges come on the same day that a Dutch court sentenced three members of a Nigerian gang to up to four years in prison for extorting tens of thousands of euros from victims who answered e-mails promising a stake in unclaimed inheritances.
A spokeswoman for the Haarlem court said judges sentenced one man to four years on charges of fraud, money-laundering and membership of a criminal organisation, while two others were sentenced to 18 months and 13 months respectively.
For the first time in history, more than one in 100 American adults is behind bars, according to a new report.
Nationwide, the prison population grew by 25,000 last year, bringing it to almost 1.6 million. An additional 723,000 people are in local jails. The number of American adults is about 230 million, meaning that one in every 99.1 adults is behind bars.
Incarceration rates are even higher for some groups. One in 36 Hispanic adults is behind bars, based on Justice Department figures for 2006. One in 15 black adults is, too, as is one in nine black men between the ages of 20 and 34.
The report, from the Pew Center on the States, also found that only one in 355 white women between the ages of 35 and 39 is behind bars, but that one in 100 black women is.
The report’s methodology differed from that used by the Justice Department, which calculates the incarceration rate by using the total population rather than the adult population as the denominator. Using the department’s methodology, about one in 130 Americans is behind bars.
Either way, said Susan Urahn, the center’s managing director, “we aren’t really getting the return in public safety from this level of incarceration.”
“We tend to be a country in which incarceration is an easy response to crime,” Urahn said. “Being tough on crime is an easy position to take, particularly if you have the money. And we did have the money in the 80s and 90s. “Now, with fewer resources available to the states, the report said, “prison costs are blowing a hole in state budgets.” On average, states spend almost 7% on their budgets on corrections, trailing only healthcare, education and transportation.
In 2007, according to the National Association of State Budgeting Officers, states spent $44 billion in tax dollars on corrections. That is up from $10.6 billion in 1987, a 127 increase once adjusted for inflation. With money from bond issues and from the federal government included, total state spending on corrections last year was $49 billion. By 2011, the report said, states are on track to spend an additional $25 billion.
It cost an average of $23,876 to imprison someone in 2005, the most recent year for which data is available. But state spending varies widely, from $45,000 a year for each inmate in Rhode Island to just $13,000 in Louisiana.
The cost of medical care is growing by 10% annually, the report said, a rate that will accelerate as the prison population ages.
About one in nine state government employees works in corrections, and some states are finding it hard to fill those jobs. California spent more than $500 million on overtime alone in 2006.
The number of prisoners in California dropped by 4,000 last year, making Texas’s prison system the nation’s largest, at about 172,000 inmates. But the Texas legislature approved broad changes to the state’s corrections system, including expansions of drug treatment programs and drug courts and revisions to parole practices.
“Our violent offenders, we lock them up for a very long time - rapists, murderers, child molesters,” said John Whitmire, a Democratic state senator from Houston and the chairman of the state senate’s criminal justice committee. “The problem was that we weren’t smart about nonviolent offenders. The legislature finally caught up with the public.”
He gave an example.
“We have 5,500 DWI offenders in prison,” he said, including people caught driving under the influence of alcohol who had not been in an accident. “They’re in the general population. As serious as drinking and driving is, we should segregate them and give them treatment.”
The Pew report recommended diverting nonviolent offenders away from prison and using punishments short of reincarceration for minor or technical violations of probation or parole. It also urged states to consider earlier release of some prisoners.
Before the recent changes in Texas, Whitmire said, “we were recycling nonviolent offenders.”
DENVER – The 24-year-old man who killed four Christians at a missions training camp and megachurch in Colorado was addicted to violence-espousing rock music and was removed from a missions training course after performing a graphic Marilyn Manson song at an otherwise religious Christmas program, according to reports.
National Terror Alert reported a series of posts believed to have been submitted by Matthew Murray, reportedly known online as “nghtmrchld26,” said, “You Christians brought this on yourselves … All I want to do is kill and injure as many of you ... as I can especially Christians who are to blame for most of the problems in the world.”
The postings, on an online forum for former Pentecostals, have been removed. But other users said the writer had described himself as a former member of YWAM who had been asked not to join a mission trip and now wanted to “blow up and shoot everything I can,” the website said.
“I have found myself in deep trances and other worlds through the usage of this drug and have found my life radically altered and changed and (sic) by it. I found this drug to be a powerful driving force and easy gateway into a world of sex, other drugs, rebellion, homosexuality, alcoholism and many other dark things,” the posting continued. “I have found such an incredible power in this drug that will completely carry one’s mind away into a very real spiritual realm. My mind is completely controlled by this drug and there is no way at all for me to break free.
“What is this mind altering life changing drug that has such an incredible power? Well, one of the main persons who has helped make this drug a powerful force in my life has been Marilyn Manson. ... The drug that I use and am addicted to is commonly known in our culture as … Rock Music,” said the posting, among many that were removed, National Terror Alert said.
Murray is believed to have been the gunman who shot and killed Tiffany Johnson, 26, and Philip Crouse, 24, at the Youth With A Mission campus in Arvada early Sunday morning. Then, about 12 hours later, Murray died when confronted by an armed security officer at New Life Church after he shot and killed sisters Stephanie Works, 18, and Rachael Works, 16, in the church parking lot.
Authorities have confirmed shell casings found at both locations tied Murray to the attacks.
According to the Denver Post, authorities also are investigating a rant posted online by Murray between the two shootings in Arvada and in Colorado Springs.
The wording of Murray’s posting virtually copied a manifesto produced by Eric Harris, who with Dylan Klebold attacked and killed a dozen classmates and a teacher at Colorado’s Columbine High School in 1999.
The posting, first reported by KUSA-TV in Denver, was put up at 11:03 a.m., about 10 hours after the Arvada shootings and only two hours before the Colorado Springs shootings.
“You Christians brought this on yourselves I’m coming for EVERYONE soon and I WILL be armed to the @#%$ teeth and I WILL shoot to kill. … God, I can’t wait till I can kill you people. Feel no remorse, no sense of shame, I don’t care if I live or die. …”
Harris, whose body was found with Klebold’s among their victims in the school attack in suburban Denver, wrote before his death, “I’m coming for EVERYONE soon, and I WILL be armed to the (expletive) teeth, and I will shoot to kill.”
Murray’s diatribe continued: “No I am not crazy, crazy is just a word, to me it has no meaning, everyone is different, but most of you @#%$ heads out there in society, going to your everyday @#%$ jobs and doing your everyday routine (expletive) things, I say @#%$ you and die, if you got a problem with my thoughts, come to me and I’ll kill you, because........(expletive), DEAD PEOPLE DON’T ARGUE! My belief is that if I say something, it goes. I am the law. If you don’t like it, you die. If I don’t like you or I don’t like what you want me to do, then you die. If I do something incorrect, oh @#%$ well, you die,” according to the Post report.
“You break my back but you won’t break me.....all is black but I still see...shut me down, knock me to the floor.....shoot me up, @#%$ me like a whore....trapped under ice, comfortably cold, I’ve gone as low as you can go..... feel no remorse, no sorrow or shame......time’s gonna wash away all pain I made a God out of blood not superiority I killed the king of deceit and now I sleep in anarchy.” the rant continued. The newspaper confirmed the last paragraph of Murray’s posting is from a song by the band called KMRDM’s that is titled “Anarchy.”
Murray was carrying clips with up to 1,000 rounds of ammunition when he was confronted by Jeanne Assam, a former Minneapolis police officer who told him to surrender, and when he didn’t, shot. He had injured another half dozen people at the two attack sites, authorities said.
“It seemed like it was me, the gunman and God,” Assam reported. “I wasn’t going to wait for him to do other damage. I knew what I had to do.”
YWAM confirmed that Murray had been part of one of its training programs several years ago, but “issues with his health made it unsafe for him” to continue with the program, which included an overseas mission trip.
Murray was homeschooled and briefly attended Arapahoe Community College, officials reported.
A search warrant affidavit said authorities believed Murray may have been sending “hate mail” to YWAM in recent weeks.
CNN reported a man who was Murray’s roommate while he was at the YWAM training camp said Murray heard voices and sometimes talked to them.
The CNN report said Richard Lerner confirmed the decision for Murray to leave the program came from YWAM officials, along with Murray’s parents, after Murray performed songs by rock stars Linkin Park and Marilyn Manson at a Christmas event for the Christian program.
Jeremy Reynalds, a correspondent for ASSIST News Service, also reported on Werner’s comments. He said Werner described Murray’s performance of rock songs as “pretty scary.”
CNN said Werner, now of Brazil, recalled Murray would roll around in bed and make noises.
“He would say, ‘Don’t worry, I’m just talking to the voices,’” CNN reported Werner said. “He’d say, ‘Don’t worry, Richard. You’re a nice guy. The voices like you.’”
A spokesman for the family, described by neighbors as deeply religious, issued a statement expressing their sorrow over the situation.
Authorities searched the family home, reportedly in a hunt for documentation of his computer postings, court filings said.
A forum at the Rocky Mountain News contained a brief assessment of the situation from “mrw650,” “Two words: DEMONIC POSSESSION.”
WASHINGTON — The e-mails arrive out of the blue, from Nigeria or other exotic countries. They tell of inheritances, political problems, other reasons someone needs to get money out of the country. If you help, they promise to let you share the money.
Unfortunately, thousands of people fall for the scam, losing an average of $3,000 to $4,000 each.
So far this year, an average of more than 800 people a month have filed complaints about such scams.
Hoping to stem the losses, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service announced an international crackdown Wednesday in which more than 540,000 fake checks with a face value of $2.1 billion have been seized.
There have been 60 arrests in the Netherlands, 16 in Nigeria and one in Canada, the Postal Inspection Service said, and the effort is continuing.
“There is no room in the mail for any of these phony come-ons,” Postmaster General John Potter said.
Most of the cons start with e-mails telling of an inheritance or lottery win and ask the victim to help bring the money to the United States. The victim is asked to cash a check that comes in the mail and to send part of the money back to the person sending it, said Greg Campbell, inspector in charge of global security and investigations for the Postal Inspection Service.
Then that person disappears with the money and the original check bounces, leaving the victim with a loss.
Retired people have lost their nest eggs and young families have been defrauded of their savings for a home, Potter said.
Many of the cases originate in the Netherlands, where West African con artists operate from Internet cafes, said Johan Van Hartskamp, commissioner of the Amsterdam police.
In what he called “Operation Dutch Treat,” police have arrested 60 people there, with three extradited to the United States and four more facing extradition. The rest are being prosecuted in the Netherlands, he said.
Ibrahim Lamorde, director of the Nigerian Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, said the problem is monumental and “will only be surmounted through global efforts.”
U.S. Assistant Attorney General Alice Fisher said: “There is no lottery. There is no inheritance. The checks are not real. But there are real victims. The crime knows no borders, and our coordinated law enforcement knows no borders.”
MOSCOW — A Russian man accused of killing dozens of people and keeping count of them on a chessboard reveled in the memory of his first murder at his trial Tuesday, saying “it’s like first love — it’s unforgettable,” news agencies reported.
Alexander Pichushkin also insisted that prosecutors charge him with all the murders he has taken responsibility for, saying to do otherwise would be unfair, RIA-Novosti and Interfax reported.
Pichushkin, who went on trial last month charged with one of Russia’s most gruesome serial killing sprees, has confessed to murdering 63 people, with the goal of marking all 64 squares on the chessboard. Prosecutors charged him with 49 murders, most committed between 2001 and 2006 in Bittsa Park, a sprawling wild green area on the southern edge of Moscow.
The killings terrorized the capital, and Russian media dubbed him the “Bittsa Maniac.”
Experts at Russia’s main psychiatric clinic have found Pichushkin sane.
In testimony at Moscow City Court, he recounted the details of his killings and reveled in the memory of his first killing — committed in 1992, long before the beginning of the murders that he is now charged with.
“This first murder, it’s like first love, it’s unforgettable,” he was quoted by RIA-Novosti as saying.
He also claimed that he was aware that a woman whom he intended to kill left a note at home saying she was going for a stroll with him — but killed her anyway. The note led to arrest soon afterward in June 2006.
“I burnt myself, so there’s no need for the cops to take credit for catching me,” he was quoted as saying. “I’m a professional.”
Though he claims to have killed several people years earlier, prosecutors have focused on the series of killings that occurred in Bittsa Park in 2001. Most of the victims were men, whom Pichushkin had lured to the park with the promise of a drink of vodka to mourn the death of his “beloved” dog.
Pichushkin killed 11 people in 2001, including six in one month, prosecutors said. He killed about 40 of his first victims by throwing them into a sewage pit, and in a few cases strangled or hit them in the head, prosecutors said.
From 2005, he began to kill with “particular cruelty,” hitting his intoxicated victims multiple times in the head with a hammer, then sticking an unfinished bottle of vodka into their broken skulls, prosecutors have said. He also no longer tried to conceal the bodies, leaving them at the crime scene.
Despite his claims to have killed many more, prosecutors have charged Pichushkin with 49 murders and three kidnappings — the incidents to which investigators have been able to link him.
On Tuesday, Russian news agencies reported, the court judge tried to limit Pichushkin from testifying about murders other than those he was charged with.
“And the 63 doesn’t interest you? Even though they found the bodies,” he was quoted as saying. “I thought it would be unfair to forget about the other 11 people.”
In a confession that was televised earlier, he made similarly lurid claims about his need to commit murder saying: “For me, a life without murder is like a life without food for you.”
Russian media have speculated that Pichushkin may have been motivated by a macabre competition with Russia’s most notorious serial killer, Andrei Chikatilo, who was convicted in 1992 of killing 52 children and young women in 12 years.
MOSCOW — A man accused of killing dozens of people and keeping count of his victims on a chessboard lured most his victims by offering them vodka to mourn the death of a nonexistent dog, prosecutors said at his murder trial Friday.
Alexander Pichushkin, 33, has confessed to killing at least 62 people, with the goal of marking all 64 squares on the chessboard. He has been charged with 49 murders, most committed over the course of five years in a sprawling park on the edge of Moscow.
Pichushkin’s lawyer Pavel Ivannikov said Friday that his client admitted all the charges.
Pichushkin himself refused to enter a plea, however, demanding that he be transferred to a different detention facility.
“I’m not going to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ today because some of my personal issues have not been resolved yet,” he told court.
Ivannikov said that Pichushkin wanted to be transferred to another, “more comfortable” detention facility.
Pichushkin had requested a jury trial, which is relatively rare in Russia, and 12 jurors and six alternates were chosen Thursday. If convicted, Pichushkin faces life in prison.
Pichushkin remained calm and looked down, sitting in a glass cage on Friday as he listened to prosecutors who described his crimes one by one.
Pichushkin’s first victim was his school friend, whom he strangled and threw into a sewage pit in 1992 because he was “upset” by the friend’s refusal to kill people together with him, said Moscow Chief Prosecutor Yuri Syomin.
He began his spate of killings in Bittsa Park in southwestern Moscow, which terrorized the Russian capital, in May 2001, Syomin said. Most of the victims were men, whom Pichushkin had lured to the park with the promise of a drink of vodka to mourn the death of his nonexistent “beloved” dog.
“He treated them to a drink until they got helpless and then killed them,” Syomin said.
In 2001 Pichushkin killed 11 people, including six in one month, prosecutors said. He killed about 40 of his first victims by throwing them into a sewage pit, and in a few cases strangled or shot them in the head with “a self-made device.”
From 2005 he began to kill with “particular cruelty,” hitting his intoxicated victims multiple times in the head with a hammer, then sticking an unfinished bottle of vodka into their broken sculls, prosecutors said Friday. He also no longer tried to conceal the bodies, leaving them at the crime scene, they said.
Three of Pichushkin’s victims survived and one identified him.
Only a few relatives of victims, some of whom were his neighbors and colleagues from a shop where he had worked, attended Friday’s court session.
One woman said her father had been missing since 2003 and after Pichushkin’s arrest they were told that he was murdered by Pichushkin. She looked tense when prosecutors were going through Pichushkin’s crimes in 2003. She refused to give her name because of the sensitivity of the matter.
Pichushkin was arrested in June 2006 after police found his name and phone number on a piece of paper that a woman who was killed in the park had left for her son. He denied involvement at first, but then confessed to the murder after police confronted him with video footage taken by a subway surveillance camera that showed him accompanying the victim, according to the authorities.
Pichushkin went on to confess to at least 62 murders and led police to the bodies of his victims, investigators said.
Shortly after his arrest, police invited NTV to film and broadcast his confessions in an effort to counter speculation that he had been forced into making false confessions.
“For me, a life without murder is like a life without food for you,” Pichushkin bragged in his TV confession. “I felt like the father of all these people, since it was I who opened the door for them to another world.”
Police found his chessboard with numbers attached to its squares, all the way to 62, and Pichushkin also used the chessboard to keep stoppers from bottles of vodka he offered his victims, said his lawyer Ivannikov.
MOSCOW — The man who said murder is “like first love” on Wednesday was found guilty in a Moscow court of all but one of 49 murder charges against him.
Former supermarket worker Alexander Pichushkin confessed to killing 63 people with the goal of marking each death on a chessboard, which has 64 squares.
Prosecutors last month charged him with 49 murders committed between 2001 and 2006 in a park on the edge of Moscow.
Though he claims to have killed several people years earlier, prosecutors had focused on the series of killings that occurred in Bittsa Park in 2001, leading to his nickname as the “Bittsa Maniac.” Most of the victims were men, whom Pichushkin had lured to the park with the promise of a drink of vodka to mourn the death of his “beloved” dog.
Pichushkin allegedly killed 11 people in 2001, including six in one month, prosecutors said, adding that he killed about 40 of his first victims by throwing them into a sewage pit and in a few cases strangled or hit them in the head, prosecutors said.
From 2005, he began to kill with “particular cruelty,” hitting his intoxicated victims multiple times in the head with a hammer, then sticking an unfinished bottle of vodka into their broken skulls, prosecutors have said. He also no longer tried to conceal the bodies, leaving them at the crime scene.
In a televised confession, he made lurid claims about his need to commit murder, saying: “For me, a life without murder is like a life without food for you.”
WASHINGTON — Like many middle-class, suburban American parents, Shannan and Joey Troiano worried about their son’s behaviour and his bad grades at high school. And like many wayward teenagers, Cory Ryder was grounded for weeks at a time, had a PlayStation confiscated and was banned from watching TV.
Less typically, this 16-year-old was plotting to murder his parents by hiring a hitman, while his mother was organising a sting operation involving a police officer posing as a contract killer.
Cory’s trial is scheduled to begin today at the circuit court in St Mary’s County, Maryland. His mother is expected to testify as a witness for the prosecution.
At an earlier court hearing Mrs Troiano, 35, explained how her emotions were torn between being an agonised mother and a murder victim. “I miss him being at home,” she said, “and I miss us joking around and kidding around. And then in the very same breath – I don’t know what this kid will do, because it’s not my son. That can’t be my little boy sitting there.”
Mrs Troiano remembers the night on June 2 when she discovered that the vague threats her son had made were serious. A woman Cory trusted, the mother of one of his friends, took him to a hotel room where he met an undercover police officer pretending to be a hitman.
At home in southern Maryland, Mrs Troiano told her husband that Cory would never go through with it and began frantically tidying the house, according to an account in The Washington Post yesterday.
After a few hours’ waiting, the policeman called: Cory was in custody and would be charged with attempted murder. Mrs Troiano fell to her knees in the bathroom she was cleaning and burst into tears.
Police say that Cory offered the undercover officer his stepfather’s new pickup truck as payment for killing his parents. “Two bullets is all it takes,” he is alleged to have said.
His mother, a financial manager at Patuxent River naval station, and stepfather, a computer specialist, had lived an ordinary life with Cory and his two stepsisters. Mrs Troiano had left his father when Cory was little more than a year old but, by the time she remarried, her son’s behaviour was getting steadily worse.
He walked out of lessons at Spring Ridge Middle School in Lexington Park, smashed a fire extinguisher case and then broke into the county fairgrounds, where he vandalised property. A judge sentenced him to supervised probation and his parents attended no less than 36 meetings with the authorities about him.
But Cory dropped out of school and then, after stealing $45 from his sister’s piggy bank, had a fight with his mother, which led to him being kicked out of home. He has since told officials that he was upset about being thrown out of the house and that he felt pressured to talk to the man in the hotel.
Cory insists that he never intended to have his parents killed and that he wanted to call the police that night in the hotel room. A judge has ruled that he should be tried in the juvenile system, which means that he cannot be held beyond his 21st birthday.
He has also been writing to his mother, saying: “You know I love you with all my heart mom!” Mrs Troiano fears that he is being manipulative. She wanted him tried in an adult court where he would have faced a much longer sentence. “He needs to understand what he did was wrong,” she told the court in September. “I’m scared to death that if this kid is serious, and they put him in a three-month programme, they’re going to release him to the street.”
Think of the most crime-ridden place on Earth and what comes to mind: Sao Paulo, Brazil? Lagos, Nigeria? The Bronx, New York?
Try the Vatican. The small nation-city ruled by Pope Benedict XVI apparently sees more criminal cases per capita than any other part of the world, the German magazine Spiegel reports.
That’s according to statistics released by the Vatican’s attorney general, Nicola Picardi.
In 2006, the tiny nation’s justice department had to contend with 341 civil and 486 criminal cases. With a population of 492, that measures out to 1.5 cases per person — 20 times the corresponding rate in Italy.
Another surprising statistic about the rampant crime in the Vatican is that it exists despite a security force that would put a police state to shame. The seat of the Catholic Church has one Swiss guard for every four citizens, plus museum guards and police assigned to the Vatican by the Italian government.
Picardi said most criminal cases were matters of purse-snatching or pickpocketing. The rest amounted to other petty crimes like fraud and forgery, committed by a handful of the 18 million pilgrims and tourists who visit St. Peter’s Cathedral, St. Peter’s Square and the Vatican museums every year.
According to the Vatican, about 90% of these crimes go unpunished because it is easy for the perpetrators to slip across the border into Italy, which is just a few yards away.
Even if it were able to catch and prosecute every pickpocket, the Vatican would have to send them to Italy to serve out their sentences, since it has no prison system.
By Thomas Sowell
Whenever I hear the phrase “studies prove” this or that, it makes me think back to the beginning of my career as an economist at the Labor Department in Washington.
Secretary of Labor Arthur Goldberg was scheduled to appear before Congress to argue in favor of some policy that the Labor Department wanted enacted into law. Down at the bottom of the chain of command, I was given four sets of census data that had not yet been published and was told to analyze these data for a report to go to the Secretary of Labor.
Two of these sets of data seemed to support the Labor Department’s position but the other two went counter to it. When I wrote up a paper explaining why this was so and concluded that the statistics overall were inconclusive, there was much dismay among those in the hierarchy between me and the Secretary.
They were also puzzled as to why anyone would write up such a paper, knowing what the Department’s position was on the issues. They took my paper, edited and rewrote it before passing it up the chain of command.
Secretary Goldberg then made his usual confident presentation of the rewritten study to Congress, probably unaware of the contradictory data that had been left out.
It was a valuable experience so early in my career to learn that what “studies prove” is often whatever those who did the studies wanted to prove. Labor Department studies “prove” whatever serves the interest of the Labor Department, just as Agriculture Department studies “prove” whatever serves the Department of Agriculture’s interests.
It is the same story on the other side of the Atlantic, where a new book about Britain’s criminal justice system exposes the fraudulent methods used to generate statistics about the “success” of various programs of alternatives to imprisonment. The book is titled “A Land Fit for Criminals” by David Fraser.
The numbers may be accurate but the definition of “success” makes them meaningless. When a criminal is put on probation and the probation is not revoked for a violation, that is “success.”
Unfortunately, the British criminal justice system does not automatically revoke probation when a criminal commits a new crime.
A criminal on two years’ probation can commit a crime after six months, be convicted and sentenced — and, after serving his sentence, go back to completing the remaining 18 months of his probation, producing statistical “success” for the probation program. That is the whole point of the “study.”
On either side of the Atlantic, it is a terminal case of naivete to put statistical studies under the control of the same government agencies whose policies are being studied.
Nor will it do any good to let those agencies farm out these studies to “independent” researchers in academia or think tanks because they will obviously farm them out to people whose track record virtually guarantees that they will reach the conclusions that the agency wants.
Climate expert Richard S. Lindzen of M.I.T. has indicated that the vast amount of government research money available for studies of “global warming” can discourage skeptics from being vocal about their skepticism.
This is not peculiar to studies of “global warming.” Many people who complain about the corrupting influence of money never seem to apply that to government money.
If high government officials were serious about wanting to know the facts, they could set up an independent statistical agency, along the lines of the General Accounting Office, to do studies of the effects of the policies of the operating agencies.
That would mean that the fox would no longer be in charge of the hen house, whether the fox was the Labor Department, the Commerce Department, or any of the other departments and agencies.
It would also mean that various bright ideas originating in Congress or the White House would now be exposed to the risk of being shown to be costly failures or even counterproductive. Whole careers could be ruined among both elected officials and bureaucrats.
Don’t hold your breath waiting for it to happen. But do keep that in mind when someone says “studies prove . . . “
By Thomas Sowell
My late mentor, Nobel Prize-winning economist George Stigler, used to say that it could be very instructive to spend a few hours in a library checking up on studies that had been cited. When I began doing that, I found it not only instructive but disillusioning.
A footnote in a textbook on labor economics cited six studies to back up a conclusion it reached. But, after I went to the library and looked at those six studies, it turned out that they each cited some other study — the same other study in all six cases.
Now that the six studies had shrunk to one, I got that one study — and found that it was a study of a very different situation from the one discussed in the labor economics textbook.
Some years back, there was a great flurry in the liberal media because a study showed that (1) black pregnant women received prenatal care less often than white pregnant women and that (2) infant mortality rates were higher among blacks.
There were indignant editorials in the New York Times and the Washington Post blaming the government for not providing greater access to prenatal care in order to stop preventable deaths of infants.
After getting a copy of the original study, I discovered that in the same study — on the very same page — statistics showed that (1) Mexican American women received even less prenatal care than black women and that (2) infant mortality rates among Mexican Americans were no higher than among whites.
A few pages further on, statistics showed that American women of Chinese, Japanese and Filipino ancestry also received less prenatal care than white women — and had lower infant mortality rates than whites.
Apparently prenatal care was not the answer, though it was the kind of answer that suited the mindset of the liberal media and provided an occasion for them to wax indignant.
More recently, the National Academy of Sciences came out with a study that supposedly proved beyond a doubt that human activities were responsible for “global warming.” A chorus of voices in the media, in politics and in academia proclaimed that this was no longer an issue but a scientific fact, proven with hard data.
The NAS report not had only statistics, it had an impressive list of scientists, which supposedly put the icing on the cake.
The only problem was that the scientists had not written the report and in fact had not even seen it before it was published, even though they had some affiliation with the National Academy of Sciences.
At least one of those scientists, meteorologist Richard S. Lindzen of M.I.T., publicly opposed the conclusion and has continued to do so. But that fact was largely lost in the midst of the media hoopla.
Besides, what is a mere meteorologist at M.I.T. compared to Al Gore and his movie?
Nobody can afford the time to check out every claim of what “studies prove.” Even with the help of outstanding research assistants, I can only check out some.
However, the big television and print media have ample financial resources to check out claims before they present them to the public as “news.” But when “60 Minutes” didn’t bother before basing a story about President Bush’s national guard service on a forged document, do not look for a lot of zeal for facts when that could kill a juicy story or the political spin accompanying it.
Let’s face it. There is not much pay-off to checking original sources.
Once a minister was explaining to me the structure of his funeral orations. He said, “At this point, you are expected to say something good about the deceased. Now, Tom, if I were preaching your funeral, what would I say good about you at that point?”
He thought and thought — for an embarrassingly long time. Finally, he said gravely: “In his research, he always used original sources.”
I’ll take that.
By Thomas Sowell
Often we hear that “all the experts agree” that A is better than B or that “studies prove” A to be better than B. But one of the reasons for this can be that only people who favor A over B are likely to get the money to conduct studies or be given access to the data needed for a study.
A few years ago, a book by William Bowen and Derek Bok paraded various statistics that they interpreted as proving the success of policies of preferential admission of blacks to colleges and universities.
A chorus of praise for this study was heard throughout the media and echoed in academia and among liberal politicians. The study was later cited in a landmark Supreme Court decision on affirmative action.
Not everyone thought this was a great study, however — or even an adequate study. But no one was allowed access to the raw data on which the Bowen and Bok study was based. So no one else could run the numbers for themselves and reach their own conclusions.
Those who sought such data included Harvard professor Stephen Thernstrom, whose long and distinguished record of scholarship included being one of the creators of the Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups. He was refused access to the data.
When only people with one set of views are allowed to do certain studies, do not be surprised if “studies prove” that set of views is right.
I was not surprised that Professor Thernstrom was refused access to the data. I had had similar experiences.
Back in the 1970s, I tried to get statistical data from Harvard to test various claims about affirmative action. Derek Bok was then president of Harvard and he was the soul of graciousness, even praising a book on economics that I had written. But, in the end, I did not get to see one statistic.
During the same era I was also researching academically successful black schools. I flew across the country to try to get data on one school, talked with board of education officials, jumped through bureaucratic hoops — and, after all this was done and the dust settled, I still did not get to see one statistic.
Why not? Think about it. Education officials have developed explanations for why they cannot educate black children. For me to write something publicizing outstanding academic results in this particular black school would be to open a political can of worms, leading people to ask why the other schools can’t do the same.
Education bureaucrats decided to keep that can sealed.
Critics of affirmative action have long said that mismatching black students with colleges that they do not qualify for creates wholly needless academic failures among these students, who drop out or flunk out of colleges that they should never have been in, when most of them are fully qualified to succeed in other colleges.
Has the ending of preferential admissions in the University of California system and the University of Texas system led to a rise in the graduation rates of black students, as critics predicted? Who knows? These universities will not release those statistics.
This is not peculiar to the United States. In Britain, the claim has been repeated endlessly that putting criminals in prison “doesn’t work” and that various rehabilitation programs “in the community” are more successful in reducing criminals’ repetition of their crimes.
When statistical data from the Home Office showed the direct opposite of what was being proclaimed by the Home Secretary, other high officials, the media, and academics, the solution was simple: Such data were no longer released.
Sometimes it is not the data but the money that is used to limit who can do studies on controversial issues. Advocates of “global warming” have access to all sorts of government research money but skeptics and critics can depend on no such largess and may even be risking their careers by angering bureaucrats who have staked a lot on this crusade and who control the purse strings.
Even when the taxpayers’ money is used to collect data or finance research, those who dispense that money and control that data often treat these things as if they were their own private property, to be used to promote research congenial to their own ideologies or interests.
By Thomas Sowell
Nothing should be surprising any more about the Duke University rape case. Still, it is a little staggering that, after all these months, District Attorney Mike Nifong has still not interviewed either the accuser or the accused.
Rape is a felony with serious consequences for all concerned. You might think that the district attorney would have some interest in determining whose story is credible and whose story is full of holes.
But that is only if he is interested in seeing justice done. I predicted, months ago, that Nifong would let this case drag on until the public loses interest in it and then let it quietly fizzle out after the media spotlight is gone.
After all, the case has already served his purpose in getting him his party’s nomination for district attorney. It has also served the purposes of local racial activists by giving them an occasion to march, shout, denounce, and threaten.
It has served the purposes of the Duke University faculty by allowing them to come out on the politically correct side of the issue by condemning the upscale white guys and showing solidarity with the black accuser.
Why ruin all this by getting bogged down in facts?
While the law enforcement officials have apparently been too busy to interview either the accuser or the accused, they have had time to spend hours grilling a black cab driver who said that one of the accused was in his taxi, going to an ATM, at the time when he was supposedly committing rape.
Bank records corroborate what the cabbie said. But being hassled by the cops when he would rather be out working to earn some money may make him less ready to say it again to the media.
Such harassment can also serve as a shot across the bow of anybody else who might be thinking of coming forward with facts that undermine the District Attorney’s version of events.
While District Attorney Nifong is at the heart of this tawdry perversion of the law, many others have joined in the rape of justice.
A local newspaper responded to the recent 60 Minutes expose of how phony the rape case is by editorializing that the Duke lacrosse players are not model citizens. Their neighbors have complained about their playing loud music and one of them got into a brawl somewhere.
Surely no one is so feeble-minded as to believe that playing loud music or even getting into a brawl proves that you are a rapist. But it shows how desperate some people are to take sides instead of wanting the truth to come out and see justice done, whatever that might turn out to be.
It is especially painful to see the local NAACP joining the stampede to convict the Duke players, not only without evidence but in defiance of a growing body of evidence that points in the opposite direction.
How many black men have been railroaded to jail or even to the gallows by the same lynch mob mentality, whether carried out by a jury or by the Ku Klux Klan? And is all that the NAACP has learned from this tragic history is that it just depends on whose ox is gored?
Anyone who expects either higher intellectual standards or higher moral standards from the academic intelligentsia should be disabused of such notions by the way so many Duke University professors and administrators have kow-towed to the shrill shouters and threateners, on and off campus, by joining in the lynch mob rhetoric.
It would be sad enough if this was just about three young men at Duke University. Unfortunately, this shabby episode is only one sign of a much more pervasive moral dry rot in our academic institutions and in our other institutions.
It took centuries to establish the rule of law, at the cost of painful struggles, blood and tears. Nor did the blood and tears end when law was established, for maintaining the rule of law requires fighting those who wish to pervert the law for their own purposes and who will abuse their power to do so.
Will we destroy this and other pillars of our civilization even before our enemies have a chance to finish us off?
The U. S. Supreme Court is set to rule on the constitutionality of insanity-defense laws across the nation. The case, Clark v. Arizona, has to do with a defendant, Eric Michael Clark, who at age seventeen killed an Arizona police officer, supposedly thinking that he was shooting a space alien.
Clark’s attorneys argue that they should have been allowed to enter into evidence proof that Clark had been insane at the time of the murder. Their argument for a constitutional right to an insanity defense will put the Court on the record on one of the law’s most controversial issues.
Writing in USA Today, Professor Jonathan Turley of George Washington University argues that a society which fails to “recognize the difference between a premeditated and delusional act,” is immoral. Turley points to four states, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, and Utah, that have eliminated the insanity defense altogether. Other states have moved to curtail the insanity defense in significant ways.
In recent years, there has been no shortage of notorious defendants claiming an insanity defense. Currently, Lashaun Harris is on trial in San Francisco for the murder of her three children, whom she is charged with throwing into San Francisco Bay last October. According to press reports, Harris told authorities that God wanted her children as a sacrifice.
The nation’s conscience was seared by the news that Andrea Yates, a housewife in Houston, had drowned her five children. With regard to all these cases, the public at large is generally ready to concede that those who committed these acts might be mentally impaired or ill, but most Americans believe that mental illness does not eliminate the moral burden of a criminal act.
The idea of the insanity defense has roots that go all the way back to ancient Greece and Rome. Nevertheless, the modern version of an insanity defense emerged from the attempted assassination of the British Prime Minister in 1843. In that case, Daniel M’Naghten shot Edward Drummond, an aide to British Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel. M’Naghten’s goal was the assassination of the Prime Minister. Instead, he shot and killed Sir Robert’s principal secretary.
Faced with a defendant that appeared to be insane, British courts came up with the so-called “M’Naghten Rules,” intended to identify which defendants are insane, and thus are not to be held as criminally responsible for their actions.
In one form or another, the M’Naghten Rules have found their way into American jurisprudence. Most American jurisdictions allow some form of an insanity defense.
As the rule stipulates, an accused is excused from criminal punishment if “at the time of committing the act, the party accused was laboring under such a defective reason, from disease of the mind, as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing, or if he did know it, that he did not know he was doing what was wrong.” As Professor Phillip E. Johnson of the University of California, Berkeley, explains, “Successful defendants under M’Naghten are also generally so incapable of living in normal circumstances that there is no question of granting them freedom.” But that assessment is now clouded by the fact that so many mental patients are now released into the general population. There is very little assurance that an accused found to be not guilty by reason of insanity will be kept from the larger society for any lengthy period of time.
In essence, the M’Naghten Rule opened the door for insanity claims in criminal prosecutions—especially for violent and heinous acts such as homicide. Nevertheless, the legal elite has pushed the definition far beyond the M’Naghten Rule. The “Model Penal Code of the American Law Institute [ALI],” asserts that “a person is not responsible for criminal conduct if at the time of such conduct as a result of mental disease or defect he lacks substantial capacity either to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of law.” That last phrase represents a radical expansion of the M’Naghten Rule.
Other jurisdictions have come up with their own definitions and rules. The real question is this—is the insanity defense itself morally justified?
A shift to more liberal interpretations of the law with respect to insanity defenses came to the attention of the American public when John Hinckley, the young man who shot President Ronald W. Reagan in a brazen assassination attempt was found “not guilty” because of his mental state. According to reports from the trial and investigation, Hinckley had intended to kill the President in order to gain the attention of a movie star.
As Professor Johnson explains: “By traditional standards Hinckley was dead-bang guilty of attempted murder and related crimes. But he came to trial in a federal court in the District of Columbia, in a legal culture that by this time had absorbed not only of the ALI defense but also its spirit. Hinckley, whose parents were both wealthy and devoted to him, had the benefit not only of the ALI standard, and of the testimony of expert witnesses with sterling scientific qualifications, but also the general principle of evidence that the burden of proof rests on the prosecution, not the defense. Thus the federal rule required the prosecutor to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a demented man, who had attempted to assassinate a president for utterly bizarre reasons, was not insane.”
The American public was outraged at the verdict at the Hinckley trial. Facing such pressure, Congress adopted the Insanity Defense Reform Act of 1984 which tightened the requirements for an insanity defense in the federal courts. The act stipulates that the defense bears the burden to prove that, “at the time of the commission of the acts constituting the defense, the defendant, as a result of a severe mental disease or defect, was unable to appreciate the nature and quality or the wrongfulness of his acts.” The act went on to assert: “Mental disease or defect does not otherwise constitute a defense.”
With the exceptions of Idaho, Kansas, Montana, and Utah, the states and the District of Columbia have their own definitions of legal insanity with respect to those accused of committing criminal acts. As psychologist Stephen Lally explains the general contours of these laws: “If you meet the criteria for insanity, . . . you are viewed as not being criminally responsible: In other words, your thinking was too disordered or your actions too impaired to have formed the intention to commit a criminal act, and so it is unfair to inflict punishment on you. This singular exception justifies treating all other defendants as competent and criminally responsible: They rationally chose to commit a crime and should be punished for their actions.”
As Professor Johnson argues, the very idea of a criminal prosecution requires the moral understanding that human beings are responsible for their actions. Without this basic understanding, the entire logic of the law collapses. Thus, the very existence of an insanity defense affirms, in its own way, the fact that the vast majority of criminal defendants are assumed to be absolutely responsible for their actions. The supposedly rare exceptions of those deemed to be insane constitutes a counter evidence.
But does the insanity defense make moral sense? In one sense, the finding that an individual is insane might well influence the character or nature of any punishment or sentence meted out after conviction. Nevertheless, it is morally problematic at the very least when individuals are found “not guilty” of acts they have clearly and undeniably committed.
In other words, the problem with the plea “not guilty by reason of insanity” is with the words “not guilty.” It is moral nonsense to argue that a person is not guilty of committing a crime if the evidence clearly indicates that they have done so. From a Christian perspective, there is no Scriptural warrant for assuming that anything described as “insanity” eliminates moral responsibility.
Modern critics of the insanity defense have pointed to such issues as the fact that defendants with sufficient financial means are in a better position to hire “experts” who could argue for the insanity defense. This became an issue of public concern with regard to John Hinckley, but his case is hardly unique in this regard.
At a deeper level, the late Karl Menninger, a well-known psychiatrist, argued that the insanity defense should be abolished because it undermined the notion of individual responsibility. Menninger called for eliminating the insanity defense so that the sense of individual responsibility would once again be honored by the court. Similarly, Menninger warned that the concept of sin had ceased to be meaningful in modern society. Instead, immoral actions were redefined as in terms of social or psychological pathologies, and were increasingly treated as symptoms of illness rather than as signs of depravity.
The law must deal with a seemingly endless array of complications and special circumstances. Nevertheless, the burden of any civilized society is to maintain a rule of law that holds human beings responsible for their actions. Any legal system—which must by definition include the impact of fallible human beings—falls short of perfect justice in terms of its execution and administration. Nevertheless, society bears the positive obligation to hold persons accountable for their actions, in terms of both reward and punishment.
In the main, the existence of the insanity defense is a warning that we are all too ready to redefine sin in terms of lesser categories. Furthermore, we appear ready to deny moral responsibility when there is an apparent way out that avoids the need for that judgment.
The administration of justice must combine and balance justice and mercy—but this makes sense only in a context of clear moral order and authority. Courts must be allowed considerable latitude in the application of penalties, treatments, and other available options. But finding a guilty person “not guilty by reason of insanity” is an act of moral evasion—and we all know it.
Supplemental Articles in a separate file (click here to read)