Wednesday, February 01, 2006

 

Woman serves 12 years and Appeals Court declares she comitted no crime.

Via How Appealing there is this interesting court decision. I find several things fascinating about this decision.

It begins "Petitioner spent 12 years in prison for conduct that is not a crime." Okay, they have my attention. But then get this "because she had previously been convicted of three felonies and one gross misdemeanor - all fraud related - she was sentenced as a habitual criminal to five life sentences."

Okay, so let's even assume that the last conviction was legitimate, which based upon the unanimous decision and the rather simple and not very technical ruling it seems obvious it was not, but let's assume that it was, do 3 fraud related felonies and one gross misdemeanor warrant five life sentences? And if they do, then they surely warrant the death penalty. I find it implausible that we should sentence anyone to five life sentences for offenses that we would not be willing to put them to death over. Now, I'm not saying that fraud isn't a serious crime and that we should just look the other way and there shouldn't be punishments, even severe punishments, but I'm looking for some perspective here. Granted, I don't know the scope of her fraud...for all I know the other offenses were hundreds of millions of dollars stolen from the elderly, but somehow I doubt that was the case.

Another aspect of the case that I find so fascinating is that it seems like the lower courts were suffering from a problem with defining the money supply that economists have argued over for awhile. The woman convicted had a secure card and wrote checks that she did not have sufficient cash to cover them. The secure card guaranteed her checks, but she was convicted of writing bad checks. The point that the appeals court noted was that since the secure card guaranteed the checks, by definition they could not have been bad. Many years ago economists did not wish to include checks in the definition of the money supply, until a few rather sensible economists pointed out that even if there were no funds in the checking accounts that the person writing the check was still responsible for the payment of these debts and they did effectively increase the money supply. In any case, the lower courts clearly allowed the jury to ignore the law and convict someone on a crime they did not commit, and while I'm not sure if she has any legal recourse to renumeration, I would hope so because it seems like she should be able to get enough to never have to work again. Jay may have to comment on this, but I think despite the harm done to her, the fact that it was facilitated through a jury verdict and the fact that it would be hard to prove that the lower courts willfully ignored the law rather than just being so stupid as to not notice the word "credit" in the law, I don't think she has any legal standing to sue for damages in this instance, which in my estimation is a shame. Yes...I guess I'm becoming more liberal in my old age.

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