Public Nuisance

Random commentary and senseless acts of blogging.

The first Republican president once said, "While the people retain their virtue and their vigilance, no administration by any extreme of wickedness or folly can seriously injure the government in the short space of four years." If Mr. Lincoln could see what's happened in these last three-and-a-half years, he might hedge a little on that statement.
-Ronald Reagan

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Monday, October 07, 2002
 
Legal Notes

Dahlia Lithwick has an excellent article on the excesses of the prosecution of Winona Ryder.

The fact that there were felony charges filed at all is astonishing in its own right, as an exposé conducted by the entertainment tabloid Extra, Celebrity Justice (dogged friend to celebs everywhere!) revealed that in court records of all 5,000 grand theft felony cases filed in Los Angeles County last year, not one defendant was facing penalties as harsh as Ryder's. In fact, in all cases involving theft exceeding the amount alleged in Ryder's case, the defendants received standard misdemeanor plea deals. The district attorney's office has refused to accept a plea for anything less than a felony in Ryder's case.

In fact, the district attorney's office has refused to accept Saks' own multiple requests to drop the charges against Ryder. In a recent article in the National Review online, Joel Mowbray writes that the Los Angeles district attorney's office warned Saks that if they didn't cooperate in the Ryder prosecution, their attorneys would no longer prosecute shoplifting cases at the Beverly Hills location. Hey, that will send a message to shoplifters!

Instead of pleading this case out and getting on with the business of prosecuting murderers and rapists, Cooley's office has now diverted at least eight attorneys to work full time on this case, with a deputy district attorney having to reschedule a murder prosecution so she can convict Ryder.

According to Lithwick, even the drug charges against Ryder are essentially phony. Ryder was in possession of a generic version of a brand medication for which she had a legitimate perscription. And the videotape makes the shoplifting charges look questionable as well. Eight attorneys in the DA's office dealing with this case which could have been pled down to a misdemeanor, as similar cases with no prior criminal record routinely are, means eight attorneys not going after murderers, rapists, or major white collar fraud.

Charles Kuffner notes that, in Nebraska, a victim has a legal right to appear at a parole hearing - but only to say what the prosecution wants. A victim who wishes to speak for clemency has no right to be heard: "The case went to Nebraska's highest court, which reached this conclusion: Victims who testify for the defendant are not legally victims. "

Aside from the bizarre legal conclusion, I really suspect that drawing the victim or victim's family into a long-running role in the drama as speakers for revenge, something which can last for a decade or more in a capital case, does make it harder for the family to genuinely recover from a catastrophe and get on with their lives. It would be very interesting to see real data on whether these `victim's rights` laws do actually contribute to anything except longer sentences.



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