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Monday, August 11, 2003  

The scales of justice

Yes, the pun is intended. First, a news item that shows just how flakey the criminal justice system can get.

  • Deluded Washington man convicted
  • A man who clearly suffers from significant mental impairment has been allowed to sell himself down the river.

    EVERETT — Confessed killer Eric Rupp was sentenced to just over 28 years in prison this afternoon for the slaying of his grandmother earlier this year.

    Rupp, 26, was convicted of first-degree murder Thursday for the slaying of his 81-year-old grandmother, Myrtle Rupp. During his trial, Eric Rupp claimed he killed the Lynnwood woman because she was a CIA agent and part of a cult run by the religious Trinity Broadcasting.

    Despite questions over his mental state, Rupp was allowed to serve as his own attorney during the trial.

    The rationalization for allowing this person to not only to go to trial while delusional, but to represent himself, is that he is legally competent, i.e., capable of "understanding the charges against him and possessing the capacity to assist in his defense." The standard used in Washington and most other states to determine competency to stand trial is much too low. I believe the system mocks itself when it allows this kind of travesty to occur.

  • An immodest proposal
  • Jonna M. Spilbor, commenting at Findlaw, brings up an ancillary issue in regard to the Kobe Bryant rape case.

    Bryant's case has raised a firestorm of issues, but one in particular is at center court: Has this good guy been falsely accused? Even at this early stage, the majority of those asked say yes. To many fans, this case just feels false.

    If Bryant has been falsely accused, it won't be the first time that a false report has been filed in an "acquaintance rape" case. In part, that's because the law fails to meaningfully penalize false reports, or to give those who have been falsely accused any justice.

    It seems to me that a falsely accused person in any case, criminal or civil, could say the same. No one likes to be lied about. However, in regard to legal matters or the numerous other situations when we are lied about, most of us move on. Knowing the truth ourselves often suffices. I can't think of a reason why persons falsely accused of rape should be an exception.

    Spilbor offers a rationale for treating false reports of rape differently.

    Falsely reporting any crime is shameful. Falsely reporting a rape is especially heinous. The liar who files the false claim dishonors - and makes life all the more difficult for - the many true victims who file genuine rape claims because they have been terribly violated, and seek justice for it. At the same time, and perhaps even more seriously, the false report begins to destroy the reputation, and sometimes the life, of the accused from the very moment it is made - a fact of which many accusers are keenly aware.

    The point of lying is to harm the person on the receiving end. So, I still don't see how the liar in a false rape accusation is different from any other malicious person. And, without a meaningful difference, I can't agree such accusers should be specially penalized if they don't prevail in court. Read Spilbor's full column to see if you are convinced.

    And, let's remember not enough is known about the circumstances to assume Kobe Bryant has been falsely accused.

  • Unabomber asks for evidence
  • Meanwhile, Unabomber Ted Kaczynski has a post-convicion bone to pick with the powers that be. No, he is not demanding to be freed again. He wants his stuff back. But, his stuff is not like your and my stuff. It includes a bomb.

    SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Convicted Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski wants the U.S. government to return a pipe bomb and other items seized from his Montana cabin so that they can be used for "research," according to court papers made public on Monday.

    Kaczynski, serving a life sentence for killing three people and injuring 23 others in a 17-year bombing campaign, also asked for his books, personal papers and chemicals used in making bombs.

    He wanted most of the material sent to the University of Michigan where it could be studied by "serious researchers," the court documents, filed a week ago with the U.S. District Court in Sacramento, showed.

    Since Kaczynski is unlikely to ever be retried, I find the suggestion of moving the evidence of his crime to a safe repository reasonable. Usually, such material is is left to molder in evidence rooms or warehouses. It is often lost.

    The bomb and other incendiary items would need to be rendered harmless, of course.

    The Unabomber is holding out hope there is something exculpatory in the evidence.

    "This Court should take into consideration Kaczynski's interest, the public's interest, and the interest of scholars and researchers in the knowledge to be obtained from the study of Kaczynski's documents," Kaczynski wrote. "Such study will help to reveal the true facts of Kaczynski's case."

    I don't believe there is anything there that would support a new trial for him. However, the evidence does have historical value.

    11:20 PM