What's a judge to do?

In Suffolk County (NY) Superior Court Judge Patrick F. Brady's courtroom last Monday, defendant Richard Glawson, without warning, punched a juror.

Now on one hand it's going to be very difficult for the jurors to feel impartial toward Glawson after seeing that. Glawson's attorney is on record as saying that continuing the trial would be a "miscarriage of justice," and clearly that's going to be grounds for appeal in the likely event that Glawson is convicted.

On the other hand, you can't simply allow a defendant to attack jurors in order to provoke a mistrial – or for any other reason. Glawson claims voices told him to attack the juror. It might be cynical to wonder whether one of those voices was his attorney's, since it's basically a win-win scenario for the defense.

(Glawson is standing trial for a two-day crime spree that ended with his allegedly shooting a police sergeant, so assaulting a juror would be a relatively minor additional charge)

Judge Brady agreed to the juror's request to be dismissed, refused to declare a mistrial, and ordered Glawson to be chained to the floor with a  pair of court officers standing guard on either side of him for the duration of the trial (though having him flanked by court officers does seem like overkill, given that he's being chained to the floor).

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Former astronaut Lisa Nowak's mad dash from Houston to Orlando to confront (and allegedly assault or attempt to kidnap or attempt to murder) the woman she perceived as her rival for the affections of fellow astronaut William Oefelein has claimed another victim: Commander Oefelein was released from NASA last week. No official reason was announced, but his very high-profile extra-marital affair with Nowak is presumed to be the reason.

Just for the record… I can't say this with scientific certainty, but I'm fairly certain that since the February attack took place, there hasn't been a single newspaper, magazine or broadcast story about the case that hasn't included the word "diaper."

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Wake County (North Carolina) Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway ruled last week that courtroom witnesses should have the right to swear oaths on the Holy Book of their choice, rather than (as mandated by state law) only the King James version of the Christian Bible. The American Civil Liberties Union was arguing the case on behalf of Syidah Mateen, who was refused the right to swear an oath on the Koran when she gave witness in a trial.

The real mystery here is why, once this law was challenged, the state expended the money and other resources to defend it.

The state now has thirty days to appeal the ruling.

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There's some controversy right now in Oklahoma over a proposed bill that would make it a felony to file a false child abduction report that leads to an Amber Alert being issued. The maximum penalty would be one year in prison. Right now, filing a false report of child abduction is a misdemeanor carrying the same penalty as filing any false police report: up to a year in prison.

State Senator Richard Lerblance opposes the bill, referring to it as one in a series of proposed laws that could add to the problem of prison overcrowding.

I'm sure I must be missing something here…

 

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Cuyahoga County (Ohio) Prosecutor Bill Mason, in his May 2 closing in Fernando Newcomb's aggravated murder trial, urged the jury to consider the fact that Newcomb refused to take the stand in his own defense.

Mason hasn't explained why he mentioned this: It's unlikely that he was unaware that the defendant had a Fifth Amendment right not to testify and that the prosecution isn't allowed to ask the jury to infer anything by the fact. It's somewhat more likely that Mason wasn't confident this jury would recommend the death penalty, so he decided to force a mistrial and take his chances with a new jury.

The judge immediately declared a mistrial and ordered the prosecutor's office to pay a $26,204 fine, her estimation of the cost of a new trial.

Taxpayer's money. Shifted from one publicly-funded entity (the prosecutor's office) to another (the courthouse).

Well, that will teach him a lesson.

Here's a thought, and I don't consider this at all extreme: The state Bar should file misconduct charges against Mason and if they determine that his comment was anything other than a slip of the tongue, he should be personally fined, or suspended, or even disbarred.

We can't minimize what Mason did: He subverted a capital murder trial, cost taxpayers a huge sum of money, and tried to effectively deprive a defendant of a very basic constitutional right.

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A fairly pointless controversy is playing out in Chicago, where the city's aldermen are refusing to exempt stage actors from a law against smoking in indoor public venues. A recent production of the alcohol- and tobacco-soaked Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf is being cited as a play in which smoking is essential, and The First Amendment has been invoked.

Here's the thing, though: These are actors and I think if they carried unlit cigarettes and pretended to smoke, the audience would accept it without hesitation. In very few of Shakespeare's plays, after all, were actors truly stabbed to death onstage.

And as to the First Amendment thing: Would anybody use the same argument to allow the stars of Living High: The Cheech and Chong Musical to smoke joints throughout the play?

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We all know mothers who have a hard time allowing their children to do things on their own – but very few of us know mothers like the German woman (whose name is being withheld) who insisted on driving her 17-year-old son to a Dresden jewelry shop because "I knew he wanted to rob the shop and I was very worried about him."

She was sentenced last week to three years and ten months in prison.

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Three store detectives at a Munich, Germany department store had a knack for spotting shoplifters: They'd follow them out of the store, confiscate the merchandise, and warn them not to try stealing from the store again.

Problem was they weren't employed by the store, they kept the items, and they were in fact girls between the ages of twelve and sixteen (they "looked older than they were," a police spokesperson explained unnecessarily).

Now what I'm thinking is… If I were the store manager, rather than pressing charges, I'd want to hire them: They never actually harmed the store (the shoplifters had already left the store so the merchandise was gone anyway), they deterred further stealing by confronting the shoplifters, and they were obviously doing a better job than the store detectives actually on the payroll.

 

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If you have sex with your brother's girlfriend, after convincing her in a dark bedroom that you're your brother – in other words, without her informed consent – is it rape? Not according to Massachusetts law, according to the state's Supreme Judicial Court, which set Alvin Suliveres free this past Thursday: The long-standing rape statute defines rape as sexual intercourse compelled "by force", and in 1959 the Judicial Court specifically ruled that fraud can't replace force as an element of the crime.

The day after the decision, two Massachusetts legislators began work on a bill to change the law to include fraud and deceit.

And in Raleigh, North Carolina last week, a Superior Court heard arguments in a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Syidah Mateen, a Muslim woman who was refused the right to swear an oath on the Koran when she gave witness in a trial. North Carolina law specifies that only the King James Bible be used (leaving Muslim, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists and others the options of saying "so help me God" without the use of any text, or simply "I affirm.")

Now seriously, why is this something the state of North Carolina feels the need to fight back against? Valerie Bateman, an attorney from the state's Attorney General's Office, insists that determining which holy books can be used would be "just too much entanglement for the court to be involved in." How about… just letting everybody use the books of their choice? The courts accommodate witnesses who have any number of special physical needs. The cost of having a few extra books on hand shouldn't be an issue: What's being spent on this trial would probably buy a nice religious library for every courthouse in the state. Or witnesses could simply be allowed to bring their own.

Here's my prediction – and if I'm right it's going to seem obvious in hindsight: By the time this case works its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court (and it's likely to, no matter who wins on the state level), and similar cases are filed (inevitable), those supporting North Carolina's position will discover they'd been their own worst enemies: Courts will begin to wonder "why are we in the Bible business in the first place?" and the whole tradition of swearing a religious oath in a secular court will go the way of organized prayer in public schools.

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"Kids get hopped up on drinks called Cocaine and Xtazy and then what happens when someone offers them a line of real cocaine or an Ecstasy pill?" – Joseph Califano, president of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse

"It was always my plan to let negative publicity move us forward." -Jamey Kirby , creator of Redux Beverages' Cocaine

The saga of Cocaine, the energy drink with 3 ½ times as much caffeine as Red Bull, came to an end last week after it made one enemy too many: The Food and Drug Administration, citing advertising calling the drink "Liquid Cocaine" and "Speed in a Can", issued an opinion that it's being illegally marketed as both a street drug alternative and a dietary supplement. Despite a Redux executive's explanation that they intended the drink "to be a legal alternative the same way celibacy is an alternative to premarital sex," and his belief that it's "most likely legal" to continue selling the product, the company has taken it off the market (and will re-launch it under a new name).

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This is what Mark Dennis of Bellefontaine, Ohio learned last week: Have your bright orange hair dyed back to a less conspicuous color before you rob a bank in nearby Scranton, Pennsylvania, not afterward. The suspect, who might have been involved in other area robberies, was arrested in a hair salon.

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