It was a big law-psychology news day on Thursday. Here’s a rundown:
Drew Peterson was found guilty of the first-degree murder of his third wife. He now faces 60 years in prison, which would effectively be a life term, when he’s sentenced several weeks from now. Plus, he may or may not still be charged in the disappearance of his fourth wife. That may seem unnecessary if he’s locked up for life for the third wife’s murder, but it may also be “insurance” against his release on appeal, which is possible. Even jurors reportedly have acknowledged that Peterson wouldn’t have been convicted had it not been for the hearsay evidence that was admitted. As I explained before and during the trial, hearsay evidence is generally not admissible because of a defendant’s constitutional right to confront his/her accuser(s). There are certain exceptions, however, and Illinois has expanded those exceptions as far or farther than just about any state. So, there will no doubt be an appeal challenging the constitutionality of the Illinois statute under which much of the hearsay in the Peterson case was admitted, and it is possible that the conviction will ultimately be overturned. At the same time, some of the most damning hearsay in the trial was unquestionably admissible because Peterson’s own defense counsel elicited it from a defense witness, so that won’t be at issue on appeal (but ineffective assistance of counsel might!).
Don’t get me wrong, I think Peterson’s guilty and right where he belongs. If you imagine yourself on trial in Illinois someday, however, for a crime that you didn’t commit, I think you may find it troubling that you could be convicted relatively easily, solely or largely based on a witness’ or witnesses’ testimony that he/she/they heard, second-hand, i.e. from someone else who’s not present to be cross-examined by your defense attorney, that you did it (or that you wanted to do it or that you threatened to do it). I wasn’t there in the closed-door hearings in which the judge ruled on the reliability, and therefore the admissibility, of the contested hearsay testimony that helped convict Peterson, so it’s tough for me to second-guess the judge at this point, but an appellate court, with access to transcripts of all of the proceedings, may very well second-guess the judge and/or the legislators who wrote the Illinois hearsay statute. That’s why charging Peterson with wife #4’s murder may still have practical value, provided that the cops can come up with some physical evidence (right now, all they really have is her untimely disappearance and the suspicions of a witness with credibility problems, i.e. less circumstantial evidence than they had in the trial that just ended). Whatever happens from here, law students in Illinois and elsewhere will be studying the Peterson case(s) for years to come.
Kansas City Catholic Bishop Robert Finn was convicted of a misdemeanor for failure to report potential child abuse after learning of hundreds of “lewd” photos of underage girls on the computer of a priest in the diocese back in 2010. This verdict is rock-solid and right-on in my opinion. Finn is subject to the same mandated reporting statutes as I am in my capacity as a health-care provider, and I have no tolerance for a guy who’d blatantly disregard his statutory, not to mention his moral, obligation to protect children. The Bishop apparently decided not to make a report out of concern for the Church’s image and perhaps his own image as its local leader. When will people learn that attempted cover-ups usually end worse for those covering up than if they’d just been honest and forthright in the first place? In this case, I’m not sure it ended badly enough to have a sufficient exemplary/deterrent effect on others. Finn got a two-year probation term, which was immediately suspended, which means he’ll end up with a clean record as long as he doesn’t commit any more crimes in the near future. At the very least, now that he’s been proven guilty, the Church ought to pull him permanently out of any leadership position. In addition, someone in Pennsylvania ought to be looking into the fitness for licensure of a psychiatrist in that state who reportedly evaluated the priest involved, found him to pose no threat to children, and gave the him the “diagnosis” of…are you ready for this?…”loneliness.”
High-profile shootings in Canada and France in recent days, both countries that restrict gun ownership significantly more than we generally do here in the U.S., served as sad illustrations of what I’ve said many times — tighter gun-control is not a magic cure-all for these kinds of events because, regardless of what the law says, determined murderers find their means.
And finally, the political convention speeches — after enduring two weeks in a row of them and being asked to provide my overall comparative analysis, here it is, in terms of “Party A” and “Party B”:
The “Party A” speakers had it relatively easy in my opinion. That party’s speakers essentially just had to promise voters that the government will make sure all of their basic needs in life will be met and paid for by someone else, either today (by someone who’s earned more money in life and/or by someone who started a business or an insurance company back when we respected people’s freedom to contract with one another for work, wages, premiums, and benefits) and/or tomorrow (future generations of Americans).
The “Party B” speakers had it relatively harder in my opinion. They had to argue for the need to limit the size and scope of the government’s role in their lives, to depend upon the government to carry out only certain existential functions that are necessarily the government’s while depending generally upon individuals (including voluntary associations of individuals) to carry out altruistic functions that are necessarily society’s.
Party B’s speakers had to argue that private property rights are at the foundation of both our economic and civil liberties, that there’s nothing “fair” about the government taking disproportionately-large shares of certain Americans’ lawfully-acquired private property, simply because they have it, even though they receive nothing disproportionally-large (in fact, they generally receive less than other Americans) in the way of government services.
Party B’s speakers had to argue that contributing nothing to the public treasury (as roughly half of Americans now do) and accepting payments from the public treasury that are not truly needed (roughly 50 million Americans now receive food stamps, and there’s simply no way that one-sixth of all Americans are incapable of feeding themselves and their children – we never would’ve survived as a species, let alone a nation, were that the case) warrant remediation before we even consider demanding more from those who already contribute more than any other segment of our society (i.e. that every American needs to have “skin in the game” and that, if it’s morally repugnant for some among us to deny additional help to the needy, then it must become equally morally repugnant for others among us to accept help that they don’t truly need).
Party B’s speakers had to argue that freedom of contract is important in preserving our foundational private-property rights, that legislatively obligating private parties to make payments to other private parties against their wills, while receiving no additional value from the recipients in return, is essentially the confiscation and redistribution of the payers’ private property (e.g. requiring health-insurers to insure people with pre-existing conditions is like requiring homeowners’ insurers to insure homes that are already on fire – that’s not “insurance,” it’s just wealth redistribution).
Party B’s speakers had to argue that voters need to live within their means, that their ability to borrow money, both individually and collectively, is limited and that austerity is coming, either gradually, on their terms, or eventually and abruptly, on their creditors’ terms. (Party B’s speakers also had to argue that “bailouts” only delay austerity by creating the illusion that it isn’t necessary, thus ensuring that future, deeper debt crises will occur).
Party B’s speakers had to argue for the importance of personal responsibility, of ascertaining who’s responsible for adults’ bad outcomes in life and holding those individuals accountable (rather than sparing them consequences, reinforcing irresponsibility, and fostering entitlement attitudes by embracing collective responsibility for individual adults’ poor decisions in life).
Party B’s speakers had to argue that the world remains a dangerous place, that the most important function of the government is to protect its citizens against physical threats, both from within the country’s borders and from without (which, again, requires the government to focus its limited resources on existential functions and to leave altruistic functions to the society at large to undertake, independently of the government).
And Party B’s speakers had to argue for a need to recognize all human life as human life, even when it’s a painful reminder of a horrendously-traumatic crime, and for the simultaneous lack of a need for the government to confer legal recognition upon romantic relationships that can’t produce children (i.e. that the only acceptable justification for the government’s ratification, encouragement, or support of anyone’s romantic relationship is to promote the committed co-parenting of minor children by the mothers and fathers who made them, for the benefit of both the children and the taxpayers of America).
So which party’s speakers did better in my opinion? While Party A’s speeches may have sounded better overall to many Americans on an emotional level, given the relative difficulty of the speakers’ tasks, I think that Party B’s speeches contained more thought-provoking substance overall. Now which party is “Party A” and which is “Party B”? I’ll leave that differentiation to you.