Tag: criminal justice

Cato Unbound: Mental Health and the Law

We have lately witnessed several high-profile criminal events for which insanity may or may not be a tempting explanation. To name only the most prominent, consider the spree killings in Aurora, Colorado and Oak Creek, Wisconsin; Anders Breivik’s rampage in Norway; and the shooting of former representative Gabrielle Giffords and a group of her constituents. Giffords’ shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, was medicated against his will for nearly a year and recently entered a guilty plea. Anders Breivik has denied the suggestion that he was mentally ill, insisting that he is of sound mind and motivated only by ideology.

At Cato Unbound this month, we’re taking a close look at mental health and the law. American University’s Dr. Jeffrey A. Schaler is skeptical that “insanity” is a good explanation for criminal—or any—behavior. Indeed, Schaler denies that “mental illness” is a valid category of disease. For that reason he is also one of the world’s foremost exponents of consensual psychiatry, a branch of the discipline first comprehensively defended by Dr. Thomas Szasz: if a patient wishes to be treated, he should be allowed to seek treatment; if not, his behavior remains his own responsibility.

Dr. Allen Frances, professor emeritus of psychiatry at Duke University, disagrees in part: while mental illness is unlike many other diseases, those who present a clear threat to others owing to mental illness should not be treated either as criminals or as harmless. They have a condition that needs to be treated in order for them to rejoin the rest of society.

Jacob Sullum, a journalist and author who has often written on mental health, therapy, and the law, points out that psychiatry can’t have things both ways—either a criminal is responsible for his actions, in which case he should be punished; or the criminal is not responsible for his actions, in which case one might argue for involuntary treatment. Yet current laws, particularly regarding sexually violent predators, often try to do both to the same person.

Amanda Pustilnik, an associate professor of law at the University of Maryland, argues that the outrage about coercive psychiatry is misplaced: more mentally ill people inhabit our prison system than are to be found in our psychiatric hospitals. They get there not because they are more criminal, but because they are less cooperative with police, worse at defending themselves in court, and find it difficult to comply with the rules of prison life and parole. Many of these people would prefer to be in mental institutions, where they would receive the treatment they both need and want.

The conversation will remain open through the end of the month, so be sure to subscribe via RSS or follow us on Twitter. We welcome readers’ letters and may publish them at our option; send them to J Kuznicki (at) cato . org.

DSK and the Pernicious ‘Perp Walk’

My column at the Washington Examiner (and Reason.com) this week uses the collapse of the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case to argue against the “perp walk,” which has become a form of pretrial punishment and a way for spotlight-hungry prosecutors to grab attention—whether the ‘perp’ turns out to be guilty or not:

Back in May, when New York law enforcement paraded DSK before the cameras, hands cuffed behind his back, the French were outraged. “Incredibly brutal, violent and cruel,” France’s former justice minister gasped.

Irritating as it might be to admit it, the French have a point. The “perp walk”—in which suspects are ritually displayed to the media, trussed up like a hunter’s kill—has become common practice among prosecutors. But it’s a practice any country devoted to the rule of law should reject.

Of course, DSK isn’t the most sympathetic victim of the perp walk ever, nor, given paramilitary policing and “no knock” raids, is the perp walk the most abusive police/prosecutorial practice out there. But it’s at best a pointless indignity, and at worst a threat to due process—which is why it should be reined in. For Cato work on police tactics and misconduct, go here; and also see Reason’s recent “criminal justice” issue.

Reforming Indigent Defense

The Wall Street Journal law blog has a piece up on how the budget crisis is impacting public defenders:

Funding constraints have prompted states and counties to lay off public defenders, hold the line on salaries, and reduce the amount defenders can spend case investigators and staff training, the WSJ reports.

Public defenders maintain that they should be insulated from budget cuts for two reasons, the first being that they were sorely underfunded before the recession came along.  Secondly, they point to the fact that states have a duty, enshrined in Gideon v. Wainwright, to provide indigent criminal defendants with the right to counsel.

Stephen J. Schulhofer and David Friedman recently published a Cato Policy Analysis, Reforming Indigent Defense that proposes a free market solution: use vouchers instead of public defenders. This would eliminate the overhead of keeping defense attorneys on the public payroll and improve the quality of representation. As they put it in a related op-ed:

Vouchers would greatly improve the quality of defense representation, because attorneys hoping to attract business would have to serve their clients well. Better representation will, in turn, produce at least three benefits for society. First, improving defense services will reduce the potential for mistakes. It will be less likely that innocent persons will be wrongfully convicted and less likely that the actual perpetrators will remain free to repeat their offenses.

Second, improving defense services will minimize adverse consequences even for those who would be acquitted under current systems of indigent defense. A better defense makes it more likely that the innocent will be released from custody sooner, with less disruption to their lives and less expense for the jails that hold them.

Third, improving indigent defense will bring better information to the sentencing process — making it more likely that appropriate, cost-effective punishments will be imposed on those who are guilty.

My colleague Tim Lynch will speaking on Capitol Hill today at a related event, The Last Sacred Cow: How Congress Can Cut Criminal Justice Spending Without Compromising Public Safety.

Miranda Ain’t Broke

The Federalist Society has a podcast up, Miranda & Terror Suspects, debating whether terrorism suspects should be given Miranda warnings. University of Utah law professors Paul Cassell and Amos Guiora debate the issue, and Richard D. Klingler of Sidley Austin LLP moderates. Cassell provides a slideshow to go with the audio file.

Listening to the podcast, I’m struck at how so many of the concerns cited by Cassell are already dealt with by existing case law. The Quarles case created a “public safety” exception to Miranda that allows officers to ask questions without giving Miranda warnings when there is an ongoing threat to public safety. In Quarles, a revolver hidden in a supermarket was enough to create the exception.

As I wrote at Townhall.com in August, the “public safety” exception has already been applied broadly in the terrorism context in United States v. Khalil:

In 1997, NYPD officers raided an apartment where two men had constructed pipe bombs and planned to detonate them on a subway or bus terminal. During the raid, the police shot and wounded the bomb maker as he lunged for a black bag containing the explosives.

After bomb technicians discovered that a switch on one of the pipe bombs had been flipped, officers questioned the wounded bomb maker about the number of bombs, how many switches had to be flipped to set them off, whether there was a timer, what wires to cut to disarm them, and whether they were intended as suicide devices. The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit let all of the answers come into evidence via the public safety exception.

The public safety exception is settled law and has been ruled on by every federal circuit and over half the states, allowing police to deal with all manner of emergencies. Courts have allowed questions about the existence or location of guns, bombs, assault or kidnapping victims still in danger, accomplices and their identities, and plans for future crimes.

Add to this the fact that statements given before Miranda warnings are still admissible to impeach a suspect who changes his story when he gets to court, and that physical evidence obtained without Miranda warnings remains admissible.

So, here’s a practical proposal: the above list ought to be distributed to counterterrorism task forces across the nation. Instead of spending time and energy on a measure that is out of Congress’ power, have government lawyers create a pamphlet to educate the local, state and federal officers who will capture tomorrow’s aspiring terrorist. Boil down the law to bullet points and put it on a business card so that they have it on hand when the next emergency unfolds. That’s a tool first responders can use.

Brian Aitken’s Sentence Commuted

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has commuted the seven-year sentence of Brian Aitken, the man wrongfully convicted on firearms charges under that state’s draconian gun laws. Good.

While a full pardon seems more appropriate – the judge in this case should have given the jury instructions on the “moving exception” that protected Aitken – this is at least recognition of an injustice and relief for one man and his family.

The New Jersey state judicial system’s webpage describes the grand jury’s function as “a screening mechanism to protect citizens from unfounded charges.” That didn’t happen in this case. For more on this phenomenon, read this Cato Policy Analysis, “A Grand Façade: How the Grand Jury Was Captured by the Government.”

For more Cato work on criminal justice, check out Tim Lynch’s excellent book, In the Name of Justice.

Will Governor Christie Pardon Brian Aitken?

Brian Aitken, a finance student at NYU and economic scholar at the Foundation of Economic Education, ran afoul of New Jersey’s draconian gun laws when he was arrested while transporting two handguns unloaded and locked in the trunk of his car.

After separating from his wife in 2008, Aitken moved from Colorado to his native home of New Jersey the end of that year, to be closer to his son.

Shortly thereafter, in January 2009, Aitken – according to one account – “became distraught, muttered something to his mother, and left his parents’ home in Mount Laurel, NJ,” after his ex-wife canceled a visit with their son.

At that point, his mother, who is a trained social worker, called the police out of concern. That’s when things went downhill for Aitken. After the police caught up with him, they determined he wasn’t a threat to his or anyone else’s safety, but proceeded to search his car anyway. Upon finding the guns, police pressed weapons charges against Aitken.

New Jersey law makes it nearly impossible to get a concealed carry license, and you can’t otherwise take a gun out of your home unless it is in connection with several enumerated exceptions. Moving from one residence to another is one of the exceptions. Aitken was in the process of moving; it took police over two hours to remove all of his possessions from the car before they found the two guns in the trunk.

The jury never heard about the moving exception, virtually guaranteeing Brian’s conviction.

Yet Judge Morley wouldn’t allow Aitken to claim the exemption for transporting guns between residences. He wouldn’t even let the jury know about it. During deliberations, the jurors asked three times about exceptions to the law, which suggests they weren’t comfortable convicting Aitken. Morley refused to answer them all three times. Gilbert and Nappen, Aitken’s lawyers, say he also should have been protected by a federal law that forbids states from prosecuting gun owners who are transporting guns between residences. Morley would not let Aitken cite that provision either.

Brian Aitken is currently serving seven years in a state prison. Now a website and Facebook page are asking Governor Chris Christie to pardon Aitken.

Gov. Christie has proven a sensible leader and shown political courage in taking on his state’s debt-ridden “Situation.” Here’s hoping that Christie, a former prosecutor, will see that Aitken’s continued imprisonment does nothing to serve the interests of justice.

The Ghailani Verdict

You’ve probably heard that a jury found Al Qaeda bomber Ahmed Ghailani guilty on only one out of 286 charges associated with the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.

A predictable debate followed. Glenn Greenwald cited the outcome as proof that the system works, while Liz Cheney, Debra Burlingame and Bill Kristol described the trial as a reckless experiment. Thomas Joscelyn called the trial a miscarriage of justice.

The most insightful commentary I’ve seen is over at Lawfare. Benjamin Wittes and Robert Chesney summed things up pretty well: “Trial in federal court didn’t work out the way the Obama administration wanted, but it wasn’t a disaster–and we can’t honestly say it worked out worse than the military commission alternative would likely have done.”

I’ve disagreed with Wittes on lawfare issues before, but he and Chesney are right on this case: (1) the defendant will serve a minimum of twenty years in jail, possibly life; (2) it’s not certain that the military commissions would have allowed evidence obtained by coercion (Charlie Savage also made this point in his article for the New York Times), (3) the conspiracy conviction in civilian court is solid on appeal, but not necessarily so in a military commission (conspiracy is not a traditional law of war violation, and three sitting Supreme Court justices have questioned its application in that forum); (4) the forum of conviction is less ripe for attack in courts of law and public opinion.

That’s a good outcome.