nancy grace syndrome.

In another example of what I’ve come to call “Nancy Grace Syndrome”, a prosecutor team in Alabama has decided to charge someone with capital murder.

This one concerns the grandmother and stepmother of the little girl that collapsed and died after being forced to run outside for three hours after lying about taking a candy bar.

In my opinion (and I am most empathically not a lawyer, so take it for what it’s worth), the charge is a mistake. Just like in the Casey Anthony charge, the prosecution went for the big hammer based on perception and public outrage. In the end, they may be doing themselves and the public a huge disservice by overcharging the defendants and opening the possibility of letting them walk for the offense. (I believe that Casey Anthony’s prosecutor had charged her with manslaughter instead of Murder One, she would not be free right now. But a capital murder charge requires extraordinarily solid proof as to mindset and motive, and they failed to make the jury agree.)

I mentioned in my last post that I was on the receiving end of child abuse when I was a kid. I have no sympathy for child abusers at all, and I think what they did to that little girl was despicable and inexcusable. I think they all ought to go to prison for manslaughter and child abuse. But I don’t think the offense warrants capital murder charges because the prosecution will not be able to prove mens rea, and as a member of the defendant’s jury, I would vote to acquit.

(That is, of course, unless the prosecution had some truly extraordinary proof, something like a diary entry by the grandmother declaring a plan to kill her granddaughter through exercise for, I dunno, profit or something.)

Putting people to death is a big deal, and a capital murder charge requires rock-solid evidence. If that piece of garbage gets to walk, it’ll be on the prosecutor’s head. If we start putting people on death row based on the level of public outrage, sooner or later the yardstick for that most severe of punishments will get lowered, and before you know it, we hoist people from cranes in the village square like they do in Iran.

15 thoughts on “nancy grace syndrome.

  1. Nancy Grace syndrome Good name for it. Some wag once wrote that Nancy Grace would cheerfully seek the death penalty for jaywalking based on the testimony of a 90-year old man with macular degeneration.

    My good friend watches Good Morning America every day. When I see Nancy Grace on the show, I want to throw something heavy through the set.

  2. Windy Wilson says:

    I think First Degree Murder here is an impossible charge. The prosecutor persecutor has to prove beyond a resonable doubt that Granny wanted the grand daughter to die and so made her run.
    Criminal negligence, reckless disregard, all easier to prove, but they are not Murder One.
    Professor Brody, God rest him, said once, “just because something went wrong doesn’t mean somebody did wrong.”
    “She should have known of the danger” is not the standard for Murder absent some sort of Felony Murder rule or other such statute.

    This is an effort to enforce a level of perfection the government will not accept for its own actors, as can be seen when someone gets murdered when SWAT ninjas invade the wrong address to serve a no-knock drug warrant.

  3. Richard Keistler says:

    We like to flatter ourselves that somehow we’re more civilized than most of the rest of the world. However, we consider that a human life is worth only some prison time, which usually gets cut for good behavior. I’m no lawyer either, and I don’t support the death penalty. However, I also don’t believe in 20 years or less for killing someone. Thanks for your great posting, as always.

  4. John Holton says:

    Nancy Grace has a little trouble with the notion of “innocent until proven guilty”. She was a prosecutor in her lawyer days, which might explain it, but that isn’t an excuse. Even involuntary manslaughter is a bit of a stretch here. Negligent homicide, maybe.

  5. ILTim says:

    “This is an effort to enforce a level of perfection the government will not accept for its own actors, as can be seen when someone gets murdered when SWAT ninjas invade the wrong address to serve a no-knock drug warrant.”

    The rules have failed. They are complex, open to interpretation, and applied unevenly with great bias. I’ll be unsurprised when the first person is publicly executed for a first-time DUI earned on a routine speeding ticket, or for ‘sexual assault’ that involves only one witness testifying that you ‘looked’ at someone wrong.

  6. Ancient Woodsman says:

    Sorry to be so nit-picky, as I thoroughly enjoyed your previous post…but did you seriously mean that you are not “empathically” an attorney?

    If so, I’ll have to read this one again a few times & try to digest that concept in a different way.

  7. Jake says:

    I blame (partially) plea-bargaining. It’s become almost routine to charge Murder-1 and offer a plea of Manslaughter, even if the prosecutor knows he would never be able to get a conviction on just the Manslaughter charge. It’s just another example of why plea-bargaining should be banned as unconstitutional (PDF warning) (tl;dr summary: You’re being threatened with a more severe punishment for exercising your Constitutional right to trial than you would get for accepting the plea-bargain.).

  8. Sigivald says:

    Like the others, I can’t comprehend what the prosecutor’s thinking; even if he was only thinking of politics, “trying for capital murder and losing” is less effective, politically, than “getting jail-time for manslaughter”, I’d think…

    Jake: Your link is broken.

    (But I don’t think any court’s going to buy that argument, as expressed in your summary – a charge is not a punishment, for one thing.

    And if they attempt to make the charge more severe than the facts warrant, as we see here… they’re likely to fail completely.

    The prosecutor will argue that you’re being offered a reduced punishment from what they could try and get, if you plead guilty, and it’ll be hard to make the case that he’s wrong.)

  9. Jake says:

    Sigivald: http://www.cato.org/pubs/regulation/regv26n3/v26n3-7.pdf“>Try this one. It works better when I paste the right link, doesn’t it? 🙂

    IIRC, your arguments are addressed in the document I linked to. It’s not really meant to address the issue of overcharging as much as the inherent threat involved in any plea bargain.

  10. John Stephens says:

    Under Alabama law (Section 13A-5-40) any homicide where the victim is less than 14 years old is a capital offense. Homicide? Check. Victim under 14? Check. Alabama jury? Check. Grandma’s toast.

  11. In my opinion (and I am most empathically not a lawyer…)

    There is no “Murder One” in Alabama. This is an artifact of everybody thinking that the New York Criminal Code is the Uniform Code of American Justice because they watched Law & Order, which is why everybody talks like Sam Waterston when discussing criminal jurisprudence.

    If everything went down as the prosecution claims, according to Alabama Code, 13A-6-2-(2) (“Under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to human life, he or she recklessly engages in conduct which creates a grave risk of death to a person other than himself or herself, and thereby causes the death of another person.”) this is murder. Murdering a child in Alabama is a capital crime. QED.

    • Marko Kloos says:

      Wow. If that AL law doesn’t take into consideration intent/mens rea, it’s really super-broad and gives a prosecutor an awful lot of handle to which to affix an adapter.

      • How’s NH law read, just out of curiosity?

        • Marko Kloos says:

          We have capital murder (although the death penalty hasn’t been used in NH since 1939. The conditions are pretty boilerplate–killing of a cop, contract murder, killing during a kidnapping, stuff like that. Then there’s first-and second-degree murder. It seems to me that in NH, Granny would get charged with Second-Degree Murder:

          630:1-b Second Degree Murder. –
          I. A person is guilty of murder in the second degree if:
          (a) He knowingly causes the death of another; or
          (b) He causes such death recklessly under circumstances manifesting an extreme indifference to the value of human life. Such recklessness and indifference are presumed if the actor causes the death by the use of a deadly weapon in the commission of, or in an attempt to commit, or in immediate flight after committing or attempting to commit any class A felony.
          II. Murder in the second degree shall be punishable by imprisonment for life or for such term as the court may order.

      • (I’m not meaning to be overly sardonic, here; it’s just that I’ve probably been face-stomped by lawyers too many times in the last few years…😮 )

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