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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Rutgers Hate Crime Bias Charges Considered

See this breaking report tonight from the Star-Ledger of Newark, confirming what Crime, Politics and Policy predicted yesterday.

I repeat: The rush to judgment, the rush to charge the two Rutgers students with serious bias and possibly federal civil rights deprivation charges, seems destined to raise a risk that these students will be charged criminally and face the threat of incarceration, not for what they did, but for the assumed (and not provable) causal connection between those actions and the freshman's suicide.  It hardly seems fair to charge anyone with a crime because of the claim by people other than the victim as to the inferred -- and unprovable -- impact of certain acts (which are arguably not, or should not be, considered "crimes") upon that victim.  The purpose of the criminal law is to protect the public, deter truly criminal behavior and, to a lesser degree, exact retribution. 

There just seems too much of an emotional, and irrational, blood lust to punish two 18-year-olds for a grand stupidity, but whose acts can hardly be considered to have caused a suicide.  If causing humiliation to another person becomes a crime, there will be a long list of societal interactions which will have to be avoided in order to minimize one's risk of being charged.  

If there were crimes here, they may stem from the distribution of sexual activity, although even here there are First Amendment issues and questions even as to whether consent was or was not given, or even whether there was a valid expectation of privacy.  Beware of new laws that will likely be proposed to cover certain conduct at issue here, because these laws will almost certainly threaten to criminalize innocuous, benign acts or impose a standard of criminality that may hinge on the amorphous definitions and arbitrary emotions of certain people.  I fear we may move closer on the slippery slope to the day when one's regret after the fact becomes the predicate for another person being held criminally responsible.  When that happens we shall hardly be free, or happy.  

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