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Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Kidney For Your Freedom

Disturbing news from the Deep South: organ donation as a condition of one's freedom

Missisippi Governor Haley Barbour (also a likely 2012 presidential candidate and a former national Republican Party chairman in the 1990s) has granted an indefinite suspension of sentences for two sisters convicted of armed robbery in 1994. But there is a catch: one sister must donate a kidney to the other sister who is on dialysis.

Now, a suspension of sentence is not required but can be granted in the state's discretion; the state doesn't have to do it.  This sentence seems driven by the sisters in crime.  

The sisters' lawyer is quoted as saying the healthy sister volunteered to give up the kidney.   That makes Crime, Politics and Policy wonder what level of desperation people reach after 15 years in prison (perhaps an excessive sentence, but this was armed robbery, folks).  After all, plenty of people do many irrational -- or very coldly rational, if illegal -- things to avoid jail, or get out of one.  Especially hedge fund managers and others in the white-collar world who are accused of trading corporate secrets to hedge funds.

People like Winifred Jiau, arrested yesterday in the unfolding massive insider-trading hedge funds scandal and reported to have been warming up the car and having packed luggage when the FBI arrived.

Or former Symbol Technologies CEO Kobi Alexander, who was so afraid of an American federal prison (aka Club Fed) that he fled to the modern African nation of Namibia.  (Hmmm.  A different sort of prison, perhaps.)

Or people like Clint Eastwood and Telly Savalas from the classic movie Escape from Alcatraz.

Governor Barbour may be showing mercy by suspending the sentence, but it should not be conditioned with any organ donation.   Such actions should be against public policy.  If nothing else, they raise questions as to an Eighth Amendment violation on the basis of cruel and unusual punishment, in that conditioning freedom from incarceration on organ donation -- an act which can endanger the donor's life -- must be considered cruel punishment and at the very least would post a legal question that would survive motions to dismiss.

Eric Dixon is a New York lawyer.  Mr. Dixon has been practicing law since graduating from Yale Law School in 1994.  Mr. Dixon has substantial securities law compliance experience and handles complex investigations and other sensitive legal, personal and political matters for business and individual clients through Eric Dixon LLC.  Mr. Dixon is available for comment or consultation at 917-696-2442 and via e-mail at

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