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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Jail Time For Failing To Predict Quake

Leave it to the legal savants in Italy to show the Western world how to use the legal system to encourage expert knowledge.

An Italian court has sentenced six seismologists and geologists, plus one government official, to six years in jail for their "failure to warn" of an impending earthquake in 2009 in which more than 300 people died.

This is an example of overcriminalization.  This movement is occurring in the United States as well; the difference is that "negligence" is now being transformed into the "criminal intent" which remains an essential element of most crimes.  This movement has opened the door for prosecutorial and judicial second-guessing of legitimate, good-faith judgments.  However, when courts and prosecutors seek to punish experts for what amounts to bad luck -- particularly in the earthquake-prediction game which is by no means clear science -- one can be sure of this different prediction: massive retirements by scientists, doctors, engineers and other experts with advanced knowledge in their fields who will rightfully fear that they will be held criminally accountable for "bad luck" or "acts of God" by courts seeking to inflict retribution on a mantra of "someone's gotta pay."

Eric Dixon is a corporate, business and investigative attorney who practices in New York, New Jersey and elsewhere.  Mr. Dixon is a member of the board of directors of the Financial Policy Council think tank.

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