Cruel Intentions

20 Jul

July 20, 2011

NOTE: Make no mistake. I am not sympathetic AT ALL to the criminals I am about to talk about or the crimes they commit. Lock them all up and throw away the key, preferably into a deep body of water. Please also note that I am smart enough not to take anything I see on Matlock as legal fact. I am simply using Matlock as an example.

ALSO NOTE: Yes, I was watching Matlock and no, I am not a senior citizen.

I’ve written before about how much I love watching To Catch a Predator. A pervert shows up to see an underage kid and ends up sipping lemonade while Chris Hansen reads his chat log at him. Then he walks outside and a cop, totally unnecessarily wearing a ghillie suit, tackles him to the ground. A lot of people, however, have a problem with the show. These guys get charged with sending pornographic pictures to a minor, with having sexual chats with a minor, and with going to meet a child for sex among other charges. The problem is, they did none of that.

The pervs weren’t talking to a child online, they were talking to an adult decoy. They didn’t send pornography to a child, they sent it to an adult. And meeting a minor for sex? Impossible. The person they were meeting was an adult. (I am not going to get into the issue of entrapment. As far as I’m concerned, they got themselves into it.) So looked at objectively, they did nothing wrong. They had zero contact with a child. There was no child within a hundred miles of this crime.

At this point, I don’t need to tell you, I am no lawyer. (Though if I were I’d be the cool kind who sends Coast Guard helicopters to clients floundering in the bay.) So it seems to me that the laws are set up to punish intent. They thought they were talking to kids, they believed they were sending x-rated pictures to kids, they intended to drive out and wanted have sex with kids.

If that is what it takes to get these kid-touchers off the streets, fine. No problem here.

Fast-forward to last week. I was watching an episode of Matlock. A man for some reason wanted to kill his wife. He snuck into the house, went into the bedroom, and shot her. The police showed up and arrested him so of course he called Matlock. Too bad for him, but Matlock doesn’t take cases where the guy is guilty. (See why this is fiction? In real life lawyers would crawl out of the woodwork to defend him.) However, even though the cops had him dead to rights, they had to let him go.

When he shot his wife she was already dead.

Since you can’t kill a corpse, there was no murder. Other than possibly being charged with desecrating a dead body the guy committed no crime. He walked. (Of course this is TV so the sleaze went up the river for some other crime.)

So here’s my problem. The guy intended to kill his wife. He intentionally, premeditatedly, took a gun and shot her. How was he to know that someone beat him to it? Since the laws that govern people who prey on children are based on intent why isn’t this? This man had the same evil thoughts as a man who shoots his living wife. Does a mugger who steals an empty wallet get a different sentence than one who steals a wallet with $500?

I have the same problem with murder and attempted murder. Two men, unknown to and independent of each other, go into their apartments on opposite sides of town intending to murder their wives. Both wives are asleep. Each man aims his gun and shoots his wife in the chest. One wife dies and the husband is charged with murder. The other wife lives because the husband missed her heart by an inch and paramedics got there in time to save her. He gets charged with attempted murder. They both did the same thing. They both had the same intent. Should one man get a lesser charge and a lesser sentence because his wife got lucky and lived? Why is this guy catching a break? I say charge them both with murder.

Why do some laws punish action, not intent, while other laws punish intent and ignore action? Why can a man who intends to murder someone, but by some dint of chance fails, go free while a man who intends to molest a child but doesn’t (and in fact can’t) goes to jail?

Like I said, I am not a lawyer and I also don’t take legal advice from TV shows. I may have the situations wrong and I welcome comments or corrections about this.

HOWEVER, if you try to convince me that the perverts on Predator are not guilty, are entrapped, or if you in any way try to defend their actions I won’t even read it, let alone post your comment. Explain to me instead why an attempted murderer gets a break simply because he has lousy aim.

5 Responses to “Cruel Intentions”

  1. Thomas Stazyk July 20, 2011 at 12:44 am #

    I haven’t heard of that show but with respect to your question, what is the normal penalty for attempted murder vs. actual murder and do they differentiate between premeditated, etc. when they charge you with attempted murder? I never thought of it before but although it makes a huge difference to the victim, from a societal perspective there really isn’t that much of a difference between attempted murder and actual murder.

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    • bmj2k July 20, 2011 at 1:08 am #

      This is where some of the trouble lies. As far as I can tell, in general, premediatation comes into play in terms of muder (premeditated) vs manslaughter (not premeditated.) Of course there are all kinds of degrees and shades of grey within. As I am defining the question, the intent is the same in each case, and they are both premeditated. The only difference is that one victim is luckier than the other. To answer your question I actually went to the New York criminal code and honestly, I have no idea how to interpret it. It is all legalese. Although I have found that penalties for attempted murder can be as high as life those for murder, it generally carries a lesser penalty. I say both crimes should be equal.

      You hit it on the head from the societal persepctive. A killer and an attempted killer have the same thoughts, instincts, compulsion, however you defiine it. So if we preotect society from child molestors and never look at the “victim” (because there isn’t one) we must be doing it for society’s benefit. So why does society benefit from giving an unlucky killer a lesser sentence?

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  2. Joe McTee July 20, 2011 at 9:17 am #

    Can’t provide a good explanation of why this is. I’m in the same camp as you, asking WTF?

    Expanding on your analysis, I would argue that charging someone for attempted murder (or attempted pedophilia, as some want to do) is essentially rewarding incompetence.

    It would be interesting to see statistics on how many convicted of attempted murder who were eventually released went on to actually murder someone. Totally speculating, but if the number is significant, than an attempted murder charge could be seen as providing the person with a beginner’s permit.

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    • bmj2k July 20, 2011 at 12:22 pm #

      “rewarding incompetence” sums it up nicely.

      I tried looking into this a bit more deeply after the comments started and I found either legal explanations that were a bit beyond me or “explanations” from people who knew less than I do. I have not been able to find a case of murder and a comparable case of attempted murder to compare the penalties. Just thinking logically, the attempted murder penalty would have to be very strong to act as a deterrent, while the muder penalty would of course have to be heavy too. (This doesn’t even take into account all the extenuating circumstances and legal maneuvers.) Then there is the fact that juries do strange things sometimes. The best I can add are two facts. 1- The you can’t charge someone with murder without a dead body, which is the opposite of many of the pedophilia charges which have (in the cases of Perverted Justice and police stings) no victim at all. In other words, intent is paramount in pedo cases, but not attempted murder cases- but it does play into the severity of punishement and degree of attempted murder so it isn’t toally irrelevant. 2- In general, attempted murder penalties are less severe than murder. That is the one clear fact.

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  3. The Hook July 23, 2011 at 8:58 am #

    You’re actually a deep thinker!
    Who knew?
    Just kidding.

    Like

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