I must be missing something

December 23, 2003

From today's New York Times I see a case of a kid who committed an arson, was prepared to plead guilty in state juvenile court, but was instead sentenced in federal court and has had the book thrown at him: 30 months imprisonment in a maximum security juvenile facility designed for kids who were uncontrollable in other institutions.

The article suggests that the outrageous prosecution and sentencing came because the arson was in a boathouse storing a boat engine used by George H.W. Bush.

It suggests, it does not prove. In fact, the article is maddeningly incomplete - the parents of the child are withholding last names, the Secret Service has a policy against commenting on protective matters, and the only information the reporter could confirm was a discrepency between the procedures in the state level and the explanation given for moving the case to the federal level.

If the case is as the article suggests, and remember that even the best news reports are only about 70% accurate, then this is a travesty of justice. Law and the rule of law depends on procedure. All people should have the same rights, the same process, and the same expected punishment. In theory, at least, you should be punished for the act you committed and not the status of the person you acted upon.

Now, as anyone who looks at Death Row can clearly see, the status of the victim does have a real-world impact. But it should not. More, it appears that the Ashcroft Justice Department decided to alter procedure in order to punish what it saw as an act of lese majeste. I might be blinded by my dislike of Ashcroft, but this looks to me like rule by men and not rule by law. And that is just wrong.

EDIT
The Curmudgeonly Clerk (see left) by email gave my some very useful context. I now suspect that the story is as much about middle class entitlement (how DARE my child be subjected to the same sorts of penalties as those nasty poor people) as it is about prosecutorial vendettas or presidential protectors run amock. I still want to know more about the story.

Posted by Red Ted at December 23, 2003 09:55 AM | TrackBack