The Duty to Rescue and the Registry for Caregivers: A Guest Post

We have recently featured several guest posts (here, here, and here) by the authors of a new book about criminal justice and the family called Privilege or Punish: Criminal Justice and the Challenge of Family Ties. The authors are Ethan Leib, who is a scholar-in-residence at Columbia Law School, and an associate professor of law at theUniversity of California-Hastings College of the Law; Dan Markel, the D’Alemberte Professor of Law at the Florida State University in Tallahassee; and Jennifer Collins, a professor of law at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem. Leib and Markel usually blog at Prawfs.com. Markel has offered to send interested parties a free PDF of their new book upon request. This is their final post, and we thank them for their stirring contributions.

The Duty to Rescue and the Registry for Caregivers
A Guest Post
By Jennifer Collins, Ethan J. Leib, and Dan Markel

In two previous posts, we examined laws exempting family members from prosecution for harboring fugitives and laws either granting or permitting sentencing discounts on account of one’s family status, ties, or responsibilities. These are two of the benefits defendants receive on account of their family status in the criminal justice system.

Today, we explore one of the burdens defendants face in the criminal justice system as a result of their family status. Specifically, we’ll look at the phenomenon of omissions liability, a legal doctrine which places criminal responsibility on certain persons because they didn’t do anything; they’re punished, in other words, because they had a duty to perform a relatively costless rescue, and they breached that duty. We will focus our discussion on the spousal obligation in particular.

The Law and Its Rationale

Generally speaking, most American citizens are under no obligation to rescue each other from peril. Two well-known exceptions to the rule in most jurisdictions (in the U.S.) exist: parents must make (relatively costless) efforts to save children, and spouses must make the same efforts to save each other.

Often people who try to handle serious charges on their own wind up with more serious convictions than those who engage a seasoned attorney to fight on their behalf. Hiring a Detroit domestic violence lawyer (DetroitCriminalLawyer.org) means having a strong advocate to defend you.

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Should Parents Get Sentencing Discounts? Our Third Freaky Post

By STEPHEN J. DUBNER

(Dan Markel) Yesterday afternoon, Ethan, Jennifer Collins and I had our third post up on the NYT’s Freakonomics Blog, following our two earlier posts  about our book Privilege or Punish. I’ve reprinted the post after the jump. Feel free to weigh in with comments here or there.

We have recently featured two guest posts (here and here) by the authors of a new book called Privilege or Punish: Criminal Justice and the Challenge of Family Ties. The authors are Ethan Leib, who is is a scholar-in-residence at Columbia Law School, and an associate professor of law at the University of California-Hastings College of the Law; Dan Markel, the D’Alemberte Professor of Law at the Florida State University in Tallahassee; andJennifer Collins, a professor of law at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem. Leib and Markel usually blog at Prawfs.com. Markel has offered to send interested parties a free PDF of their new book upon request. This is their penultimate post.

Should Parents Who Offend Receive Sentencing Discounts?

A Guest Post

By Jennifer Collins, Ethan J. Leib, and Dan Markel

Many states expressly tell judges to calibrate a sentence based, in part, on one’s family ties and responsibilities in sentencing offenders. Thus, offenders who are parents to minors or caregivers to spouses or elderly parents may, depending on the jurisdiction, be in a position to receive a sharp discount from the punishment they might otherwise receive. Not only does this pattern of sentencing discounts facilitate ad hoc disparities between offenders who are otherwise similarly situated across cases, but it also hastens to create inequalities between persons involved in the very same offense. Even in the generally more restrictive federal context, courts have found ways to extend discounts to offenders deemed to have extraordinary “family ties and responsibilities.”

Our view is that sentencing discounts for offenders with family ties require scrutiny and, in some cases, re-tailoring, and in other cases, rejection.

A person who commits a crime can reasonably foresee that, if prosecuted and punished, his punishment will affect not only himself but also his family. Extending a discount to an offender for a reason unrelated to his crime constitutes an undeserved windfall. In addition, giving benefits to defendants with family ties in the currency of sentencing discounts will also, on the margin, incentivize this class of defendants to seek out greater criminal opportunities, or they will be recruited or pressed into action by others.

Still, incarcerating a defendant with significant family responsibilities unquestionably imposes tremendous costs on innocent family members, and those costs are most severe when the defendant is an irreplaceable caregiver to vulnerable family members. Therefore, although we advance the unusual position — taken primarily and unpopularly by the federal government’s sentencing guidelines — that, ordinarily, a defendant’s family ties and responsibilities should not serve as a basis for a lighter sentence, we are sensitive to the serious arguments made by proponents of sentencing departures for those with significant and irreplaceable care-giving responsibilities. These arguments merit attention and amplification.

What About the Children?

Contacting a Detroit Criminal Lawyer – DetroitCriminalLawyer.org – is one of the first steps you must take if you or a loved one has been arrested, whether it is for a misdemeanor or felony.  A criminal record can wreak havoc in your life, whether you have been only arrested or convicted.

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Pre Crime: Why are we so confident that we can prevent acts of terrible violence?

(Jonathan Simon) As politicians and officials in Washington (state) and Arkansas battle over who should have stopped Maurice Clemmons before he apparently shot to death four Washington state police officers outside a strip mall coffee shop near Tacoma last weekend before being shot dead by Seattle police, we can observe a very enduring if not endearing American obsession– our conviction that we might have stopped the tragedy (read William Yardley’s summary of the blame game in the NYTimes).  Clemmons, sent to prison with a hundred year plus term for violent crimes as a teenager, received clemency and parole from then Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee (who made no secret of his religious belief in the possibility of redemption and change).  Both Washington State and Arkansas officials appear to have missed opportunities (in retrospect) to turn up the control pressure on Clemmons.  More should be learned over the next news cycle or two.  

As an overall trait, this American confidence that better technique and method could stop violence is largely admirable, small “d” democratic, and great for the criminal law and policy reform business (which includes fairly or not, academics).  Overall it may make us prone to waves of generally temporary civil liberties destruction in the name of personal security (as we have seen).  My objection, however, is limited to two points.

First, our obsession with the “recidivist”.  Once we have sent someone to prison it seems maddening to Americans that we cannot guarantee they will remain tame forever after.  This leads us to keep too many people in prison, for too long (something that this and other recent crimes will only stroke); blind to the fact that the odds of any particular ex-prisoner committing a violent crime are scarcely, if at all, measurably different from other non ex-prisoners with similar demographic circumstances.  Ironically, the one trait that really may help us track future violence–evidence of major mental illness combined with acts of violence–seems to be largely ignored by our criminal justice system (which accords it little measure of mercy or forewarning).

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Crime Decline Conundrum

(Jonathan Simon) With aviation terrorism and a still lackluster employment market dominating year end headlines, the one piece of good news appears to be a fairly widespread decline in homicides in major cities. New York, as trumpeted in yesterday’s NYtimes (read Al Baker’sreporting) had a year with fewer homicides than any year since 1963 (essentially before the modern crime wave was evident). San Francisco also reported a record drop (read Jaxon Van Derbenken’s article in the SFChron) to as low as the city has seen since 1961 (take that New York), and after a series of rather violent years in the middle of this decade. Chicago and LA have also reported declines this year. Providence, was one of the few cities reporting a homicide “spike,” with the addition of two dead this week in a drug raid that also left three police officers wounded (read W. Zachary Malinowski’s reporting in the Providence Journal). This is good news in a year with little of it. 

The journalistic lead is that this is happening despite a severe recession (the man bites dog angle). Whatever the intuitive appeal to the notion that bad times generate crime, few criminologists believe it is a clean relationship. In many respects, times are always bad in those communities that experience the highest levels of crimes like homicide, aggravated assault, and robbery. This, not surprisingly, does not stop police chiefs and mayors from claiming credit (at least if they’ve been on the job for more than six months) whatever the hazard that their policies might be blamed when crime begins its inexorable return (like most gambles, it probably makes sense in the short term context of political survival). But even criminologists, this one included, are not immune from believing that, combined with the substantial crime declines of the 1990s, and the relative stability of crime through most of this decade, this end of decade crime decline could mark a longer term shift away from the pattern of high levels of gun violence concentrated in cities that has defined urban life for the much of the past forty years. What would drive such change? Here is a New Year’s speculation list of the top three “positive” factors underlying declines in urban domestic violence

May they all continue in 2010!

1. Bottoming out of the de-industrialization of American cities that began in 1946 and continued through the 1980s. Even if new economic engines of prosperity have not exactly re-emerged in many cities, the process of losing existing assets has run its course. 

2. Demographic diversification of urban neighborhoods through immigration and in-migration of suburbanites fleeing unsustainable lifestyles.

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