"What reasons do you need to be shown?"

>> Monday, April 22, 2013

And they can see no reasons
'Coz there are no reasons
What reasons do you need to be shown?
-Bob Geldof, "I Don't Like Mondays" (1979)


I don't want to get too far off-topic, but I suppose that particular elephant in the corner needs to be examined and discussed, though I'm only going to do this briefly.  The short version of Miranda is that statements made by a criminal defendant in response to questions asked of him while he was in custody are not admissible against him unless he was advised of certain Constitutional rights, most famously the right to remain silent and the right to be represented by counsel.  So there are three things there, and if one of them is missing, there's typically not a Miranda issue: (1) an attempt to introduce the defendant's prior statements during his trial; (2) the defendant was being interrogated when he made the statement; (3) the defendant was in custody.  If the defendant wasn't in custody, the usual rules about out-of-court statements--i.e. the evidence rules regarding hearsay--apply, not Miranda.  If the defendant wasn't being questioned--e.g. if he just blurted out a confession to fill the deafening silence in the back of the police car (this happens, yes)--no Miranda issue.  If the defendant was sitting on the stoop and the cop just happened to stop by to make some small talk, and happened to ask the defendant, "Oh, by the way, you know anything about Slim getting shot last night?" and the defendant says something incriminating, no Miranda.
 
And at the bottom of all this: introducing the defendant's statements at trial.  The example I always give: let's say you shoot up a McDonald's, and the police arrest you and question you and you go into a whole long sermon about how you got the guns and hate McDonald's and hate the people who go to McDonald's and how you planned this thing for years, etc., etc., etc.--and they forgot, somehow, to Mirandize you and now the cop can't read your sermon to the jury--well, this doesn't mean they can't prosecute you, it just means the cop can't read your statement to the jury.  The security video, the eyewitness testimony of the survivors, the Medical Examiner reports, the gunshot residue tests that were performed on your hands and face and clothes, any and all evidence (aside, perhaps, from something they picked up solely as a result of your illegally-obtained confessions)--all of that still comes in just like it normally would.  The only reason a failure to Mirandize leads to an outright dismissal is a situation where your confession is all they have.

One more thing--and now I'm way off topic, but I might as well finish this--Miranda is about the police officer sitting up on the witness stand and testifying that yes, he spoke to the defendant on such-and-such a date, and on that date he asked the defendant certain questions and the defendant said this-and-that.  And then this-and-that, the defendant's statement, is being used to help pin the crime on him.  But it isn't about whether a defendant's statement can be brought to the jury's attention in other contexts; specifically, if the defendant testifies, Miranda doesn't keep the prosecutor from using a suppressed statement for the purposes of impeaching the defendant on the stand, that is, from asking the defendant if he's now saying he didn't even know the victim, why did he tell Detective Schnitzel he shot the victim eleven times, stabbed him and set him on fire for looking at him funny?  Technically, this use of the statement isn't being offered to prove the defendant shot, stabbed, and burned the deceased, only to demonstrate to the jury that Mr. Defendant is not a reliable witness as he keeps changing his story around, etc., but, you know: we all know the jury is unlikely to consider the defendant's prior statements solely for the purposes of impeachment and disregard them for the purposes of determining the truth of the matter asserted.
 


None of this was what I wanted to write about, or why I started this post with a line from a Boomtown Rats song.  I should start over--
 
 
And they can see no reasons
'Coz there are no reasons
What reasons do you need to be shown?
-Bob Geldof, "I Don't Like Mondays" (1979)

 
I've seen a sentiment going around, on Facebook, on at least one friend's blog, here and there that they don't really want to know why the bombers did what they did.  Which I understand, because, as they say, there's no justification for what they did.  And I also understand it because I suspect--this is only a gut feeling that might be proven thoroughly and completely wrong--I suspect that the Marathon bombers have more in common with Brenda Ann Spencer or Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold than with any bona fide al-Qaeda veteran; I suspect that the reason, the real reason, they did what they did had to do with some loose wire in their brain finally shorting out, that even if they gussied up their murder plan with a facade of poorly-thought out ideology what really mattered more than anything else was just killing and wounding a lot of people just because they were there.

But all of this is why I want to know why they did what they did.  Or why they say they did it, which may be something completely different yet nevertheless illuminating.

For one thing, I could be wrong.  Maybe these guys really were hardcore ideologues fighting an unconventional war without really telling anyone.  Which, by the way, would make them criminals.  Which brings up another thing, and that is that why they did it--or why they think they did it or why they say they did it--might be crucial in knowing what to do with them.  I keep saying "they" when there's only one known suspect alive and in custody: for the purposes of this discussion, I'm assuming the suspect is probably guilty and I'm considering that there might be uncaught co-conspirators, and I'm also too lazy to go back and forth between "they" when two suspects were alive and "he" when only one might go to trial.  If he goes to trial, which is back to the point: you realize, of course, that if the surviving suspect is incapable of proceeding to trial, he won't be tried until he is deemed competent (if ever); if he offers up a singularly irrational reason for whatever he did, it won't be evidence by itself that he's incapable of understanding the proceedings or assisting counsel, but it might point in those directions (e.g. he insists he only planted bombs to strike against the Mole Men, thus he cannot stand trial because the Mole Men control America's courtrooms, nor will he collaborate with the Mole Man appointed to "assist" him in his own crucifixion).

And whether these guys were medically or legally sane or either or neither, I see value in data.  Yeah, I want to know why they say they did it, not because it would justify the murders of Krystle Campbell, Lü Lingzi, Martin Richard and Sean Collier, or the maiming of at least fourteen people and injuring of nearly two hundred, or the casting of a pall of sorrow and fear over the land.  I want to know because at best knowing might give us a piece of evidence towards preventing these horrors and at worst is merely harmless.  Maybe they can't be prevented, I don't know; but that's the point, isn't it?  That I don't know.  That we don't.

What reason do you need to be shown, Bob?  Gods.  You're right: there are no reasons, because some things are just inexplicable.  But that doesn't mean we don't try to explain, that we don't try to construct our own narratives out of the inexplicable.
 
True narratives, hopefully: we try to construct narratives from the misinformation and chaos following the death of John Kennedy, for instance, and we end up with garbage in and garbage out and millions of Americans apparently believing Dallas, November 1963 was a grand convocation of every intelligence agency and criminal conspiracy and banana republic in the world and nobody noticed all the Mafiosos and Cubans and KGB and CIA agents bumping shoulders until they started opening fire from every rooftop, open sewer, fence and bump in the grass with line of sight to the motorcade; maybe if that little egomaniac Ruby hadn't decided to be some kind of vigilante "hero" we'd have been able to hear enough of Lee Oswald's self-aggrandizing narcissistic horseshit from his own mouth to realize no secret cabal on Earth would trust the guy with a water pistol, but instead we've had fifty years of stories about false autopsies, impossible bullets, and guys who couldn't successfully break into an office building on their third try without being caught by the rent-a-cop getting credit for the crime of the century.

So we try to learn and understand.  And if we're lucky, we get enough facts--including the fact of why someone thought he did what he did--and maybe that narrative educates us in a way that allows us to do something about the next lunatic before he hurts someone.  And if we're not lucky... well, we still can settle for the truth, or whatever passes for it in an unstable and uncertain universe.  We can ask each other how messed up can things be and attempt to spin sense from nonsense, signal from noise.


1 comments:

John the Scientist Tuesday, April 23, 2013 at 11:25:00 AM EDT  

Amen, and well said. Maye we don't konw enough about the human mind to predict this sort of shit, but someday I think we will, and every bit of data we collect brings us closer to that day. Never, ever leave data on the table. Really, collecting data and making observations is how we have arrived at our imperfect knowledge of mental illness that we have now, rather than relying on the time honored explanation of demon posession.

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