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Pills (white rabbit)

The story of Jared Loughner is one of tragedy and it is continuing even though the surviving victims of his rampage are healing. Yesterday District Court Judge Larry Burns ruled that continued treatment of Mr. Loughner would be able to make him competent to stand trial.

Loughner has been diagnosed as having schizophrenia and is currently being treated with mandatory medication as part of his pre-trial incarceration. The current crop of anti-psychotic drugs have a good record of bringing people with this mental illness to a relatively normal state, but that is where the problem arises for me.

There is no doubt that Mr. Loughner’s apparent actions on in the shooting rampage are horrific in the truest sense of the word. He is charged with 48 counts ranging from attempted assassination to murder to gun crimes. It is also pretty clear that he actually perpetrated these crimes.

At the same time, it is also clear that he was in a state of metal illness at the time he allegedly planned and committed these acts. This is backed up by the fact that he was found incompetent to stand trial and remanded to a prison to be treated for his mental illness.

So here is the question; is it just to bring him to a more normal mental state (if that is even possible) in order that he can stand trial for crimes committed when he was in such a state that he could not be tried for these actions?

There has been a long recognized tenet of law that if someone is insane that they should not be held responsible for their actions. However, this tenet has been consistently eroded as the bar that one has to pass to use this defense has been raised. The current standard is that the defendant understood at the time of the crime that their action was wrong.

Things that prosecutors use to get around the mental defect standard are planning, remorse, and statements to the affect that the defendant had some inkling that this was not an acceptable action. The problem here is that people like Jared Loughner don’t have the same standards that the rest of the world has for judging their own actions. It is part and parcel of their mental illness.

Schizophrenics’ are often paranoid. They generally are withdrawn but if they are untreated their illness can spiral into a psychotic break and then things really get bad. Once this happens their tentative touch with reality can slip altogether and they can lash out violently. This may be what happened to Jared Loughner.

If Mr. Loughner was so stressed and paranoid that he felt he had to act out, even if he knew is was wrong, is that enough to make a clearly disturbed person responsible for his actions?

I tend to come down on the side of no. This is not saying that he should just be allowed to walk free. He is obviously a person that is a danger to society and probably himself. We can not just ignore this kind of threat, but is incarceration or even execution the right and just course?  

This is a dichotomy that our legal system is ill equipped to deal with. There is a need to enforce laws, and there is a need to protect the public, but there is also an overriding need for our laws to be enforced justly. There is a big difference between justice and revenge.

Law, in its purest form is about balance. It is an attempt to balance power, to balance harm, to balance interest and all sides have to be taken into account if there is to be true balance and thus justice.

Society has an interest in not having Mr. Loughner do anything like this again. The victims and their families have an interest in seeing the man who gunned them down pay for his crimes. These are powerful motivators, but they can’t be allowed to push us to revenge instead of justice. And all of that is before we get into the political dimension of this.

While Mr. Loughner is being prosecuted on Federal charges, it is almost certain that he will be brought up on State charges as well when this case concludes. Prosecutors at the State level are elected and there will be a huge amount of pressure to “punish” him for his acts, regardless of the circumstances of his mental illness at the time.

If a prosecutor finds that this young man was mentally ill when he committed these acts, then you can rest assured that his political opponent will bring it up in the very next election. It is how we get into situations like the recent execution of Troy Davis.

 Even when there is shoddy evidence and recantations of eyewitnesses there is pressure to keep the verdict and be as tough as possible on people who are convicted of committing crimes like the killing of police officers. This is often done in the name of closure.

So again we come to the question, what is just for us as a society to do with people like Jared Loughner? Is it right to give them medications, often against their will, to bring them to a normal state of mind, only to be able to try them and possibly give them the death penalty?

If that is the outcome, is it then just to execute someone who would not be sane without serious medication?

I think that justice would best be served if he were indeed incarcerated, but not at a normal prison. He has committed crimes, but to one degree or another those crimes sprung from his illness. He was not robbing banks, or selling drugs because he was schizophrenic, he went out and shot people. A repeat of that has to be prevented at all costs. Still we can not treat him like a average criminal and put him in a normal prison. It would not be just.

The floor is yours.  

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tips? Flames? (19+ / 0-)

    So where do you come down on this issue of justice? What is the right balance?

    Getting Democrats together and keeping them that way is like herding cats that are high on meth, through L.A., during an earthquake, in the rain -6.25, -6.10

    by Something the Dog Said on Thu Sep 29, 2011 at 05:45:45 AM PDT

  •  There Used To Be "Mental Hospitals" (5+ / 0-)

    ...flawed as they were at least we had facilities for people like Loughner.
    No easy answer. Seems like life in prison would be best outcome.

    Existence is no more than the precarious attainment of relevance in an intensely mobile flux of past, present, and future.~~~ Susan Sontag

    by frandor55 on Thu Sep 29, 2011 at 06:26:23 AM PDT

  •  Life in prison (6+ / 0-)

    without the possibility of parole. Clearly, Loughner was mentally ill - this was not an act of political terror - but rather the actions of a sick man with an obsession that was twisted by his own disease. Culpability still remains though, if lessened, and in the interest of justice I think being remanded to a prison - preferably with mental health care - for the remainder of his life would be fitting.

  •  I should also add (3+ / 0-)

    This diary is very good, measured approach. I just wish that the public and the justice system will take the same concept instead of throwing things out for the sake of revenge and 'swift justice'.

    Oh well.

  •  Great Essay, but all your links (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Something the Dog Said

    are broken.  Can you fix them?

    "I speak the truth, not as much as I would, but as much as I dare, and I dare a little the more, as I grow older." --Montaigne

    by DrLori on Thu Sep 29, 2011 at 06:38:15 AM PDT

  •  A: Yes. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    wilderness voice

    Our constitution requires it.  Guilt or innocence--and thus his incarceration--must be decided by a jury through a trial of evidence tending to prove or disprove his guilt.  This is protected in the constitution by writs of habeas corpus.

    He has to be able to understand and appreciate the proceedings, otherwise the trial would be a sham.  

  •  I agree that he should be (5+ / 0-)

    incarcerated, but in a hospital, not a prison.  He's ill.

    What I don't get (and we talked about this on fb) is why waste the money to show that he was not aware when committed the crimes if he requires antipyschotics to understand what's going on at trial?  Isn't that sort of prima facie evidence that he was not in possession of his faculties at the time?

    Craziness abounds!


    Republicans chap my ass


    by Marc in KS on Thu Sep 29, 2011 at 06:41:17 AM PDT

  •  First question (3+ / 0-)

    Should we allow anyone to choose to refuse their medications if by making that choice they become dangerous?

    Not all schizophrenics are violent, of course. So it's not quite "take this pill or you'll kill someone".

    But since in general we try to restore all schizophrenics who lose control to sanity, I find that we can go ahead and treat Jared Loughner. If they found a person wandering the streets naked shouting bizarre stuff, they'd probably be treated, even if they had harmed no one.

    In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice; but in practice, there always is a difference. - Yogi Berra

    by blue aardvark on Thu Sep 29, 2011 at 07:05:39 AM PDT

    •  Okay, but then is is just to try them for (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      actions they committed while in a state that can only be treated with heavy duty drugs and not always effectively?

      Getting Democrats together and keeping them that way is like herding cats that are high on meth, through L.A., during an earthquake, in the rain -6.25, -6.10

      by Something the Dog Said on Thu Sep 29, 2011 at 07:07:06 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  It is just to try him and ascertain (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        whether or not he committed those actions. We should determine whether or not JL Loughner was indeed the gunman - because if he didn't fire those shots, we need to know who did. I think the symbolic value of holding a fair trial even for such a horrific crime is important, and a fair trial is probably only possible if JLL is treated for his schizophrenia.

        The fact of his schizophrenia should be attested in court and used appropriately under Arizona law.

        In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice; but in practice, there always is a difference. - Yogi Berra

        by blue aardvark on Thu Sep 29, 2011 at 07:24:26 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  There has been such an evolution (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Something the Dog Said, lgmcp

    in the law re: insanity as a criminal defense it is unclear to me where exactly it stands in each state.

    There's guilty but insane (determines where the defendant is sentenced -- a psych hospital or psych ward in a prison) and Not guilty by reason of insanity (but still can be incarcerated in a mental institution -- see, e.g. John Hinckley).  

    The verdict in Hinckley led to legislation re: use of the insanity defense -- which basically shifts the burden from the prosecutor to the defense re: demonstrating that the defendant was severely mentally ill at the time of the crime.  Sanity or apparent sanity at the time of trial should not be considered (even though we know jurors will sub-consciously or consciously take that into consideration).

    Vi er alle norske " My faith in the Constitution is whole; it is complete; it is total." Barbara Jordan, 1974

    by gchaucer2 on Thu Sep 29, 2011 at 07:24:20 AM PDT

  •  Major conundrum (4+ / 0-)

    if he commited the crime without mental ability to comprehend his acts were wrong (and that is interpreted very narrowly by the law of most states), then the law says he can't be convicted of a crime.

    But if he becomes sane later, I can't see how that confers mental ability at the time of the crime and provide a basis for guilt just because he understands now that he shouldn't have done what he did back then.  It might make it possible to try him but not vitiate the insanity defense.

    Mostly, if he is returned to sanity, is it right to keep him in a mental institution?   If his sanity depends on drugs that he could voluntarily quit, does the law require his release in the hopes that he keeps taking the drugs?  Many states make it harder to get out of the mental institution than prison.

  •  I have to agree w/ those above- (2+ / 0-)

    Life, without possibility of parole, and continuous medical treatment.

    It's the very least we owe the victims, so that he can't hurt anyone again.

    "Look at this; I'm a coward too; You don't need to hide, my friend; For I'm just like you" - Monster/Sprite (Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites - Skrillex)

    by AZ Independent on Thu Sep 29, 2011 at 07:38:27 AM PDT

  •  Yes I think it is just to return someone to sanity (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    wilderness voice

    so that they can stand trial. The issue at a trial will be if he was sane enough at the time he committed the crimes to understand that what he was doing was wrong. But first we have to return him to a level of sanity that he can understand his legal rights and comprehend what is happening at a trial. When he shot 19 people he gave up his freedom to make his own choices and entitled society to make choices for him. Otherwise society has no defense or protection from this type of violent insanity.

    "People just do the strangest things when they think they're entitled. But they do even stranger things when they just plain believe" - Agent Joseph Keenan, Red State.

    by Dave in AZ on Thu Sep 29, 2011 at 08:02:36 AM PDT

  •  The Loughner case is a good example ... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Something the Dog Said

    ... of why the death penalty needs to be abolished. I was particularly struck by the diarist's question ...

      "... Is it right to give them medications, often against their will, to bring them to a normal state of mind, only to be able to try them and possibly give them the death penalty?"

    Jared Loughner's crimes were horrific, and there seems little doubt that a jury would find him guilty of committing them. That being said, his obvious mental illness at the time he shot his victims should be a mitigating factor in what sentence he gets.

    "Guilty but insane," as gchaucer2 notes in these comments, would appear to be a reasonable verdict that serves the cause of justice here, both in the sense that it penalizes the offender for his actions and and protects society from the defendant while also providing a way to do so without resorting to "cruel and unusual punishment." However, as long as the defender risks being executed by the state, there is a more difficult bar for courts to cross when it comes to ordering treatment.

    Of course, there are other factors that influence how defendants are treated: gender, race, and financial status being among the most important in determining both how "fair" a trial is and how "just" a sentence is imposed in terms of what happens after a verdict of guilty. That's a topic for another day but I suspect a look at the Troy Davis, Andrea Yates and Debra LaFavre cases could shine a light on that issue.

    "Only killing shows killing doesn't pay." - Phil Ochs, "Iron Lady," circa 1965

  •  Depends on what the purpose of prison is (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Something the Dog Said

    we just talked about this in my class...

    If the Hobbesian view of things is accepted, it is intended to segregate evildoers from society and then punish them by setting an example for others of what will happen is a crime is committed.

    If the Locke-ian view is accepted, or the original purpose of prisons, it is intended to segregate those members of society who have committed criminal acts so that they can be reformed and improved so that they can become productive members.

    Loughner is mentally ill.  His act was horrible, but it appears that in his natural state, he is unable to be held accountable for his crimes.  Drugging him will not produce the same person who committed the acts.  By drugging him so that he can stand trial and be punished, we would be following the Hobbesian view--justice demands punishment.  Calling Rick Perry.

    However, if we really accept what Locke believed and the thought that went into the creation of prisons, he gets treatment and, if at some stage can be proven not to be a threat to himself or others, he gets released under supervision.


    Buck up--Never say die. We'll get along! Charlie Chaplain, Modern Times (1936).

    by dizzydean on Thu Sep 29, 2011 at 08:32:58 AM PDT

    •  the problem with this (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      is that  on many occasions convicts who were judged to no longer be a threat have again committed murder and other crimes upon their release.  So it cannot be proven someone is no longer a threat.

      Scientific Materialism debunked here

      by wilderness voice on Thu Sep 29, 2011 at 08:56:43 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Well, that's anecdotal evidence in a system (0+ / 0-)

        that is not focused on reform, so I would argue your premise doesn't work.  Additionally, since we are dealing with humans, of course they might still do some bad thing, but should that justify the system as it is right now?

        Buck up--Never say die. We'll get along! Charlie Chaplain, Modern Times (1936).

        by dizzydean on Thu Sep 29, 2011 at 01:03:08 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Certainly he must be incarcerated (0+ / 0-)

    though I don't even know if such as thing as "prisons for the criminally insane" still exist.   If they do, I would anticipate that they are a LESS desirable living environment than a common-or-garden prison.  

    "The extinction of the human race will come from its inability to EMOTIONALLY comprehend the exponential function." -- Edward Teller

    by lgmcp on Thu Sep 29, 2011 at 10:16:21 AM PDT

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