Friday, May 26, 2006

I Thought Justice Was Supposed To Be Blind

You've got to love our legal system. Or not. You've got to love how every high profile case is tried in the media before it reaches a courtroom. Or not. You've got to love how our innocent-until-proven-guilty system has become, at least often in the court of public opinion, guilty-until-proven-innocent. Or not.

Case #1 - A 50-year-old Nebraska man was convicted on two accounts of sexually assaulting a minor, a 12-year-old girl. His sentence? 10-years of probation and 4 months electronically monitored. The judge's reasoning - while the man deserved a long prison sentence for his crimes, at 5'1" he is too short to survive prison. Hmm, maybe he should have thought about that himself before he molested a 12-year-old girl!

Case #2 - Former Enron executives Ken Lay and Jeffrey Skilling were convicted of their roles in the company's collapse, charges including wire fraud, securities fraud, conspiracy and making false statements. Their actions helped lead to 25,000 Enron employees losing their jobs. Lay now faces up to 45 years in prison, Skilling up to 185. Okay, no problem here.

Case #3 - Martha Stewart serves 5 months in prison and 5 months of house arrest, and is placed on 2 years' probation for lying to prosecutors about her sale of some stock.

Case #4 -
Exhibit A: Former Florida teacher Debra Lafave admits to having sex with a 14-year-old boy in a school classroom, her home, and the back of a car while the boy's cousin was driving. Her lawyer claims she is "too pretty for prison" and she is initially sentenced to 3 years' house arrest, to be followed by 7 years' probation. Later the charges are completely dropped.
Exhibit B: Another former teacher, this time in West Virginia. Thirty-seven-year-old Toni Lyn Woods is evidently "not too pretty for prison," and is sentenced to 20 years for sexually assaulting four minors - all under age 16.

Evidently you can avoid prison if you're attractive enough, or short enough. I wonder what other qualifications apply. Seems like occassionally you may be able to avoid prison if you're rich and/or famous enough. But the other thing that came to my mind considering these and other similar cases was a question of how our society views these crimes. Do we think white-collar, corporate criminals who lie, cheat, and basically steal money are worse than those who steal the innocence of our youth? For any parents out there - would you rather have your pension or 401(k) taken away, or even lose your job, than to have a child sexually assaulted? Hopefully these cases are exceptions to the rule and will ultimately serve as wake-up calls to make sure these kinds of crimes do not go unpunished, or at least with more than the proverbial slap on the wrist.

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