On the Law, Lawlessly

It’s no secret that our justice system is a weak and broken beast. The laws that govern us (to a certain extent) are the products of a demonstrated need, and yet they provide countless loopholes and the ever-present problem of interpretation. They are further proof that all things well intended suffer from equivalent potential for ill intent.

The laws we abide by are meant to provide us with a guide for living, but more than that, a guide for our own behaviors and interactions with others. The lure of the law lies in the illusion of safety that it provides, in the clear demarcation of right vs. wrong. However, the punishments imposed as a means of failure to follow the law, which once loomed over the populous as the ultimate deterrent, have lost their luster, their ability to strike fear into the hearts of citizens.

Why is that?

Well, part of the blame rests with lawyers. They’re intelligent creatures, capable of doing great good in the world, but they often turn into legislators and judges. Not that all legislators or judges are bad people (to be honest, I’d love nothing more than to hold court and render stunning opinions), but they can fall victim to the lure of their own convictions, disregarding the spirit of the law and the best interests of their constituents in favor of their own political advancement.

Part of the blame rests with the people, who call for more laws to be written in response to events that upset them. More laws don’t help clean up existing laws that aren’t working; instead, we find ourselves buried under the oppressive crush of laws that govern our every moment. The good news is that these laws contradict themselves in such a manner that if you have a proper legal team, you can throw enough chaos into the mix and walk away scot-free.

So while it may be illegal to kill someone, it’s not actually a firm black and white thing. Mitigating circumstances have long existed, of course, but now we’ve entered an era of self-righteous self-defense.

In Texas, it’s like this:

“The Texas provision authorizes deadly force not only to “retrieve stolen property at night” but also during “criminal mischief in the nighttime” and even to prevent someone who is fleeing immediately after a theft during the night or a burglary or robbery, so long as the individual “reasonably” thinks the property cannot be protected by other means.” – source here

This is why the internet now finds itself upset at Texas (that’s not new), enraged that a jury could find a man who killed someone not guilty by reason of shitty lawmaking and a thin defense that shouldn’t have held up. One of my lawyer friends applied reason (pssh, reason? This is Texas, there is no reason) to counter my annoyance by stating that it is the law, the lawmakers, and the jury who all did exactly what they were supposed to do here. The jury followed the law.

I see his point, but he’s wrong. It used to be legal to rape your wife. Just doing it because it’s the law doesn’t make me feel any better and it doesn’t make it right. As a juror, you’re obligated to follow the law, but have we not spent years debating whether or not we should be following the letter of the law or its spirit?

We live in a society that’s used to broad application of excuses as a way to escape punishment or to justify horrifying behavior (Patriot Act, anyone?). We live in a society that simultaneously glorifies pseudo-piety and hyper-masculine aggression. It’s a funny line between the righteous and the hypocrite, in the same way that the Pharisees were the paragons of virtue back in the day.

Regardless, here’s what happened in Texas:

Man is on Craigslist. Man hires escort to come over and hang out. Man is presumably excited – he “believes” that sex is going to occur. Escort comes over, no one comes. Man is upset about the lack of sex. He demands the money ($150) back from escort. Escort says no, gets into waiting car. Man shoots at the car, injuring escort. Escort dies some months later. Man is charged with murder. Man goes trial. Lawyers claim that it’s legal to shoot someone who’s absconding with your property. Jurors are idiots, rule not-guilty. Prosecutors are also idiots, should have shot holes through that defense. (See what I did there?)

That deadly force law is ridiculous and should never have been passed. At what point did lawmakers not see that this was going to be a terrible law? At what point did it come to pass that a dude who shoots an alleged hooker can walk away from it?

My suggestion was this:

I would like to see valuation limits (or minimums?) of property established so that even though it may be legal to use deadly force to recover stolen property, you won’t be able to use that as a weak defense for murdering someone over $150. I know, I know, “what is the value of a human life?”, “how can we quantify sentimental value?” and so on, but come on, killing an escort over $150 because she wouldn’t have sex with you should not be justifiably legal in any way.

And – going further – how did the defense justify that he had been robbed (thus giving him the theft that allowed him to shoot her) while still holding onto the fact that he just “believed” he was going to get sex. If at no point was sex an explicit part of the illicit deal, then there could be no theft because the services rendered (escorting – which I imagine to be really awkward hanging out in a mini dress with a fur draped around your neck) were the services initially agreed to. Wait, since prostitution is technically illegal (unless the escort decides to have consensual non-escort sex with you, of course), wouldn’t he have no right to shoot her under that law anyway? Doesn’t criminal activity negate other stuff? (Forgive me for my pathetic grasp of our legal system and its laws, it’s been a while.)

I’m going to withhold my calls for more laws and instead call for fewer laws. No law advocating street justice (deadly force for nighttime theft) should ever be passed. No man should feel that he has the right to take a human life over $150. Shit, I would have sent him a check for $200, the additional $50 for his humiliation. Problem solved. No person should believe that they have the right to take the life of another human being unless their own live is in immediate, indisputable danger. Self-defense should not apply when the victim is driving away from you. Or when they’re unarmed and in a car. Or when you’re upset that you didn’t get laid.

I’ve also got a million dollar idea. Evan thinks it’s dumb and dangerous, and he’s probably right, but wouldn’t this be awesome (in theory)?

I’m thinking that it would be awesome to be a street justice mediator. I’d be responsible for hearing cases where parties have disagreements that can’t be settled via normal legal channels but might result in violence if not addressed. They’d come to me for gang wars, turf disputes, drug-related complaints, and so on. I’d hear both parties and then render a decision. That decision would be concrete. They’d have to follow it.

That’s where the idea gets a bit murky. I feel as though street justice is problematic because of the fact that “your word is your bond” doesn’t really apply here. I’ve watched enough Game of Thrones of late (and read enough history, novels, and so on) to understand that you’re never safe, especially when you’re consorting with criminals. But – at the same time – it would be a pretty sweet gig. And hopefully it would result in fewer gang-related deaths. (Even though in actuality, it would probably just result in mine.)

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3 thoughts on “On the Law, Lawlessly

  1. Personally, I’m of the opinion that lethal force should always be allowed in defense of one’s property irrespective of time of day or the value of that property. There’s an amazingly low rate of recidivism among dead criminals. On the other hand, there should not be the assumption that defense of property was taking place, unless the situation occured within the home, and a detailed investigation should be conducted to prove such defense of property. Additionally, legal penalties for willfully endangering bystanders during the lethal force use would need to be applicable.

    Heck, even if this idea served up no other benefit, it’d cut into the lawyers’ monies one dead perp at a time and that has to be a net benefit.

    • “There’s an amazingly low rate of recidivism among dead criminals.” – hah, very true.

      I agree that lethal force should be allowed within the home — Colorado has a “Make My Day” Law allowing for deadly force to be used, but it’s specific to defense of homes and other occupied places against intruders. It also specifies that deadly force is only prudent when there is fear of imminent peril or death. (For me, the crux of the matter is the threat of imminent peril or death…without that fear, I see no reason for excessive use of force.)

      And you do make an excellent point about endangering bystanders.

      • I extend it to property as well, mostly because a dead criminal is better than a live one on the streets or in prison in my opinion and there’s little reason in the modern to let them live. It’s not like the majority of them will ever be other than a drain on the system.

        But yeah, I’d want serious laws and penalties for recklessly endangering bystanders in the course of such use of deadly force. I’ve seen some crazy, stupid, arrogant fools with firearms in my day and had bullets come close to me to hear them whistle by…and that was without the stress and anger of an encounter with a criminal.

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