Friday, November 16, 2007

Justice Gone Awry, vol. 1:

Report: Court sentences rape victim Fri Nov 16, 12:27 AM ET

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia - A Saudi court sentenced a woman who had been gang raped to six months in jail and 200 lashes — more than doubling her initial penalty for being in the car of a man who was not a relative, a newspaper reported Thursday.

The decision by the Qatif General Court came in a case that had sparked rare debate about the kingdom's justice system when it surfaced more than a year ago.

In its decision Wednesday, the court also roughly doubled prison sentences for the seven men convicted of raping the 19-year-old woman, the Arab News reported on its English-language Web site.

According to Arab News, the court said the woman's punishment was increased because of "her attempt to aggravate and influence the judiciary through the media."
She had initially been sentenced to 90 lashes after being convicting her of violating Saudi's rigid laws on segregation of the sexes.

Under Saudi Arabia's interpretation of Islamic Sharia law, women are not allowed in public in the company of men other than their male relatives.

The initial sentences for the men convicted of the gang rape ranged from 10 months to five years in prison. Their new sentences range from two to nine years, the paper said.

The attack took place in 2006. The woman has said that it occurred as she tried to retrieve her picture from a male high school student she used to know. While in the car with the student, two men got into the vehicle and drove them to a secluded area. She said she was raped there by seven men, three of whom also attacked her friend.

Reports of the story triggered debate about Saudi Arabia's legal system, in which judges have wide discretion in punishing a criminal, rules of evidence are shaky and sometimes no defense lawyers are present. The result, critics say, are sentences left to the whim of judges.

The judges, appointed by the king, have a wide discretion in handing down sentences, often said to depend on their whim. A rapist, for instance, could receive anywhere from a light or no sentence, to death.

The woman was identified in the media only as the Girl from Qatif. The case was referred back to the General Court by an appeals court last summer, after the woman's attorney argued the verdict was too lenient for the rapists and unjust for the victim.

The court also banned the lawyer from defending her, confiscated his license to practice law and summoned him to a disciplinary hearing later this month.

"I explained to them that it was my job to do everything legal in order to serve my client. But they did not listen," the lawyer, Abdul Rahman al-Lahem, was quoted by the paper as saying.

and lest we here in the US think we've cornered the market on judicial wisdom, check out Justice Gone Awry, Vol. 2:

Rare robbery case brings cries of racism By JULIANA BARBASSA, Associated Press Writer
Fri Nov 16, 1:53 AM ET

LAKEPORT, Calif. - Three young black men break into a white man's home in rural Northern California. The homeowner shoots two of them to death — but it's the surviving black man who is charged with murder.

In a case that has brought cries of racism from civil rights groups, Renato Hughes Jr., 22, was charged by prosecutors in this overwhelmingly white county under a rarely invoked legal doctrine that could make him responsible for the bloodshed.

"It was pandemonium" inside the house that night, District Attorney Jon Hopkins said. Hughes was responsible for "setting the whole thing in motion by his actions and the actions of his accomplices."

Prosecutors said homeowner Shannon Edmonds opened fire Dec. 7 after three young men rampaged through the Clearlake house demanding marijuana and brutally beat his stepson. Rashad Williams, 21, and Christian Foster, 22, were shot in the back. Hughes fled.

Hughes was charged with first-degree murder under California's Provocative Act doctrine, versions of which have been on the books in many states for generations but are rarely used.

The Provocative Act doctrine does not require prosecutors to prove the accused intended to kill. Instead, "they have to show that it was reasonably foreseeable that the criminal enterprise could trigger a fatal response from the homeowner," said Brian Getz, a San Francisco defense attorney unconnected to the case.

The NAACP complained that prosecutors came down too hard on Hughes, who also faces robbery, burglary and assault charges. Prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty.

The Rev. Amos Brown, head of the San Francisco chapter of the NAACP and pastor at Hughes' church, said the case demonstrates the legal system is racist in remote Lake County, aspiring wine country 100 miles north of San Francisco. The sparsely populated county of 13,000 people is 91 percent white and 2 percent black.

Brown and other NAACP officials are asking why the homeowner is walking free. Tests showed Edmonds had marijuana and prescription medication in his system the night of the shooting. Edmonds had a prescription for both the pot and the medication to treat depression.

"This man had no business killing these boys," Brown said. "They were shot in the back. They had fled."

On Thursday, a judge granted a defense motion for a change of venue. The defense had argued that he would not be able to get a fair trial because of extensive local media coverage and the unlikelihood that Hughes could get a jury of his peers in the county. A new location for the trial will be selected Dec. 14.

The district attorney said that race played no part in the charges against Hughes and that the homeowner was spared prosecution because of evidence he was defending himself and his family, who were asleep when the assailants barged in at 4 a.m.

Edmonds' stepson, Dale Lafferty, suffered brain damage from the baseball bat beating he took during the melee. The 19-year-old lives in a rehabilitation center and can no longer feed himself.

"I didn't do anything wrong. All I did was defend my family and my children's lives," said Edmonds, 33. "I'm sad the kids are dead, I didn't mean to kill them."

He added: "Race has nothing to do with it other than this was a gang of black people who thought they were going to beat up this white family."

California's Provocative Act doctrine has primarily been used to charge people whose actions led to shooting deaths.

However, in one notable case in Southern California in 1999, a man who robbed a family at gunpoint in their home was convicted of murder because a police officer pursuing him in a car chase slammed into another driver in an intersection, killing her.

Hughes' mother, San Francisco schoolteacher Judy Hughes, said she believes the group didn't intend to rob the family, just buy marijuana. She called the case against her son a "legal lynching."

"Only God knows what happened in that house," she said. "But this I know: My son did not murder his childhood friends."

These moments of sagacity brought to you by Yahoo News.

Saudi Arabian "Justice"? Need anyone say more?

But I want to comment about the US case - clearly, when you break into someone's home, you are risking being shot and killed by doing so because there pretty much is no stronger claim of self defense than defending one's own home against invasion by a criminal. That's bedrock law.

Something people are less aware of is something called 'felony murder' - that's where if you commit a crime and while doing that crime, someone dies, that death is automatically elevated to first-degree murder. In some states, this can include a death that was of a co-conspirator (like for instance if you and a partner rob a bank and the bank security guard shoots your partner, you can be nailed for that death as felony murder). It looks like an alternate legal theory was used in this case, but given that a felony murder theory might also have been used (though I don't know if the accomplice death works for California) I am not terribly surprised by this case.

The basic logic is that when you break into someone's home, you know you are risking being shot for doing so - so it is foreseeable that someone who goes with you could be shot, and so if while committing that felony, someone dies, you are on the hook for it. So it really isn't an injustice at all. And believe me, I'm one sensitive to injustice - I think prosecutors have way too much power and too often overcharge - but not in this case.
oh gods..
i think charging Huges with murder is a bit much, really.
I wrote about the Lakeport case today. They left out some details.
thanks for the new info, Veronica.

the plot sickens...
I don't know exactly why you've paired these two stories, since I really don't see much of a connection or common thread. Perhaps about the law persecuting a "victim"? That's definitely true in the case in Saudi Arabia (and is typical of the medieval legal system in that country), but really not true of the latter.

This is the first time I've read about the Lake County case, but I can't believe the NAACP and other anti-racists are sympathetic with a thug like this Hughes person. The guy took part in a brutal home-invasion robbery and got exactly what was coming to him. The NAACP is calling for prosecution of the homeowner/victim in this case? My God, they are fucking out to lunch on this one.

Anti-racists are going to do their cause a lot of damage if they take this case up as a cause celebre. This is not another Jena.
I don't blame them for letting the homeowner off the hook. Breaking and entering alone would be different, but your son beaten with a baseball bat to the point of permanent brain damage? I'd shoot 'em myself.

But, charging the kid with murder when the homeowner actually fired the gun seems kind of wacked. and yeah, dbb, i hear you about legal precedent, but...jesus, i don't know, the whole thing's fucked.

To me, the connecting thread, if any, is that when in doubt, people often tend to just heap on more punishment. I noticed the SA case upped the ante for the men as well. so you know, -that's- all right then...
I assume they're taking it up more because of the precedent it might set--next time, it might be kids holding up a convenience store with a toy pistol, owner shoots 'em both, one kid dies, the other lands in the hospital, the kid in the hospital gets charged with murder. I'm just speculating.
Religion is such a painful source of societal irrationality.

I hope that Austalians will be voting for the SECULAR PARTY on Saturday's election. I am the lead WA candidate for the Senate.
Belle - To use your example - if you hold up a store with a toy gun, that is armed robbery, one of the most serious felonies on the book - what, you ask, with a TOY gun is armed robbery? Yep. In fact, putting your finger in your pocket and PRETENDING you have a gun is also armed robbery. In Michigan, that means a penalty of up to LIFE in prison. And that's when nobody dies.

And again, as before, if, as a result of committing a felony, someone dies, that's felony murder, same as first-degree murder. It doesn't matter if you pulled the trigger. The logic is that you set up the dangerous situation by committing a violent felony in the first place.

I point this out mostly because it is criminal law 101, what you learn your first semester of law school. Which also says something about the media that they are printing stories and getting all up in arms about this when this is nothing new and has been the law for a very long time. Reporters really need to do their research and understand what they are writing about to put things in context.
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