Note to Donald J. Trump: Stop playing the victim

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Sexual violence: term used to describe “a specific constellation of crimes including sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape.” — National Institute of Justice

It is something countless Americans endure each year.

I say “countless Americans” because the experience is not unique to women. Men are targeted, too.

Alexandra Bogdanovic
Founder/owner of In Brief Legal Writing Services, Alexandra Bogdanovic. Photo by N. Bogdanovic

In a recent media fact sheet, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center cited a survey in which nearly half the number of women who self-identified as lesbians and half the number of women who self-identified as heterosexual “reported sexual violence other than rape during their lifetimes.” Nearly 75 percent of women who self-identified as bisexual reported the same.

In the same survey, roughly 40 percent of men who self-identified as gay, nearly 50 percent who self-identified as bisexual and approximately 20 percent of those who self-identified as heterosexual said they too experienced sexual violence other than rape.

Another report cited in the same fact sheet indicates that “one in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives.”

And then there are the most heartbreaking statistics of all — those pertaining to the American children preyed upon by sexual predators each year. According to one estimate, one in four girls and one in every six boys will be “sexually abused before they turn 18 years old.”

These are the victims.

U.S. presidential candidate Donald J. Trump, who was caught on tape bragging about and making light of behavior that can definitely be characterized as sexual violence, is decidedly not a victim of anything.

Oh, he says he is. After the 2005 tape in which he bragged about and made light of behavior that could definitely be characterized as sexual violence became public, several women accused him of sexual assault. And he’s been whining and crying about it for days. To hear him tell it, he’s a victim of a media conspiracy, a victim of character assassination, a victim of a slur campaign… and on, and on, and on.

Perhaps his accusers are lying. Or exaggerating.  Or perhaps not.  Perhaps it is a political ploy dreamed up by the Clinton camp and the mainstream media. Or perhaps not. That all remains to be seen.

Hey Donald, There Is No Excuse

What is indisputable is that Donald J. Trump’s “locker room talk” (his words, not mine) was disgusting, reprehensible, vile, inexcusable and indefensible.

In fairness, the Clintons’ conduct (actual and alleged) is also vile, inexcusable and indefensible. But that’s another subject for another blog. For now I’m sticking to the topic at hand.

That Melania Trump said her husband was “egged on” would be laughable if it weren’t so pathetic. To hear Donald J. Trump tell it, he’s a big, tough businessman who doesn’t take c–p from anyone. He does what he wants, when he wants. No one can intimidate him, and so on and so forth…

But we’re supposed to believe that he only engaged in this “locker room talk” because  someone (presumably Billy Bush) pressured him into it? Or because he wanted to be accepted? Or because he wanted to be one of the guys? Come, come now. What a load of garbage. It’s the kind of lame, pitiful, excuse you’d expect from a teenager. As far as I know, Mr. Trump was an adult back in 2005.

Today he is an adult who wants to become president. So my question is this: Should someone who could be so easily influenced and use such poor judgment become the leader of the free world?

Donald J. Trump had an opportunity to exercise true leadership and strength of character 11 years ago. Instead of going along with the “boy talk,” as Melania Trump claims, he had the chance to say, “Hey, man. You know what — that really isn’t cool. Women should be treated with respect. You wouldn’t want someone talking about your mom or sister, or daughter or girlfriend that way. Knock it off…”

But he didn’t.

Supreme Court decision fatally flawed

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“Before Miller, every juvenile convicted of a homicide offense could be sentenced to life without parole. After Miller, it will be the rare juvenile offender who can receive that same sentence.”

– from the majority opinion in the recent Supreme Court of the United States  (SCOTUS) ruling on Montgomery v. Louisiana,  delivered by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy.

Four years ago, a Supreme Court ruling in Miller v. Alabama put an end to life sentences without the possibility of parole for most young killers.

The majority held that children are fundamentally different from adults, and that several key characteristics specific to minors — such as lack of maturity and the propensity for some to be easily influenced –should be taken into account when they are sentenced. Furthermore, SCOTUS ruled, an offender’s ability to change must also be taken into account. Finally, the Court said that a life sentence without the possibility of parole is too severe in most cases, and essentially amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

Last week, America’s highest court held that the 2012 ruling can be applied retroactively.

In other words,  all juvenile offenders found guilty of murder and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole at any time before the Miller decision took effect must now get a chance to seek it. According to published reports, that could affect up to 1,000 offenders in three states.

Looking at these decisions from a strictly logical — rather than a strictly legal — standpoint, it is clear that they reveal a basic but serious flaw in the American justice system.

As we all know, the system is designed to protect the defendant’s rights from the time he or she is first questioned by the authorities through a trial (if the case comes to that) and beyond. The goal is to thwart unscrupulous police conduct, prevent wrongful conviction and remedy wrongful conviction if it occurs.

The preservation of a defendant’s Constitutional rights is paramount, and understandably so.

On the other hand — as the SCOTUS rulings in Miller and Montgomery demonstrate — the system routinely shows little regard, much less compassion, for victims and their families.

Of course it goes without saying that not all victims of violent crime are fine, upstanding, law-abiding citizens. One could even argue that some people who are murdered deserve their fate. Make no mistake about it: my argument does not pertain to them, but to ordinary people who have been killed in cold blood. It also pertains to the “young offenders” who have taken their lives.

Take Henry Montgomery. Today he is known as the petitioner in Montgomery v. Louisiana.  But he was just 17 when he killed a cop in East Baton Rouge back in 1963. He was ultimately convicted and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole and is now 69.

In delivering the court’s decision that the Miller ruling should apply to Montgomery’s case, Justice Kennedy wrote:

“Extending parole eligibility to juvenile offenders does not impose an onerous burden on the States, nor does it disturb the finality of state convictions. Those prisoners who have shown an inability to reform will continue to serve life sentences. The opportunity for release will be afforded to those who demonstrate the truth of Miller’s central intuition — that children who commit even heinous crimes are capable of change.”

After spending most of his life in prison, Montgomery claims that he has changed. Maybe that’s true and maybe it isn’t. The bottom line is that he was convicted of killing Charles Hurt. A jury determined that Montgomery robbed Hurt of his future, and robbed Hurt’s family of a future with him. And that will never change.

Yet the Court makes no mention of the toll the crime likely took on Montgomery’s loved ones in its January 25 ruling on his case. Instead, Kennedy quotes from another case, Graham v. Florida, writing:

“Because retribution ‘relates to an offender’s blameworthiness, the case for retribution is not as strong with a minor as with an adult.'”

Yes, it would seem that a young killer’s rights trump all. The fact that a life has been taken means little. The fact that a family is left behind to pick up the pieces means nothing if the murderer was young, or too stupid to know better, or easily influenced.

A cynic could even say the odds are stacked against victims, their loved ones and the hard-working prosecutors that seek justice for them.

Alexandra Bogdanovic
Founder/owner of In Brief Legal Writing Services, Alexandra Bogdanovic. Photo by N. Bogdanovic

As anyone with even the most basic knowledge of criminal justice can tell you, crimes are committed against the community, not individuals. So technically, prosecuting attorneys represent “the people,” not the individual victim.  In and of itself, that fundamental lack of personal advocacy can be confusing and frustrating, especially for those traumatized by  violent crime.

Then there are the rules that can prevent the revelation of certain information about the defendant — such as prior convictions — at trial because it could be prejudicial. On the other hand, there’s little to keep the defense from calling witnesses to discredit the victim — especially if there’s anything sketchy in his or her past.

Now, to make matters even worse, the families of people murdered by minors initially sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole must come to grips with the fact that those killers may someday go free. For those who wish to prevent it, their only recourse may be to write the Parole Board or appear at the offender’s parole hearing to have their say.

I can only imagine how scary, unpleasant and stressful that would be. It would be cruel and unusual punishment, indeed.


*Because this blog is written for a general audience, Bluebook citations are not included.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New year, new laws

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“The AKC was proud to support this important legislation.” – American Kennel Club

A brand new year always brings changes – some of which are good and some of which we can almost certainly do without. Among them are new laws, some of which affect all of us and some that affect only those of us who live in, visit or travel through certain areas.

In any case, the new rules always get their share of ink and generate plenty of conversation. And that makes for copious blog fodder. Have no fear, I’m hardly about to discuss, or even list, every single law that took effect January 1. In this post, I’ll focus on just one – an act changing the New York State social services law regarding victims of domestic violence and their pets.

Black and white photograph of New York Police Department barriers taken by Alexandra Bogdanovic
NYPD barriers. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

The authorized amendment allows those in need of refuge to bring their service or therapy animals to emergency shelters. You can view the full text of the bill  backed by the American Kennel Club that was ultimately signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo here.

On its website, the AKC said it made sense to support the legislation.

“Victims of domestic violence are in a vulnerable and frightening situation, and the practical assistance and comfort that a service/therapy animal provides can be essential,” the organization said. Furthermore, the AKC said that knowing they won’t have to leave their animals behind makes it easier for victims of domestic violence to leave dangerous situations.

For more information about the AKC’s support for the new law and related issues, click here.