WASHINGTON, September 29, 2013 — When criminals and politicians get caught, the things they say are often beyond ridiculous. Criminal defendants looking to get off will say anything. Politicians can be equally ludicrous in explaining away their behavior.
The sky is the limit when it comes to self-justification. Legal defenses such as insanity sometimes grant those who commit criminal acts a pass from criminal punishment. Voters sometimes forgive politicians’ transgressions or outright crimes.
Most criminal “I’m not responsible” excuses fall into some form of the insanity defense. Perhaps the most publicized recent insanity defense case is that of James Holmes who murdered 12 people in a Denver, Colorado movie-theater.
A successful insanity defense in the U.S. is rare. The defendant must show that he or she did not understand the consequences of their acts and that he or she did not know right from wrong. Less than one percent of U.S. court cases involve the insanity defense. Of those only around 25 percent result in a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity.
The most recent legal defense to hit the court system is “sexsomnia.” A Pittsylvania County, Virginia man, Gary Johnson, is claiming that he was sleeping and was unaware that he committed sexual battery and other indecent liberties with a 15-year old girl. This is the first known attempt to use this defense in the United States. The defendant’s attorney says that this defense has been seen on television shows “House” and “Law and Order.” Johnson is due in court in November.
Political excuses reign supreme in our media and hopefully end up teaching us what not to do.
Look at just a few politicians who offered ridiculous excuses:
President Clinton on his affair with Monica Lewinsky: “I did not have sex with that woman.”
Washington, D.C. Mayor Marion Barry on being caught on video-tape in a hotel room with crack cocaine: “The bitch set me up.”
Anthony Weiner, U.S. Representative sent photos of his privates to a woman through his Twitter account: “Someone hacked my account.”
Bob Filner, Mayor of San Diego explaining why he resigned following a sex scandal: “What happened was a combination of awkwardness and hubris. When a lynch-mob mentality exists, rumors become allegations, allegations become facts, and facts become evidence.”
Bob McDonnell, Virginia Governor answering questions about personal and family gifts and presents from a businessman: “My wife deliberately avoided informing me about some gifts she’d received.” He misses the point: “I think it’s important that nothing has been done with regard to my relationship with Mr. Williams or his company to give any kind of special benefits.”
In a court of law, however, criminal defendants do not have to convince the public, only a judge or a jury.
In 1982, Steven Steinberg was acquitted in one of the most notorious trials in Arizona history. Steinberg admitted to stabbing his wife 26 times and convinced a jury he was not responsible because he was sleepwalking.
In 2006, Andrew Goldstein finally admitted he knew what he was doing when he killed a prostitute in New York in 1999. For seven years in the court system his schizophrenia defense allowed him to escape conviction. He claimed someone had dissected his brain, his genitalia had become enlarged by consuming contaminated food, and that someone stole and ate his feces.
Yes, people will say anything.
John Hinckley avoided criminal punishment after attempted murder charges involving his assassination attempt on President Regan. He claimed insanity and it worked. Specifically, he claimed he had an obsession with actress Jodie Foster and that his motive for his violent act was to impress her. Hinckley was confined to a mental facility.
The “gay panic defense” entails claims of temporary insanity as a result of a psychiatric condition known as homosexual panic. In 2009, an Illinois jury acquitted Joseph Biedermann of first-degree murder after he stabbed his neighbor 61 times. Biedermann claimed the neighbor had made unwanted sexual advances toward him.
Jonathan Schmitz, who is not gay, did not fare as well as Biederman. Television talk show host Jenny Jones wanted to surprise people who had same-sex crushes. She invited Schmitz’ friend, Scott Amedure, onto the show. Amedure declared his crush on Schmitz on national television and later delivered a suggestive note to Schmitz. Schmitz killed him a few days later. Schmitz used the gay panic defense but was convicted of murder.
Dr. Geraldine Richter was acquitted in Virginia in 1991 of drunk driving. The “PMS defense” worked. Dr. Richter was stopped for driving erratically. She reportedly used abusive language and tried to kick a state trooper in the groin. She flunked a Breathalyzer test for blood-alcohol content.
At trial, her expert witness said that the blood-alcohol reading was skewed higher because she had held her breath and that her conduct was consistent with PMS.
“It hurts our credibility,” said the prosecutor who lost the case. “I’m sure men are just shaking their heads at this.”
Formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder, Dissociative Identity Disorder is characterized by the presence of two or more distinct identities that alternately take control of an individual’s behavior. Thomas Huskey will never serve jail time, despite admitting that he killed four Tennessee women in 1999. He is, though, serving a 64-year sentence for a series of rapes. The first jury to hear the murder cases deadlocked after hearing that Kyle, Huskey’s claimed alter ego, had taken control of his body. After evidentiary problems, the prosecution gave up on the second trial.
David Berkowitz, better known as the Son of Sam, killed six people in New York City in the 1970s. He initially stated that his neighbor, Sam Carr, commanded him to kill by sending messages to him through Carr’s dog. Berkowitz admitted that he invented the “Son of Sam” stories to convince the court that he was insane. He then pointed to “mother issues” as a motive for the killings.
Behavior often stems from events and incidents occurring in childhood. Parents do their children and society a disservice when they ignore teaching opportunities after their children fail to admit what they have done.
Accepting responsibility ultimately is a learned behavior, just like saying please and taking turns. But taking responsibility is clearly something that some people never learn.
Paul A. Samakow is an attorney licensed in Maryland and Virginia, and has been practicing since 1980. He represents injury victims and routinely battles insurance companies and big businesses that will not accept full responsibility for the harms and losses they cause. He can be reached at any time by calling 1-866-SAMAKOW (1-866-726-2569), via email, or through his website. He is also available to speak to your group on numerous legal topics. Paul is the featured legal analyst on the Washington Times Radio, in Washington, D.C., on the Andy Parks show and he is a columnist on the Washington Times Communities.
His book The 8 Critical Things Your Auto Accident Attorney Won’t Tell You is free to Maryland and Virginia residents and can be obtained by ordering it on his website; others can obtain it on Amazon.
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