Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Hard cases make bad law -- another example

Michael Monyelle is a convicted sex offender. Ten years ago, when he was 20 or thereabouts, he was convicted of having consensual sexual relations with a girl who was 16 and another who was 14. He was put on 10 years probation, but didn't adequately participate in treatment and got sent to prison in 1999. He was paroled in 2004.

Now Monyelle, a rather low-functioning adult, is on trial after confessing that he had sexual thoughts about kids. The prosecution also says he visited places like malls and toy stores where he was not supposed to go.

He could be locked up for life as a sexual predator, even though he hasn't touched anyone.

He could be locked up for life about being honest about what he was thinking, even though he was encouraged to report what he was thinking for his parole overseers.

This case is simply abuse of prosecutorial discretion. It is wrong, even in cases of potential sexual assault, to lock someone up for crimes they may have pondered, but haven't committed.

Of course child sexual abuse is a heinous crime. So are a lot of other crimes. Should anyone who imagines killing the boss / spouse / bad neighbor be convicted of thinking about it? Or maybe only those who some sort of criminal record should be punished for their thoughts.

Should someone with a bad driving record be sent to jail for having a lazy thought about swiping that Porsche down the street?

How many people do you think, whether or not they have ever committed a crime, have fantasized about committing one? Is there a living human being who has not?

Who gets prosecuted (or committed for life in a civil proceeding) for that? Maybe we should limit it to convicted felons. That way we likely would only have to build 50,000 new prisons.

Once this door is opened -- the ability to lock people up for thinking bad thoughts when they have done nothing criminal -- anybody can be pushed through it. That is a far larger danger than Michae Monyelle has proven thus far to be.

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