Many issues have been raised by the public and the media in the aftermath of last Saturday’s killing at a rural Texas ranch near the town of Shiner, and the issue of temporary insanity defenses was among the most thought-provoking in light of the details of this incident.
Based on the AP report of this story, from statements provided by Lavaca County Sheriff Micah Harmon, a father beat a man to death who he said tried to molest his 4-year-old daughter after the girl’s screams were heard from near a barn on their ranch. The sheriff indicated that the father called police late Saturday afternoon and told them he attacked a man he caught trying to sexually assault his daughter, and the sheriff stated that, “In the course of trying to get her away from him, and protect her, he struck the subject several times in the head, and the subject died.”
The assailant accused by the father was his 47-year-old acquaintance from nearby Gonzales, who had come to help care for some horses. It was also reported that this man had no apparent prior criminal history. The girl was reportedly taken to a hospital to be examined and has since been released.
Harmon said that the father will probably not be arrested for Saturday’s killing and that no evidence so far has led investigators to doubt his story. He also said that a grand jury will decide what, if any, charges the father will face.
This last statement concerning the grand jury leads us to our first point of concern about this story. Like most, I’m no legal scholar, and I’m not even sure what specific proceedings the law generally calls for after an occurrence such as this. But from a personal viewpoint, it just seems that a grand jury trial is not necessary. I believe that most who would be called to serve in the jury for such a case would find the father innocent of any crime, but how do we know that these will be the individuals chosen for this jury? The answer is that we don’t. Sometimes, even as a majority, we the people can be wrong. We could obviously site many examples of this as of late. That’s why, to the dismay of some, we live in a republic, which is governed by the rule of law, as opposed to a full democracy, which is governed only by the people, with no limits to majority rule. Another thing to consider is that many times these days, jurors are disqualified if they indicate that they would not consider a minimum sentence for a defendant of the court. It stands to reason, in a now-often challenged judicial system, that a juror might even be disqualified for not considering a maximum sentence for a defendant, depending on the whims of the presiding officials of the court.
We’ve often heard about temporary insanity defenses that are fraudulently used to defend and acquit the guilty, but what if a law-abiding citizen commits what would otherwise be considered a crime, in the process of protecting his child? This topic was brought to light on a radio talk show last Tuesday, and many callers said that they do not know that they would not have done the same thing, had they been in that father’s place. Some even said that they would absolutely have done what the father did. Among those with this opinion were people who recounted personal encounters with this issue in their own lives. Some of these callers related stories about spouses who had been abused by fathers or other family members, and that they would stop at no length to protect their families. Are all of these callers potential criminals, or are they simply people who love their family members enough to protect them in any way necessary? The latter seems to be more likely. If ever there was a justification for a temporary insanity defense, last Saturday’s incident would seem to be the case for it, especially considering that other reports have apparently placed other witnesses at the scene who recount a story matching that of the father.
Even with a judicial system in our country that is proving to be increasingly untrustworthy, a majority of American citizens still believes in justice for those who are truly guilty of a crime, as well we should. We have shown in recent local elections in Texas and elsewhere that we will not as a majority continue to support and extend the careers of prosecutors and other officials who refuse to prosecute serious and repeat violent offenders, especially those who commit assaults against women and children.
We should also, though, remember that there is not always substance to every accusation, and many alleged crimes call for extensive investigation and the objective consideration of a jury of our peers. In other cases, however, such as the one discussed here, that just simply might not even be necessary at all.
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