Lesson For Lawyers From Roseville

My recent post about the dilemma presented by Charles Etchison, who moved to Roseville, California after his release from prison post-murder, post-child molestation, post-sexual assault, resulted in some disturbing commentary.  Not so much by the residents of Roseville, who understandably approach their situation with raw emotion and no interest in putting their children at risk in the name of reasonableness. 

Few parents would consider taking a needless risk when it comes to their family, and fewer still when the opposite side of the equation is someone like Charles Etchison.  While Etchison claims to have found God, and that he is no longer a threat, it’s hard, perhaps even impossible, to care much about Etchison’s claims.  Aside from being merely alive and now free, Etchison offers nothing positive to society.  Nothing in his life suggests that he’s worthy of anyone’s concern, or capable of redemption.  Certainly, Etchison’s “rights” are hardly worthy of risk to children.

And as expected, parents of Roseville have vehemently expressed their anger and frustration about Etchison’s presence in their community.  It was a self-defeating expression, since it solves none of their problems, but I grant that the dilemma has no easy solution and they are unwilling to consider any possibility that includes adapting to Etchison’s presence.  While I found the comments of parents blind, emotional and irrational, they were wholly understandable.

But the comments of lawyers, unrelated to Roseville, cannot be understood as the product of raw emotion overcoming reason.  These comments are quite disturbing, as it is our responsibility to see the bigger picture and consider the policy implications of letting the mob with their pitchforks and torches seize control.  Defenestration is not a rational response from a lawyer.

This disturbs me because I do not want Simple Justice to become a locus for ignorance, prejudice or hatred, whether for non-lawyers surfing the web to find digital comfort or a place to rant, or for lawyers who lack the capacity to comprehend fallacious reasoning or support pandering to hatred.  If that’s where Simple Justice is heading, then I don’t care to maintain it anymore.

Blogs are not a democracy.  This is my home, and anyone who stops by is a guest.  You are here at my sufferance, and have no right to express yourself.  A number of readers have chosen not to become embroiled in what they see as a no-win argument with the commenting lawyers, preferring instead to email me with their thoughts.  Their thoughts are that the lawyer comments are bizarre and fail to reflect the reasoning ability that one would expect from another lawyer.  But they don’t want to get into a pissing match with irrational lawyers.

The product is that the conversation is monopolized by those who have taken a leap off the bridge of reason.  This is no acceptable.  That other readers have felt that they would prefer not to comment rather than become embroiled in an argument with irrational commenters means that the irrational commenters have hijacked my post, and my blawg.  I won’t allow this to happen, and I truly don’t care if it pleases others or not. 

I have no doubt that the lawyers who have commented believe that their thoughts are reasonable, correct and appropriate, and that they are merely arguing their position in their best, lawyerly fashion.  I disagree, and since this is not a democracy, my vote is the only that counts here.  You don’t have to like it.  You don’t have to agree with me.  And if you find this unacceptable, you are absolutely free to never come here again.

But I will not allow the comments from lawyers to a post to devolve to the point where a couple of irrational people scare off others.  Agree or not, that’s the deal.  I’ve banned lawyers who mistakenly believe that they have a right to be irrational or offensive from commenting here before, and I’ll do it again.  This is my home, not yours.  If I’m left here in a room by myself, so be it.

Returning to Roseville and Charles Etchison, no one would contend that he’s a desirable addition to the neighborhood.  But the subject of sexual predators is generally inflammatory. Short of acquiescing in the general public belief that they should all be put to death so that they never return to harm anyone, a position that some may espouse, it’s one of the most intractable problems facing society.  While I won’t represent child molesters and their ilk, I similarly have the capacity to understand the problem and attempt to address it rationally.

Each year, thousands of sexual predators will be released from prison.  Not the ones who never belonged on the registry, but the real ones, hard core.  No one, particularly me, can guarantee that they won’t commit crimes.  No community, no parent, wants them anywhere near them.  They have no political clout or public supporters.  That human beings engage in this type of behavior at all is beyond the comprehension of most of us.  We are fundamentally disgusted and outrage by it, but we also know that it is far more pervasive then anyone wants to admit.

There are two untenable solutions.  Keep all sexual predators in prison for life, or put them to death.  Aside from the cost of these solutions, penal theory informs that either solution will result in greater harm to the victims by imposing the most severe punishments.  What we do not want is sexual predators murdering children to eliminate witnesses to their vile conduct. 

So we are left with thousands of people who have served their prison sentence and are returning to society, but without a place to go.  They are universally unwelcomed. They cannot find employment.  They are intentionally stigmatized.  They are held up to ostracism.  Even if they want to lead law-abiding lives, they aren’t given a way to do so. 

It would be marvelous if we, criminal defense lawyers, could apply our minds and our appreciation of humanity to finding a viable way of addressing this facially untenable situation.  How can these ex-cons rejoin a society that wants nothing to do with them?  What do we do with convicted sexual predators after they’ve served their sentence?

One thought on “Lesson For Lawyers From Roseville

  1. Daniel

    Let me give a sincere answer to this question. Like the Dalit in India (the original untouchables) it starts with a spiritual recognition on the part of the spiritual leaders in each community that no human being in untouchable. That idea is a non-starter and so long as it is the presumption there can be no solution. So the very first thing a community has to do is look at its heart and go, “there but for the grace of God go I” and learn to forgive.

    Forgive does not mean forget. As I said in my post in the other thread, I reject the false choice of either total freedom or no freedom. The parents can teach their children to recognize this man and stay away from him. The police can do drive bys three or four times a day to check up on his situation. The adults can invite him to church (since he has found God) and engage the man in various social activities. Someone can offer him a job. If the community does it right, there should be few moments of the day when this man is out of their sight. It simply isn’t hard to integrate a person into a community if the community truly wants to. It just has to meet him half-way.

    The fundamental problem is that the community doesn’t want to, if it is honest. Easier to toss the problem onto the another community, the government, or someone else. Easier to say, “Please God, don’t let the world trouble my heart.” The community can see this man as a problem to be gotten rid of as soon as possible or it can chose to see this man as a tool through which the nation is measuring its morals and by which God is measuring its character. That choice is a choice the community has, and because it has this choice I reject the notion it is powerless.

    The real tragedy is that so much energy has alway been wasted: energy of the police, energy of parents having tizzy fits, energy of myself and the blog owner in coving this topic. All energy that could have been used to positively impact that community.

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