Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Racing to Irrelevance

This is another lap in the race to see when we can manage broaden a definition into irrelevance. Anthony Fortunato is accused of a hate crime in his trial for the murder of Michael Sandy, a gay man.

Surprise! Fortunato announced today, on the witness stand, that he's gay, too.

Think that makes a difference? Forget about it.

Brooklyn prosecutors argue that Fortunato's sexual orientation is irrelevant. Under New York law, they said, defendants can be convicted of a hate crime even if they bear no actual hatred for their victim. ...

Queens prosecutors recently used the hate crimes statute to charge a man accused of trying to defraud several elderly victims ...

Gosh, I hate it when a prosecutor gets the bit in his teeth. How about this, legal scholars: If someone apparently murdered someone, why don't we try them for murder and not an additional thought crime?

I think I see what the intent of the law might have been, but this is positively Orwellian. A hateless hate crime. Somebody call the Ministry of Truth.

Of course, it's a short walk from here to an expanded definition that encompasses any crime; the mugger chose a victim smaller than himself, or less well-armed, or someone that appeared to have money, or someone who seemed unlikely to notice him lurking in the shadows. Aha, a crime that singled out small, unarmed, apparently affluent, and inattentive persons because of a perceived characteristic. A hate crime, Q.E.D. And maybe we back ourselves into the original definition of the crime, after all.

It reminds me of the time I was dismissed from a jury pool when a defendent was charged with drunk driving, even though he was never seen to drive the vehicle he was sitting in. "He was in 'actual physical control' of the vehicle, though," the attorneys explained. I told them sorry, I couldn't vote to convict someone of driving under the influence unless they were actually driving. Thank you, Mr. Young, you can go now.

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