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2015.36: The Unconstitutionality of Section 33.021(c)

Mark's Blog: Defending People - Wed, 02/04/2015 - 17:37

Here’s my brief on the unconstitutionality of the balance of Texas’s Online Solicitation of a Minor statute, Texas Penal Code Section 33.021. I have two appeals pending, both in courts that have already upheld the statute in the face of First Amendment challenges:

Both the Beaumont and First Courts of Appeals analyzed Section 33.021(c) as statutes regulating conduct rather than speech. This is plainly incorrect: speech that is unprotected because it incites the imminent commission of a crime is still speech.

The San Antonio Court of Appeals upheld Section 33.021(c) in the face of a vagueness challenge, holding:

The requisite intent arises within the conduct of soliciting the minor, and must exist at the time of the prohibited conduct of solicitation. Id. Indeed, it is the requirement that the defendant must solicit “with the intent that the minor will engage in sexual contact” that operates to make otherwise innocent conduct, i.e., soliciting a minor to meet, into criminal conduct. It follows then, that for purposes of a subsection (c) solicitation offense, it does not matter what happens after the solicitation occurs because the offense has been completed; it does not matter whether the solicited meeting actually occurs, or that the defendant did not intend for the meeting to actually occur, or that the defendant was engaged in a fantasy at the time of the solicitation. [AB1]

It cannot be true both that  “[I]t does not matter … that the defendant did not intend for the meeting to actually occur, or that the defendant was engaged in a fantasy at the time of the solicitation,” and that “The requisite intent [that the minor engage in sexual contact] … must exist at the time of the prohibited conduct of solicitation.” Either the defendant intended to engage in sexual conduct (and therefore intended to meet) or did not intend to meet (and therefore did not intend to engage in sexual conduct).

I am confident that the statute will, if the question ever reaches the Court of Criminal Appeals or the U.S. Supreme Court, be held unconstitutional. Unfortunately, I’m swimming upstream against some ill-considered authority. This would be easier if it had been done right in the first case.

Copyright © 2013 Houston criminal-defense lawyer Mark Bennett. This feed is for personal, non-commercial use only. The use of this feed on other websites breaches copyright. If this content is not in your news reader, the page you are viewing infringes the copyright. (Digital Fingerprint: 9fddc86334d71f22cfdb4b70fe23bb0e (54.174.64.206) .)

2015.35: Jury Selection Rule: Pull Back the Curtain.

Mark's Blog: Defending People - Wed, 02/04/2015 - 17:13

One of my proteges, working on an appeal, noticed how easily the prosecutor convinced a member of the jury panel to change his mind on an important issue with a tongue lashing. He posted about it publicly, admonishing potential jurors to be strong in jury selection and not let a prosecutor “bully them” into changing their opinions. It’s a fair point, but there is a lesson for the defense lawyer as well.

Jury selection is not about getting jurors to change their minds. You’re not likely to get them to change their minds in jury selection, and the prosecutor in my protege’s case probably (I wasn’t there) didn’t really get the juror to change his mind. What she did was to get the juror to say different words than he had at first; she might be able to hold the juror to that new position during deliberations, but probably not, so if she didn’t get him to say words that led to a challenge for cause she was wasting her breath.

Worse than that, when a lawyer browbeats a juror into changing his position, other jurors are not going to share their honest opinions with the lawyer for fear of being browbeaten themselves. So by being a bully, the prosecutor shuts down her own ability to get actual information from the rest of the panel.

Even worse than that, if the defense lawyer is on the ball he will get up when the prosecutor has finished talking, rehabilitate the juror, and talk with the jury about people trying to browbeat other people into changing their minds, using the prosecutor as an example.

Often an important part of the defense voir dire is to talk with the jurors about standing their ground when other people are trying to bully them into changing it: each juror’s verdict is a personal moral judgment (the language of the Colorado Method of capital jury selection); a juror should not change her verdict based on pressure from others; and a juror should not pressure others to change their verdicts. It’s improper, and unfair.

In most jurisdictions prosecutors go into jury selection with a halo of credibility because of their job. Jurors assume that what prosecutors do in jury selection is what is supposed to be done. They may not like it, but they figure that the prosecutor wears a white hat and is doing what she is supposed to. If the defense can remove that halo, the odds are evened considerably. (I think I’ve won every jury trial in which the prosecutor misstated the law in jury selection and my objection was sustained.)

When the prosecutor has demonstrated bullying behavior in voir dire, defense counsel can hold it up as an example, and the prosecutor won’t have a chance to respond. The benefits to the defense of this are several: the jurors feel free to speak freely with the defense lawyer (even more than if the prosecutor had behaved better); the prosecutor’s credibility is shattered; and the defense lawyer’s credibility increases.

In jury selection we are not trying to change jurors’ minds, but rather to win their hearts. Intellectually, at best we are going to get them to frame the game of the case in a way that favors us. Emotionally, though, we can help them trust us, like us and want to help us. By revealing to the jury panel the prosecutor’s voir dire tricks (and this applies to trick questions, bullying, and other tactic of which your kindergarten teacher would not approve) the defense lawyer reveals the prosecutor as a trickster and himself as a truth-teller. It’s a credibility bonanza for the defense.

If the defense lawyer is using tricks in voir dire, the prosecutor doesn’t get a chance to stand up afterwards and have a conversation with the jury about it, so she doesn’t get the same credibility bonanza. But juries aren’t clueless, and if you treat them unfairly they are going to do the same to you.

Copyright © 2013 Houston criminal-defense lawyer Mark Bennett. This feed is for personal, non-commercial use only. The use of this feed on other websites breaches copyright. If this content is not in your news reader, the page you are viewing infringes the copyright. (Digital Fingerprint: 9fddc86334d71f22cfdb4b70fe23bb0e (54.174.64.206) .)

2015.34: Well Done, Joan Huffman!?

Mark's Blog: Defending People - Tue, 02/03/2015 - 20:54

Joan Huffman is the Texas Senator (and former Harris County criminal judge) responsible for Code of Criminal Procedure article 38.37 section 2, which provides that extraneous offenses are admissible in the trial of someone accused of a sex crime with a child to prove “the character of the defendant and acts performed in conformity with the character of the defendant.” My brief on the unconstitutionality of that statute is here.

Not to gertrude, I am not inclined to cut Huffman any slack.

But when I read this, I was pleasantly surprised:

Section 33.021, Penal Code, is amended to read as follows:

(a)(a) In this section:

(1) “Minor” means:

(A) an individual who isrepresents himself or herself to be younger than 17 years of age; or

(B) an individual whom the actor believes to be younger than 17 years of age.

(2) “Sexual contact,” “sexual intercourse,” and “deviate sexual intercourse” have the meanings assigned by Section 21.01.

(3) “Sexually explicit” means any communication, language, or material, including a photographic or video image, that relates to or describes sexual conduct, as defined by Section 43.25.

(b) A person who is 17 years of age or older commits an offense if, with the intent to commit an offense listed in Article 62.001(5)(A), (B), or (K), Code of Criminal Procedurearouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person, the person, over the Internet, by electronic mail or text message or other electronic message service or system, or through a commercial online service, intentionally:

(1) communicates in a sexually explicit manner with a minor; or

(2) distributes sexually explicit material to a minor.

(c) A person commits an offense if the person, over the Internet or by electronic mail or a commercial online service, knowingly solicits a minor to meet another person, including the actor, with the intent that the minor will engage in sexual contact, sexual intercourse, or deviate sexual intercourse with the actor or another person.

(d) It is not a defense to prosecution under Subsection (c) that :(1) the meeting did not occur;
(2) the actor did not intend for the meeting to occur; or
(3) the actor was engaged in a fantasy at the time of commission of the offense.

(e) It is a defense to prosecution under this section that at the time conduct described by Subsection (b) or (c) was committed:

(1) the actor was married to the minor; or

(2) the actor was not more than three years older than the minor and the minor consented to the conduct.

That is what Texas’s Online Solicitation of a Minor statute, Texas Penal Code Section 33.021, will look like if Huffman’s proposed amendment, SB 344, passes in its current form. It is not quite right, but is much closer to constitutional than the statute as it exists now. It will also be much harder for the State to prove—constitutionality and prosecutorial convenience are a zero-sum game.

In subsection (a) Huffman proposes eliminating the “represents himself or herself to be” language from the definition of minor, so that a “minor” will be either an actual minor or someone the defendant believes to be a minor. So on the one hand if the “minor” is a cop the State will have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant believed the cop’s “minor” schtick.

On the other hand it appears at first blush that the revised statute would allow a defendant to be held liable for talking dirty to an actual minor pretending to be an adult, even if the defendant believed the minor to be an adult, as an adult can be held liable for having sex with a minor who is pretending to be, and believed to be, an adult.

It would appear that way only at first blush, though, because the dirty talk prohibition now requires the intent to commit a sex crime against a child. So even if the “minor” is a minor pretending to be an adult the State will have to prove that the defendant intended to do something to a child, which presupposes that the defendant believed a child was somehow involved.

I’m not entirely happy with describing the offense as “communicat[ing] in a sexually explicit manner with a minor” “with the intent to commit” (for example) sexual assault. At best it’s clumsy, with no explicit connection between the sexual assault and the communication.

At worst it renders the statute unconstitutional again. The communication itself is constitutionally protected, and the state of mind itself is constitutionally protected. It is only when the intent is put into action, either physically or with a solicitation, that it can be constitutionally forbidden. “Incitement” is only unprotected if the speech is intended to induce or commence illegal activities.

So, for example, if D communicates in a sexually explicit manner with A while he intends to commit sexual assault with an unrelated B, the communication would still be constitutionally protected.

Or if D communicates in a sexually explicit manner with A and intends to commit sexual assault with A, but if the speech is not intended to induce or commence the sexual assault or any other illegal activity, the speech is constitutionally protected.

This may be a narrow class of protected speech that is criminalized; I haven’t yet worked through whether this invalidates the statute as to D or as written, but it seems to me that subsection (b) could be more clearly written:

(b) A person who is 17 years of age or older commits an offense if, with the intent to commit induce or commence commission of an offense listed in Article 62.001(5)(A), (B), or (K), Code of Criminal Procedure with or against a minor, the person, over the Internet, by electronic mail or text message or other electronic message service or system, or through a commercial online service, intentionally:

(1) communicates in a sexually explicit manner with athe minor; or

(2) distributes sexually explicit material to athe minor.

With these small changes, the statute is almost in line with First Amendment incitement law. The only element of incitement that isn’t in the statute is imminence: for incitement to be unprotected speech the defendant must intend that a crime be imminent. There is, as you might imagine, not a lot of case law on imminence. If you stuck “the imminent” in between “commence” and “commission,” you’d have a statute that I’d have difficulty attacking (which is not to say that I won’t come up with something):

(b) A person who is 17 years of age or older commits an offense if, with the intent to induce or commence the imminent commission of an offense listed in Article 62.001(5)(A), (B), or (K), Code of Criminal Procedure with or against a minor, the person, over the Internet, by electronic mail or text message or other electronic message service or system, or through a commercial online service, intentionally:

(1) communicates in a sexually explicit manner with the minor; or

(2) distributes sexually explicit material to the minor.

So that’s (b).

Subsection (c), as it is now, is unconstitutional because, in conjunction with subsection (a)(1)’s definition of minor to include anyone who represents himself to be a minor; and subsection (d)’s exclusion of fantasy and lack-of-intent defenses, it criminalizes speech that is not incitement, and is therefore protected by the First Amendment. Huffman’s edits to (a)(1) and (d) eliminate this unconstitutionality. To nail it down, imminence should be an element in (c) as well—

(c) A person commits an offense if the person, over the Internet or by electronic mail or a commercial online service, knowingly solicits a minor to meet another person, including the actor, with the intent that the minor will imminently engage in sexual contact, sexual intercourse, or deviate sexual intercourse with the actor or another person.

—but the lack of imminence is a minor problem compared with the explicit elimination of fantasy and lack-of-intent defenses.

Subsection (e)(2) still creates a defense for the defendant who, believing a cop who is older than the defendant to be a minor, solicits the cop to have sex. There is no good reason that a 33-year-old defendant can legally solicit a minor who happens to be a 36-year-old cop, but a 40-year-0ld defendant cannot. While the legislature is mucking around in this statute it ought to rewrite (e)(2) as well:

(e) It is a defense to prosecution under this section that at the time conduct described by Subsection (b) or (c) was committed:

(2) the actor was not more than three years older than the minorthe younger of (A) the age of the minor; and (B) the age the actor believed the minor to be; and the minor consented to the conduct.

There’s probably an even better way to write that, but you get the gist: the age defense should be available if the nineteen-year-old defendant believed he was chatting with a sixteen-year-old, but it should not be available if the nineteen-year-old defendant believed he was chatting with a thirteen-year-old but was actually chatting with a forty-year-old cop (because, as a rule of thumb, a “thirteen-year-old” cruising for sex on the Internet is a forty-year-old cop).

I wouldn’t ordinarily suggest improvements to make a penal statute constitutional, but since I don’t have a philosophical problem with the state punishing people who are truly trying to pick up kids for sex on the Internet, and Joan Huffman seems to be headed in the right direction on this one, I’m happy to help.

Copyright © 2013 Houston criminal-defense lawyer Mark Bennett. This feed is for personal, non-commercial use only. The use of this feed on other websites breaches copyright. If this content is not in your news reader, the page you are viewing infringes the copyright. (Digital Fingerprint: 9fddc86334d71f22cfdb4b70fe23bb0e (173.255.254.15) .)

2015.33: In Which I Gertrude About Gertruding about Gertruding

Mark's Blog: Defending People - Fri, 01/30/2015 - 21:01

I would never say that I don’t need to prove that I don’t need to prove that I’m opposed to cops being murdered. Because it’s obvious that I don’t need to prove that I don’t need to prove that I oppose murder, and rape, and revenge porn, and all of the other bad things. It goes without saying. And nobody would suggest that I need to prove that I need to prove that I’m opposed to bad things unless I proactively insisted that such was not the case.

So, once and for all, not only am I opposed to all the bad things, but also I don’t need to prove it. And furthermore I don’t need to prove that.

I hope it’s obvious. I would hate to have to prove that I don’t need to prove that I don’t need to prove that I oppose all of the bad things.

(I want Urban Dictionary credit for coining the verb “to gertrude,” meaning “to create doubt in a proposition by insisting upon it.”)

Copyright © 2013 Houston criminal-defense lawyer Mark Bennett. This feed is for personal, non-commercial use only. The use of this feed on other websites breaches copyright. If this content is not in your news reader, the page you are viewing infringes the copyright. (Digital Fingerprint: 9fddc86334d71f22cfdb4b70fe23bb0e (184.73.49.84) .)

2015.32: Texas Lawyers, Don’t Be That Guy

Mark's Blog: Defending People - Fri, 01/30/2015 - 14:19

Some lawyers are reportedly interpreting Ethics Opinion 646 to mean that they can give their clients copies of discovery produced under Article 39.14 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, despite Article 39.14(f)‘s admonition that:

The attorney representing the defendant, or an investigator, expert, consulting legal counsel, or agent for the attorney representing the defendant, may allow a defendant, witness, or prospective witness to view the information provided under this article, but may not allow that person to have copies of the information provided, other than a copy of the witness’s own statement. Before allowing that person to view a document or the witness statement of another under this subsection, the person possessing the information shall redact the address, telephone number, driver’s license number, social security number, date of birth, and any bank account or other identifying numbers contained in the document or witness statement. For purposes of this section, the defendant may not be the agent for the attorney representing the defendant.

39.14(f) is the law. Ethics Opinion 646 doesn’t change that, and the opinion really couldn’t be more clear:

Because article 39.14 requires an “open file” policy by prosecutors without pre-conditions, prosecutors would violate Rule 8.04(a)(12) if they refused to produce and permit the inspection of their file in accordance with the provisions of article 39.14 unless defense lawyers first agreed to waive certain rights of their clients. Under article 39.14—and, therefore, under Rule 8.04(a)(12)—prosecutors are required to produce and permit the inspection of their files, subject only to the limitations set forth in article 39.14. Thus, prosecutors would violate Rule 8.04(a)(12) if they attempted to impose conditions not found in article 39.14 before making the required disclosures.

The committee concludes that the Michael Morton Act has rendered Opinion 619 obsolete because the act requires an “open file” policy by all Texas prosecutors without requiring defendants or their lawyers to agree to any restrictions on their use of materials in the file except as provided in the act.

There are whiny chickenshit prosecutors who are cruising for examples of defense lawyers violating the Michael Morton Act, so that they can get their tame scared-white-republican legislators to shove through changes.

Don’t be that guy who gives his clients copies of offense reports and screws up discovery for the rest of us.

Copyright © 2013 Houston criminal-defense lawyer Mark Bennett. This feed is for personal, non-commercial use only. The use of this feed on other websites breaches copyright. If this content is not in your news reader, the page you are viewing infringes the copyright. (Digital Fingerprint: 9fddc86334d71f22cfdb4b70fe23bb0e (184.73.49.84) .)

2015.31: Ethical Question—Privilege vs. Best Interest

Mark's Blog: Defending People - Fri, 01/30/2015 - 11:51

Hypo: In a Texas criminal case, defense counsel receives a video recording in discovery from the state. Assume that she needs to prepare her witnesses for cross-examination by talking to them about the contents of the video. The defendant forbids her from showing the video to the witnesses or even telling them what it shows. She does her best to convince him to allow it, but he refuses.

How does this shake out?

Generally, the defendant has the right to make the strategic decisions in his case (plead guilty? jury or bench trial? jury or judge for punishment? seek lesser-included offense?) but trial counsel makes the tactical decisions (what witnesses to call, what questions to ask).1Good judgment isn’t what made the client a client. A lawyer has to maintain control over the defense. Often a client will want the lawyer to do things that would be disastrous to the client’s strategic goals; a lawyer can and should refuse. Whether to show the video to potential witnesses, to prepare them to testify, seems to fall under the category of “tactical decisions.” The lawyer has a responsibility to keep the client from making disastrous mistakes. And the video isn’t a secret—the State had it first.

But in Texas criminal cases, according to Rule of Evidence 503(b)(2),

a client has a privilege to prevent the lawyer or lawyer’s representative from disclosing any other fact which came to the knowledge of the lawyer or the lawyer’s representative by reason of the attorney-client relationship.

That seems pretty clear: the lawyer wouldn’t have known about the contents of the videotape if not for the attorney-client relationship, so the client has a privilege to prevent her from disclosing them.

How does this clash between the best interest of the client and the lawyer-client privilege shake out?

The lawyer may be tempted to do what is best for the client’s case, because that’s what she has been hired to do. The lawyer must resist the temptation. There’s ego involved—for her own gratification the lawyer would rather win the case than lose it. The lawyer must set aside her ego.

What if the lawyer will, following the client’s instructions, be ineffective?

Neither the Supreme Court nor this court has ever held that a lawyer provides ineffective assistance by complying with the client’s clear and unambiguous instructions not to present evidence.

Wood v. Quarterman, 491 F.3d 196, 203 (5th Cir.2007).

The privilege must win. The privilege, sacrosanct, should always win. The criminal-defense lawyer should, like Pat McCann, be willing, to go to jail to preserve the privilege.

But what if the lawyer interprets 503(b)(2) nonliterally, so that “any other fact” does not include information that would not be covered by the attorney-client privilege under the rules that we learn in law school?

That’s not what the rule says, but perhaps the lawyer could, by stretching, reasonably read the rule to allow disclosure of the video to the potential witnesses. Maybe the lawyer is setting aside her ego to make this call. Maybe the client’s concerns are misplaced, and disclosure would truly be in his best interest. Maybe if the client grieves the lawyer the State Bar would agree with the lawyer’s interpretation.

The best interest of the client and the lawyer-client privilege are guiding principles. If not for clients we would not have jobs, and if not for the privilege our clients could not trust us and we could not do our jobs. That the privilege must win is my own judgment. A lawyer might feel that the client’s best interest must win. I would call this “playing God,” disagree with it in harsh terms, and file a grievance if the client sought my help.

Or a lawyer might weight the two principles equally; in that case (and only in that case) it would be acceptable for the lawyer to consider policy, which can’t trump either the privilege or the client’s best interest. For the criminal-defense lawyer, policy favors privilege. In the vast majority of cases the client will benefit from reading the privilege more broadly, and if we accede to a narrow reading in one case we may sacrifice our ability to argue in all of those other cases that the rule says what it means.

Copyright © 2013 Houston criminal-defense lawyer Mark Bennett. This feed is for personal, non-commercial use only. The use of this feed on other websites breaches copyright. If this content is not in your news reader, the page you are viewing infringes the copyright. (Digital Fingerprint: 9fddc86334d71f22cfdb4b70fe23bb0e (54.174.64.206) .)
  1. Others have characterized the dichotomy as “fundamental” vs. “strategic” decisions, a mixing of metaphors. 

2015.30: For Shame, Professor Franks.

Mark's Blog: Defending People - Mon, 01/26/2015 - 18:08

Shame that @ACLU supports the violation of sexual privacy for profit or entertainment http://t.co/VBZ0aounKn@EndRevengePorn@cagoldberglaw

— Mary Anne Franks (@ma_franks) January 26, 2015

A wise man recently said, “If you publicly oppose criminalization of anything, zealots of criminalization will accuse you of favoring that thing.”

The argument is either ignorant or dishonest. Franks doesn’t get to plead ignorance here. She knows the argument is dishonest and she makes it anyway.

It is fair to ask, “is there some depth to which Mary Anne Franks won’t sink?” So far we haven’t found that depth.

Copyright © 2013 Houston criminal-defense lawyer Mark Bennett. This feed is for personal, non-commercial use only. The use of this feed on other websites breaches copyright. If this content is not in your news reader, the page you are viewing infringes the copyright. (Digital Fingerprint: 9fddc86334d71f22cfdb4b70fe23bb0e (65.19.138.34) .)

2015.29: We Have Seen the Enemy…

Mark's Blog: Defending People - Mon, 01/26/2015 - 17:52

The ACLU sued on behalf of several bookstores and publishing associations, the owner of the Village Voice and 12 other alternative newsweeklies nationwide, and the National Press Photographers Association.

The groups sent Mesnard and legislative leaders a letter early this month suggesting changes to the law to address its concerns that the law was overly broad. …

“In our view, we’re just trying to ask them to add some elements that first of all protect the media with respect to images that are important historically or have news value or artistic image,” said David Horowitz, executive director of the Media Coalition, whose members include publishers, librarians and booksellers. “And trying to really focus this again on the kind of malicious invasion of privacy everyone agrees is bad behavior.”

The letter suggested that Mesnard change the law to narrow its scope to address only “revenge porn” without interfering with free speech rights. Specifically, they don’t want it to apply when the publication was in the public interest or newsworthy.

And they want it to apply only to someone who was in an intimate relationship and displays a photo that their partner expected would be private with the intent to embarrass, harass or otherwise harm the person.

Mesnard said that language would be a deal-breaker because of the need to prove intent to harm, which he said would create “a big old loophole.”

(SFGate.com).

“Newsworthy,” like “in the public interest,”  is a subjective test that state actors could use to decide whom to arrest and whom not to. As Professor Neil Richards has written, “The power to declare facts or topics to be off limits to public discussion is in a very real sense the power to censor[.]”

Criminalization advocate Danielle Citron agrees with the Arizona plaintiffs and disagrees with Arizona Republican Representative J.D. Mesnard:

Revenge porn laws should also make clear that to win a conviction, prosecutors must show that the poster of the revenge porn intended to do harm.

There’s going to be a “big old loophole” in any revenge-porn statute; that loophole is called “free speech.” It is not possible to “address only ‘revenge porn’ without interfering with free speech rights.”

If the statute requires an intent to harm and has a newsworthiness or public-interest exception, it may be narrow enough to satisfy the booksellers’ interests, but it’s still going to be unconstitutional. “Everyone agrees it’s bad behavior” is not a category of unprotected speech.

Shame on the ACLU if they put their imprimatur on such a statute.

Copyright © 2013 Houston criminal-defense lawyer Mark Bennett. This feed is for personal, non-commercial use only. The use of this feed on other websites breaches copyright. If this content is not in your news reader, the page you are viewing infringes the copyright. (Digital Fingerprint: 9fddc86334d71f22cfdb4b70fe23bb0e (104.237.128.11) .)

2015.28: Billy Harmon, Hubris, and Defilement

Mark's Blog: Defending People - Sun, 01/25/2015 - 23:36

A couple of years ago I wrote a post about the prevalence of judges coaching prosecutors:

In short, the judiciary acting as an adjunct to the prosecution shouldn’t surprise anyone. Elected judges identify with the state. There are very few who will decide close calls for the defense. There are many more who will bend over backwards to make sure the state wins. What Coker did with Jones is little different than what Narcise does with Cousteau. But Narcise doesn’t text Cousteau, or if he does Cousteau is smart enough not to commit the texts to paper.

Now I’ve found a judge who is so brazen about coaching prosecutors that he doesn’t care who knows it.

Meet Billy Harmon, Judge of Harris County Criminal Court at Law Number Two.In a DWI case in Court Two, Tyler Flood filed a motion in limine asking, among other things, that Harmon “refrain from…[c]oaching the prosecution….”:

Motion for Judge Harmon not to Coach Prosecutors

Harmon denied the motion. In other words he refuses, even when asked on the record, to refrain from coaching prosecutors in the court on which he sits. (And no, judge, it’s not “your” court.)

Flood is engaged in a running struggle against Harmon. In Simpson v. State he appealed the denial of a motion to recuse Harmon because of the MADD plaque on display in the view of the jury. The judge who heard the recusal (if a party moves to recuse a judge and the judge doesn’t recuse herself, another judge hears the matter and decides whether recusal is appropriate) said, “The motion to recuse is denied, but I would strongly hope that the Judge would do the right thing and take down the plaque.”

Justice Sharp dissented in Simpson, writing in part:

To display behind the trial bench a plaque awarded by one of the most well-established interest groups in the nation not only fails to keep the interest group at bay, but also invites others to take notice that, in the judge’s capacity as a public official, his actions merited the group’s commendation. When that interest group is Mothers Against Drunk Driving—a group dedicated to the proposition that the offense for which the accused citizen is being tried in that very courtroom is a very bad and potentially horrific thing—the sanctuary has been twice defiled: not only by the agenda of the interest group, but also by the hubris of the judge charged with the responsibility of assuring a fair and impartial DWI trial.

The fact that the voters of Harris County pulled the lever marked “R” to allow Billy Harmon to work in County Criminal Court at Law Number Two doesn’t give him the right to dishonor it.

p.s. There’s another wrinkle to this story that will bear watching. When Flood sent an associate to the clerk’s office to get a copy of the motion in limine, the associate was given this:

Motion for Judge Harmon not to Coach Prosecutors (Tampered?) Copyright © 2013 Houston criminal-defense lawyer Mark Bennett. This feed is for personal, non-commercial use only. The use of this feed on other websites breaches copyright. If this content is not in your news reader, the page you are viewing infringes the copyright. (Digital Fingerprint: 9fddc86334d71f22cfdb4b70fe23bb0e (70.39.246.37) .)

2015.27: Stalin is Smiling

Mark's Blog: Defending People - Sat, 01/24/2015 - 23:24

I don’t think I’d heard of Brad Spangler before today, when this popped up in my feed reader:

The following message was posted on Facebook, allegedly from Brad Spangler, and I find it difficult to believe. If someone out there is trying to malign him or malign libertarianism through him, then it is a viciously sick joke. I’m suspending judgment until more is known, and I hope everyone else does the same. I am not providing the FB link because the commentary thread has been reduced to spewing hatred.

The message (purportedly) from Brad Spangler:

“…During a particularly bad period in 2004, I molested my young daughter. I did not do so forcibly, but the betrayal of trust and resulting potential emotional fallout for her has weighed heavily on my conscience ever since, to the point of doubting my sanity and refusing to believe I had, or even could have, done such a thing.

“While I believe justice ought to be handled as a matter of restitution to the victim rather than punishment, my declining physical health, apparently from myotonic dystrophy, means I probably don’t have many years left to live in which attempts could be made at restitution. With the laptop going in for warranty exchange, worries about discovery of which web sites I had visited and further questions that might raise convinced me that facing the currently dominant accountability process, regardless of what’s right or wrong with it, is the best thing I can do for my daughter.”

In case my formatting isn’t clear, the first two paragraphs are my excerpt of Wendy McElroy’s words. The last two paragraphs (in quotes) are my excerpt of Brad Spangler’s purported message, which McElroy quoted in full.

Go ahead and read it. I’ll wait.

Spangler was an anarchist philosopher, one of the founders of the Center for a Stateless Society (C4SS).

McElroy links to this post by Thomas L. Knapp. Knapp also wrote this post, on C4SS’s response to Spangler’s post.

A search for Spangler’s name this morning turned up the Wikipedia entry on Anarchism and Anarcho-Capitalism.

I’ll get to the content of Knapp’s posts, C4SS’s response to Spangler’s post, and the Wikipedia entry. I want to start, though, with the content of Spangler’s Facebook post.

Spangler writes, “During a particularly bad period in 2004, I molested my young daughter.” I think we can assume that by “molested” he means sexual misconduct of some sort. We don’t know the circumstances, the age of the daughter, or anything else other than Spangler’s characterization.

I did not do so forcibly, but the betrayal of trust and resulting potential emotional fallout for her has weighed heavily on my conscience ever since, to the point of doubting my sanity and refusing to believe I had, or even could have, done such a thing.

If Spangler was unsure that it had happened, how can we be sure now that it happened? If Spangler had convinced himself that he had never done such a thing, then perhaps his daughter had convinced herself of the same, or had otherwise found ways to deal with it without major public drama.

“Potential emotional fallout for her” implies that the emotional fallout had not, at the time that he wrote this message, yet materialized.  Emotional fallout will surely materialize now, though his now-teenage or young-adult daughter might very well deny that anything had ever happened, both for her father’s sake and for her own.

Spangler is coming clean now for the sake of his conscience. It is not politically correct to say so, so I’ll say it: he is wrong. Publicly confessing, forcing her to revisit the memories, replay them in her mind, and answer the questions of authorities, may be a greater betrayal than molesting her in the first place.

Outcomes for children abused by relatives (as, if we credit Spangler’s confession, happened here) are on average worse than for children abused by non-relatives. But child sexual abuse does not necessarily lead to long-term harm. While childhood sexual abuse is associated with harm, family environment is a confounding factor that may be responsible for the association. This was a finding of the peer-reviewed 1998 Rind meta-analysis, which was suppressed because it wasn’t politically correct. 2006 research by Heather Ulrich supported the proposition: “child sexual abuse was found to account for 1% of the variance in later psychological outcomes, whereas family environment accounted for 5.9% of the variance.”

Child sexual abuse causes an almost-universal moral panic. It’s an easy target because nobody wants to be accused of favoring child sexual abuse. The moral panic causes the suppression of any scientific research that would counteract the moral panic. But the panic may be worse for the child than the sexual abuse. The adverse effects of child sexual abuse are magnified by people freaking out about child sexual abuse. A 1979 study by David Finkelhor found that children who disclosed their sexual abuse experiences reported that the reaction of their parents and authorities upon their disclosure caused chaos in their lives, and overrode the actual abuse experience. The better approach for those who love the sexually abused child is to give him a safe space to talk about it, and to take their cue from him. By contrast, revealing publicly on Facebook that your daughter was sexually abused as a child is a horrid, nasty, narcissistic thing to do.

Spangler goes on to write:

While I believe justice ought to be handled as a matter of restitution to the victim rather than punishment, my declining physical health, apparently from myotonic dystrophy, means I probably don’t have many years left to live in which attempts could be made at restitution. With the laptop going in for warranty exchange, worries about discovery of which web sites I had visited and further questions that might raise convinced me that facing the currently dominant accountability process, regardless of what’s right or wrong with it, is the best thing I can do for my daughter.

He’s confessing because he’s sending his thousand-dollar laptop in for warranty exchange and people might discover which websites he had visited. That is one of the stupidest things I’ve ever read a smart guy write. I mean, it’s really fucking stupid. Swap out the hard drive, send the laptop in for exchange and destroy the incriminating drive. Or just burn the whole damn laptop, take the thousand-dollar loss, and dedicate the rest of your short life to trying to improve your daughter’s life.

Instead, this smart guy plans to “peaceably turn[ himself] in to the Kansas City Police Department, confirm[] this confession, refus[e] any potential bond and fac[e] accountability in court.”

Even aside from the harm that Spangler may have done to his daughter by publicly announcing that she was sexually abused as a child, turning himself in and giving the state its pound of flesh is going to make any restitution more difficult, and is not likely to do her any good at all. He’s choosing self-flagellation over what he acknowledges to be her best interest. Presumably she loves him and doesn’t want to see him in prison.

This is like society’s harmful handling of child sex abuse on a smaller scale. Just as our society does, Spangler chooses moral panic over science—refusing to acknowledge that child sex abuse does not necessarily have intense long-term adverse effects and treat it rationally in the best interest of the children. Society does it because it feels good to pretend we’re fighting absolute evil. Spangler does it to make himself feel better.

I am not a fan.

But I’m also not eager to erase Spangler from history. Which is what this Wikipedia editor would do:

The text that this editor would remove is not a lengthy paragraph on how Spangler is a terrific father. It is a paragraph about Spangler’s analysis of Murray Rothbard’s political philosophy. Why expunging this would be respectful to Spangler’s daughter and wife, and why the editor thinks he knows this, is a mystery. Spangler’s admitted crime doesn’t make the text any less accurate. Here, the child-sex-abuse moral panic drives the editor toward revisionism.

Even the Center for a Stateless Society, which one would hope, based on its name alone, would not join in this moral panic that feeds authoritarianism, takes a revisionist stance:

C4SS has changed substantially over the years as we’ve grown and Spangler does not represent us. Rather than continue to host the writing of a child molester and to make clear our strenuous disassociation we’ve removed his historical posts from our site. At the same time we do not mean to disingenuously “memoryhole” Spangler’s unfortunate legacy and will be archiving his historical content on another site, the Spangler Pensieve.

As Knapp writes:

The content he wrote in that role either had value or it didn’t. If it did have value, it still does and should be kept published in situ where it has resided — and been linked to externally from — for years. If it doesn’t have value, it never did and the Center itself, being in non-trivial measure built on that content, is a sham.

C4SS and the Wikipedia editor compound their revisionism with a true ad hominem fallacy: it’s not that they seek to erase his ideas because those ideas are now disfavored, but that they seek to do so because he is now disfavored.

In his earlier post Knapp writes:

Naturally, my counsel/position of “wait and see, this may not be what it seems” as opposed to “throw the bastard under the bus, NOW!” elicited reactions from some quarters along the lines of “you rotten son of a bitch, I bet you’re a pedophile yourself and I am going to give your name to the police.” For the record, I have never molested a child, nor would I ever dream of defending such actions. I suspect the people making such threats are typical keyboard war heroes who are too lazy to actually research my name, location, etc. and make a phone call to file a false report, but if it happens, consider yourself forewarned that that is what is happening.

…”[M]ake no mistake, I strongly condemn the actions described in the post….”

No response is required to the “I’ll bet you’re a pedophile yourself” reaction to a call for rational behavior. If it goes without saying, don’t say it. By treating the accusation seriously, you perpetuate the reaction and feed the moral panic. If you must respond to the suggestion that your procedural caution means you support the substance, “go fuck yourself,” or some other flavor of the same message will suffice.

Copyright © 2013 Houston criminal-defense lawyer Mark Bennett. This feed is for personal, non-commercial use only. The use of this feed on other websites breaches copyright. If this content is not in your news reader, the page you are viewing infringes the copyright. (Digital Fingerprint: 9fddc86334d71f22cfdb4b70fe23bb0e (173.255.254.15) .)

2015.26: Standard Disclaimers Always Apply

Mark's Blog: Defending People - Fri, 01/23/2015 - 12:48

“Let me state boldly; I am against sexual assault. But…”

“I am against revenge porn. But…”

“I am not a supporter of crime or criminals.…”

Of course you are against all the bad things. So you don’t need to say it. Please don’t.

I understand the impulse: if you publicly oppose uncritically believing people who make rape accusations, you will be accused by small-minded people of favoring sexual assault. If you publicly oppose criminalization of anything, zealots of criminalization will accuse you of favoring that thing. If you defend people accused of crimes, the booboisie will infer that you support those people and their crimes.

The disclaimer is a preemptive strike against this illogical inference. But even if it’s true, it is not going to convince anyone. (If your disclaimer is, “I am a strong proponent of free speech, but…”, it’s probably not true; the second half of your sentence will tell.)

The great mass of readers are either too poorly educated to tell the difference between procedure and substance, or too dishonest to acknowledge it. The ignorant group doesn’t understand that you can fight criminalization without supporting bad conduct; the dishonest group understands, but pretends otherwise in order to quash dissent. (I’m sure you all have favorite examples of the latter, you misogynistic rape apologist you.)

This is our culture: subtlety is lost. Ignorant people may be educable, but you can’t make dishonest people honest. (Protip for telling them apart: you can’t. So you get to pick between trying to educate the dishonest, and giving up on the ignorant.)

By proclaiming your bona fides, you play into this cultural trend. You go on the defensive before you’ve been irrationally attacked. Even though you don’t mean to, you lend legitimacy to the illogical inference, opening for discussion whether you are in fact in favor of revenge porn / sexual assault / crime, when you intend to discuss how best to deal with revenge porn / sexual assault / crime.

If it goes without saying, don’t say it.

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2015.25: Deceivers and Truth-Tellers

Mark's Blog: Defending People - Tue, 01/20/2015 - 15:23

The question comes up time and again: should lawyers portray the legal system as some wish it were, or as it really is?

Those who think we should portray the legal system as they wish it were—an accurate instrument for finding the truth, with rules that work and players who are above reproach as long as they follow those rules—are deceivers. Their deception has a purpose, perhaps—to “fake it until we make it,” or to keep the rubes from rioting—but they are deceivers nonetheless.

Those who portray the legal system as it really is are truth-tellers. When truth-tellers speak, deceivers accuse us of bringing the profession into disrepute and try to shut us down.

From the (Canadian) Law Times last month:

[Dalhousie University lawprof Elaine] Craig also takes issue with lawyer web sites that imply aggressive advocacy in sexual assault cases, a sensitive topic in light of the current debates around the reticence of victims to report sexual assaults. In her view, implying aggressive advocacy may contravene law society rules on marketing. She noted, for example, the web site of law firm Adler Bytensky Prutschi Shikhman, which pointed out that “in many sexual assault allegations, the only evidence comes from a single complainant. It is therefore critical that your lawyer be capable of conducting a thorough and exhaustive cross-examination. Depending on a host of factors, this may call for light suggestive questioning or aggressive confrontational examination.”

According to Craig, even if lawyers have a duty to engage in aggressive cross-examination, “that shouldn’t translate into your marketing platform.”

“No one is constitutionally entitled to any defence possible,” she continues.

“Whatever we rely on as the legal profession to justify that kind of conduct, that doesn’t apply to marketing.”

Fascinating, professor.

Craig seems to doubt that aggressive confrontational cross-examination is justified. But even accepting for the sake of the argument that it is, she opines that advertising such advocacy in sex-assault cases is unjustified. So it’s not in all cases that lawyers are forbidden, in Craig World, from advertising their special skills, nor in all criminal cases, but only in sex-assault cases.

The rules are different for sex assault cases. Because political correctness.

I don’t know “law society rules on marketing”; they may indeed forbid “implying aggressive advocacy” in sex-assault cases. Canada’s a strange place, eh? Craig’s complaint, more specifically, is that such advertising may be inconsistent with:

…the rule requiring lawyers to encourage public respect for the administration of justice and to conduct oneself in a manner that reflects favourably on the legal profession and that inspires the confidence, respect and trust of the community, the duty to maintain client confidentiality and to uphold the reputation of the legal profession, the duty of competence, the obligation to communicate in a manner that is consistent with the proper tone of a professional communication from a lawyer, and the requirement that public statements by a lawyer concerning a client’s affairs are in the best interests of the client and not for the purpose of publicity or self-promotion…

So advertising that doesn’t encourage public respect for the administration of justice is improper. But whether advertising encourages public respect for the administration of justice is mostly subjective. Professor Craig may have one view of what the public should look for in a criminal-justice system (gentle treatment of complainants); I have a very different one (a fighting chance for the accused).

By acting as though sex-assault complainants aren’t given any more special treatment than the law requires, Adler Bytensky encourages public respect for the administration of justice, as the law society rules require. He’s telling the truth. It’s only those who think that sex-assault cases call for less due process who will see aggressive cross-examination of a sex-assault complainant as a bad thing for the system.

The criminal-justice system is imperfect, and it’s important that it get things as right as possible. Aggressive cross-examination, when it is appropriate, is an engine for getting to the truth. If the Crown can’t prove its case in the face of a zealous defense, then the system has worked.

Even if the defendant really did it.

“All parties were drinking at a New Years Eve Party. The Complainant became intoxicated and unconscious. The Complainant’s partner and L.H. placed the Complainant in L.H.’s bed due to her intoxicated state. The Complainant became ill, thus her partner and L.H. cleaned up both the Complainant and the area where she became ill. The next morning the Complainant alleges L.H. sexually assaulted her in her sleep. DNA analysis was completed on the Complainant’s underwear and tested positive for L.H.’s DNA. Results: Jury acquitted Mr. L.H. of all charges.”

Craig then noted some of her concerns: “Individuals cannot consent to sex while unconscious. By describing this sequence of events, and then noting that the accused’s DNA was found in the complainant’s underwear but not offering any other details of the case besides the acquittal, this advertisement may leave the reader with the impression that the client was factually guilty. No other information about the case is given.”

Any practicing lawyer recognizes that there are other explanations for these facts than factual guilt. Among them:

  • LH may have had consensual sex with Complainant before she was intoxicated;
  • LH may have had consensual sex with Complainant after she regained consciousness;
  • LH may have had sex with Complainant’s partner, who then touched LH’s underwear;
  • Someone may have planted LH’s DNA or Complainant’s underwear;
  • Complainant may have sat on something containing LH’s DNA; and
  • Complainant may have sexually assaulted LH after she regained consciousness.

That strikes me as the point of the lawyer’s (Sean Robichaud of Ontario) advertising: a story that appears to people like Craig like a foregone conclusion of guilt may, in the hands of the right lawyer, turn into an acquittal.

And sure there’s much more to Robichaud’s story than he’s telling in his ad. That’s just a teaser. Robichaud gives us only the facts that the client, the Crown, and Robichaud might have started with when the client was charged, and tells us what the ultimate result was. What happened in between is the work that Robichaud got paid to do. It’s a before-and-after shot. While Robichaud may advertise how he worked his magic, he has no obligation to.

Sure, this might leave the reader with the impression that LH was factually guilty (and I would take issue with it if the reader could determine LH’s identity from the information Robichaud gives). But “factually guilty people are sometimes acquitted” isn’t the indictment of the system that “factually innocent people are sometimes convicted” is. The easier we make it to convict the factually guilty, the easier it becomes to convict the factually innocent. Yes, factually guilty people are sometimes acquitted. That’s the truth.

Craig doesn’t take issue with the advertising as deceptive. She can’t: although told with a purpose, it’s truthful. Deception would lie in suppressing the truth.

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2015.24: What’s the Message?

Mark's Blog: Defending People - Tue, 01/20/2015 - 12:20

When four felony prosecutors quit or are fired from the Harris County DA’s Office in a week, I try to tease out the pattern, or the message that is being sent.

  • #3 in the 182nd.
  • Chief in Court 4.
  • Assistant in Forfeiture Division.
  • Chief in the 176th.

What do these four lawyers (there may be more that I haven’t heard of) have in common? What message does their discharge send to the rest of the office? No idea. I haven’t heard any gossip that doesn’t strike me as bullshit. So this post is just a placeholder for now; I’ll return to it when I have a theory.

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2015.23: Hacking the DWI Checkpoint

Mark's Blog: Defending People - Mon, 01/19/2015 - 11:30

If law is the operating system for society, then good lawyers are hackers. In the criminal justice system, there are white-hat hackers and black-hat hackers; which are which depends on your point of view. If you favor safety over freedom, prosecutors wear white hats and people like me wear black. If you prefer freedom to safety, it’s the other way around.

Whichever way it is, there are people getting paid to use the rules of the system, or to change them if possible, to their clients’ advantage. If a good criminal-defense lawyer can find a way to get her client out of trouble, she’ll do so.

Those who think they’ve found a magical way to get or stay out of trouble that lawyers aren’t using often believe that the lawyers aren’t using it because they are part of a conspiracy to keep the truth from the public. But there is no British Accreditation Registry, no secret agreement among lawyers to conceal from the public the source code of the system. In fact, that source code is open-source. Interpreting it requires training and experience, though, and the Uniform Commercial Code is not foundational.

Matt Brown (in Tempe next to the Olive Garden) and Scott Greenfield both wrote recently about a video that has been circulating purporting to show how to get through a DWI checkpoint unscathed. Per Brown:

An interesting DUI checkpoint video has been circulating lately. In it, the driver gets through without even rolling down his window, passing by with ease thanks to a plastic bag attached to his car with a string. The bag contained his license, registration, insurance information, and a note saying “I remain silent,” “No searches,” and “I want my lawyer.” As clever as it may be, it’s also dangerous to think it will always be that easy.

Greenfield notes that there is a lawyer, Warren Redlich, behind the video:

But that there have been more than 2.2 million views of this video, as of this writing, based on Warren Redlich’s legal incisiveness suggests that there will be a whole lot of stupid happening on the roads.  While this may comport with Warren’s libertarian politics, it’s just truly bad and deeply disturbing lawyering.

If you try this and things don’t work nearly as well as the video, give Warren a call. I’m sure he will be there to defend you pro bono.  And maybe he’ll win, if the cop doesn’t show up again.

He apparently doesn’t think it’s a good idea. Neither does Brown, who writes:

I’d only recommend doing what the guy in the video did to people who are not breaking any laws…. If you try the stunt in the video and it turns out you have a high blood alcohol concentration, drugs in the car, or are doing something else illegal, it will probably never work.

I have to disagree with Brown. I’d only recommend doing what the guy in the video did if you are breaking the law, and if the cops are going to detect that you are—for example, if you have a high blood alcohol content or a car full of weed smoke. There are a thousand ways the police can get you out of the car (they are more experienced at legal hacking than you are, and they lie with impunity), and if they go to that trouble they are going to make your life more difficult even if you weren’t really doing anything wrong (in Texas, checkpoints are illegal, but almost everything is an arrestable offense). You may beat that rap, but you won’t beat the ride. (Section 1983 suit? Ha. Good luck with that.)

If, however, you were doing something wrong, then by throwing up lawful obstacles to the detection of your crime you increase your chances of eventually beating the rap. The more legal puzzles the police have to solve to gather evidence against you, the more likely it is that they will screw something up and make the evidence suppressible.

Of course, if you were doing something wrong you probably would have avoided the checkpoint in the first place, and if you were intoxicated and didn’t avoid the checkpoint you probably wouldn’t have the presence of mind to dangle your documents out the window.

Have no fear, though. You can always fall back on this:

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2015.22: Illinois’s Revenge-Porn Statute

Mark's Blog: Defending People - Sat, 01/17/2015 - 22:44

Here’s the meat of Illinois’s new revenge-porn criminalization statute:

720 ILCS 5/11-46 Sexual exploitation via non-consensual dissemination of a sexual act or intimate parts.

(b) A person commits sexual exploitation via non-consensual dissemination of a sexual act or intimate parts when he or she:

(1) intentionally disseminates an image of another identifiable person who is engaged in a sexual act or whose intimate parts are exposed; and

(2) the person knows or should have known the other person has not consented to the dissemination.

(c) Exemptions. The following activities are exempt from the provisions of this Section.

(1) The intentional dissemination … made under a criminal investigation that is otherwise lawful.

(2) The intentional dissemination … for the purpose of, or in connection with, the reporting of unlawful conduct.

(3) The intentional dissemination … where the images involve voluntary exposure in public or commercial settings.

(4) The intentional dissemination … when the dissemination serves a lawful public purpose.

It is a class four felony: the penalty is from one to three years in prison.

Danielle Citron is of the opinion that a revenge-porn statute should “only punish individuals who knowingly and maliciously invade another’s privacy and trust.” The Illinois statute does not do so.

It has a “public purpose” exception to satisfy the Weiner-picture fetishists, but a public-purpose exception doesn’t save an otherwise-unconstitutional statute. Professor Neil Richards argues that the power to decide whether speech is legitimate, is the power to censor.

Under this, as under the Arizona statute that has been put on hold in U.S. District Court, innocent baby pictures would be felonious.

Carrie Goldberg likes it.

So let’s run through the First Amendment analysis:

Does it restrict speech? Yes: dissemination of an image is speech.

Is the restriction content-based? Yes: the image must be of an identifiable person engaged in a sexual act or with intimate parts exposed. So it violates the Grumpy-Cat Rule. So it’s presumptively unconstitutional.

To be upheld it has to pass the categorical test applied by the Supreme Court in Stevens and Alvarez. Under that test, a substantial amount of the forbidden speech must not be protected. Protected speech is all speech that doesn’t fall into a category of historically unprotected speech.

All categories of historically unprotected speech have not necessarily been recognized by the Supreme Court yet. But the categories so far recognized are:

  • Advocacy intended, and likely, to incite imminent lawless action;
  • [Distribution of] obscenity;
  • Defamation;
  • Speech integral to [non-speech] criminal conduct;
  • So-called “fighting words”;
  • Child pornography;
  • Fraud;
  • True threats; and
  • Speech presenting some grave and imminent threat the government has the power to prevent.

Some of the speech forbidden by the Illinois statute might incidentally be unprotected—it might be obscenity or child pornography—but there is no recognized category that includes the bulk of speech forbidden by section 5/11-46.

So to uphold the statute a court would have to recognize a new category of unprotected speech that covered at least almost all of the speech forbidden by the statute. I’ve discussed what that means here; the short version is that it’s hard to see what category this speech might fit into that wouldn’t also cover a great deal of speech that benefits society. We’ll see what the pro-criminalization folks propose.

 

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2014.21: How to Ask for Advice

Mark's Blog: Defending People - Fri, 01/16/2015 - 19:40

Sarah “Bennett’s Brain Emeritus” Wood of the Harris County PD’s Office is the queen of all things mentorly. After the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association had tried for years to create a functioning mentorship program it was Sarah who created the Second-Chair Program, which has been cranking out better-trained criminal-defense lawyers for at least six years. Sarah also organized the Future Appointed Counsel Training Program, which connects Gideon’s Promise-trained young lawyers with experienced mentors for a two-year stint.

One component of the Harris County criminal bar’s mentorship regimen is monthly brainstorming sessions, also organized by Sarah. We’ll gather in the ready room on the seventh floor of the courthouse at lunchtime, HCCLA will order in food, and people will share their case issues and ask for advice from more-experienced lawyers.

These sessions are often frustrating for the more-experienced lawyers. Having given some thought to what makes them so, I’ve got some advice to offer those seeking advice.

First, and most importantly, before you ask for advice do whatever legal research you can yourself. You’d better have spent some time on the problem before bringing it to mentors. Not doing so is lazy and disrespectful—if your mentors thought your time was more valuable than theirs, you would be the mentors and they would be the proteges. If you haven’t already done a bunch of online research, their advice is probably going to be “get back with us after you’ve spent some time on Westlaw” or Lexis or CaseMaker (free to Texas lawyers through the State Bar) or even Google Scholar.

Second, before you ask for advice know your facts inside and out. Be ready to answer questions about them. Not knowing your facts wastes your mentors’ time as well. How are we supposed to help you if you can’t tell us who the car was registered to?

Third, when you ask for advice, explain what you think the problem is (“how do I suppress the dope?”). Then explain what work you’ve already done to find the answer (“I searched CaseMaker for cases involving searches of personal property incident to arrest post-Arizona v. Gant“). Then—and only then—explain the facts.

Inexperienced lawyers usually turn this sequence around backwards, and start explaining the facts first. This is a cultural impulse, I think: when we are tested in school our teachers give us the fact pattern first and then ask questions about it. But our teachers know what facts are relevant.

If you are not the one doing the testing, giving the facts first is terribly inefficient because you don’t necessarily know what facts are important and the people who are trying to help you have no idea what facts to listen for. If you put the facts first you will waste your mentors’ time with rabbit trails, and you will leave things out so that they will have to circle back after you’ve finally gotten to your explanation of what you think the problem is.

If you start with the problem, when you get to the facts the mentors can discard those that are irrelevant and can ask pointed questions to flesh out those that you have omitted. They can also find other defenses that you haven’t thought of—often younger lawyers will fail to spot the issues—but that’s secondary.

The same rule applies for potential clients asking lawyers for help: explain the problem (or what you think it is) first, then explain the facts that you think are important.

If you’re doing this in writing, more paragraph breaks are better than fewer. It is harder to extract information from run-on paragraphs than from bullet points. If you’re doing it orally, slow down for the same reason.

Because the easier you make it to help you, the more people will be able—and want—to help you.

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2015.20: Listen!

Mark's Blog: Defending People - Thu, 01/15/2015 - 21:36

Listening is vital to trial lawyers. It’s probably more important than any other single skill, but it is less studied, less trained, and less practiced. Lawyers often don’t listen very well. I’ve seen egregiously bad examples from all sides of the criminal bar; many times I’ve wanted to shake a lawyer or judge by the collar and shout, did you not hear what that person just said?

I have written about listening here multiple times. Among other posts, I wrote in 2007 about listening, attentiveness, and mindfulness; in 2008 about the value of listening; and in 2009 about how not listening was the worst voir dire advice ever. Listening is explicit in two of my rules for better jury selection—Rule Two (The Blind Date Rule) and Rule Fifteen (The Bat Rule) and implicit in the rest.

It’s an important and interesting topic. Both psychodrama-director training and improvisational-theater training make me a better listener.

So I was thrilled to discover, via the Twitter Machine, Jennifer Romig’s Listen Like a Lawyer blog. It’s not really about listening like a lawyer, of course, since lawyers don’t listen very well, but about lawyers listening better.

Romig’s posts are lengthy, substantive, and link-rich. She’s writing for lawyers about things that lawyers need to know. (Before every trial I’m going to ask all of my juniors to read her recent post on second-chair listening.) This is the practical blawgosphere at its best. More, please.

Copyright © 2013 Houston criminal-defense lawyer Mark Bennett. This feed is for personal, non-commercial use only. The use of this feed on other websites breaches copyright. If this content is not in your news reader, the page you are viewing infringes the copyright. (Digital Fingerprint: 9fddc86334d71f22cfdb4b70fe23bb0e (104.237.128.11) .)

2015.19: Get It?

Mark's Blog: Defending People - Wed, 01/14/2015 - 15:03

Murray Newman is a witness in Ex Parte Temple. The writ hearing has been going on sporadically for several weeks. One of the issues is whether Kelly Siegler concealed exculpatory information from the defense. Newman testified early, and Siegler has been on the witness stand for at least four days (orthogonally: here and here are the transcripts of Siegler’s first two days of testimony).

So when Newman wrote this post, around his doctor and a cancer scare, I commented:

I was wondering when you were going to write about Siegler and the temple case. Thank you.

Murray’s commenters don’t get it.

I believe that my commenters come from a different tranche of the bell curve.

Prove me right.

 

Copyright © 2013 Houston criminal-defense lawyer Mark Bennett. This feed is for personal, non-commercial use only. The use of this feed on other websites breaches copyright. If this content is not in your news reader, the page you are viewing infringes the copyright. (Digital Fingerprint: 9fddc86334d71f22cfdb4b70fe23bb0e (66.155.9.149) .)

2015.18: Texas Law Shield and Second Call Defense

Mark's Blog: Defending People - Tue, 01/13/2015 - 22:53

One of my gun-totin’ libertarian friends asked me:

What do you think about those legal insurance funds for CHL holders?
For example:

http://www.texaslawshield.com/

http://www.secondcalldefense.org/

Any good? Worth it? Or no opinion?

I have different issues with the two companies.

Texas Law Shield is not “insurance,” but rather “a licensed legal services company.” It purports to provide “legal representation by an attorney”—an attorney, not the attorney of your choice—for any contract holder in good standing who has a “use of a firearm:”

Any incident where the Legal Service Contract Holder either discharges or displays a firearm for the purpose of using the firearm as a weapon to stop a threat, whether the Legal Service Contract Holder pulls the trigger and discharges the firearm or not. This term does not include taking the firearm to a location that is prohibited by federal, state, or local law, negligent or unintended discharges, or negligent or unintended displays.

So if you’re not using your firearm to stop a threat, you are not covered. Often in a gun case the central issue is whether you are using your firearm to stop a threat.

The contract holder is not covered if he is carrying somewhere that he is not allowed to:

In order for Legal Service Contract Holder to receive the benefits described in this Legal Services Contract, at the time of a use of a firearm incident occurs, the Legal Service Contract Holder must be in legal possession of a firearm, and at the time of the use of a firearm the Legal Service Contract Holder must be in a location where Legal Services Contract Holder could legally possess a firearm.

That doesn’t seem unreasonable, but again, whether the accused was in legal possession of a firearm is often a central question in a gun case.

Here’s the big exclusion:

This Legal Service Contract specifically excludes legal representation for the Legal Service Contract Holder’s use of a firearm, if at the time of the use of the firearm; Legal Service Contract Holder was in the commission of any crime using their firearm for which justification under state law is inapplicable.

What does “for which justification under state law is inapplicable” mean? Does it mean that your commission of the crime was unjustified, or that justification was not legally available as a defense?

Who decides whether you were committing a gun crime, and when?

I see three obvious possibilities (there may be more to the contract than linked to from the “legalese” button here, but that is what my analysis is built on):

First, Texas Law Shield could decide before the representation whether the otherwise-covered use of a firearm was a violation of the law. It’d be in the company’s interest to decide that it wasn’t, so that they wouldn’t have to pay some lawyer to show up for you. Recall the Stanford case, in which the insurer came in to court to prove that its insured had committed money laundering so that it wouldn’t have to pay up.

If Texas Law Shield looks at the case (newspaper reports? the offense report? the charging instrument) and concludes that you were not justified in using your weapon, they can deny coverage, leaving you to hire a lawyer. Depending on who that lawyer is and who Texas Law Shield’s lawyer would have been, you might be better off, but the money you had sent to Texas Law Shield would have been wasted.

Second, Texas Law Shield could decide during the representation, after “a” lawyer had started representing you, whether the firearm use was a crime. The lawyer would be in a quandary: he would know he wasn’t getting paid, but he would have an obligation to you. A good lawyer would take this as a cheap lesson and keep doing his best, but there are lawyers out there who would seek to withdraw because of Texas Law Shield’s decision not to pay any more, and there are lawyers out there who would not put their full energy into the defense of a case on which they weren’t being paid. There would be a conflict of interest between the lawyer and you, which the lawyer wasn’t anticipating when she took the case.

In either of those first two scenarios, you could then sue Texas Law Shield, alleging that its failure to provide you with a defense was in bad faith, but you’d have an uphill battle (because they had a good-faith reason to believe, when they denied coverage, that you were guilty), and potential compensatory damages would be limited, probably to the amount that Texas Law Shield would have paid “a” lawyer to represent you. If Texas Law Shield denied coverage and you were convicted, the rule in Peeler v. Hughes and Luce would keep you from recovering for that incidental (and yet not incidental) damage.

Third, Texas Law Shield could decide after you were convicted (because sometimes innocent people get convicted) that the jury was right, and that you had committed a crime. Because that jury verdict is pretty conclusive evidence, for legal purposes, that you had.

By that time you would already have received all of the help from “a” lawyer that Texas Law Shield was willing to provide you, and either they would have paid her (in which case they could, perhaps, sue you) or would not have (in which case she could, perhaps, sue you). At that point, though, a civil lawsuit is likely the least of your worries.

Even if you were acquitted, Texas Law Shield could deny coverage—if they refused to pay for a lawyer and you sued them, they could defend themselves by proving by a preponderance of the evidence in civil court that you had committed a crime with your gun.

Which of these three scenarios is the worst case for the toter of guns is an open question: depending on who “a” lawyer is, no lawyer at all might be a better deal. Gun toters are usually nearer the right edge than the left edge of the Nolan Chart; not the sort of people who would choose government-employed defense counsel over private counsel of their choice. Yet they’ll pay Texas Gun Shield for the services of some unspecified lawyer in the unlikely event that they get in trouble with their guns.

Texas LawShield looks to me like a sucker’s bet. You’d be better-off making friends with a good criminal-defense lawyer, sending him a good bottle of bourbon now and then, than sending your money to a company that, in the highly unlikely event you get in trouble with your gun, might—or might not—provide you with a lawyer of unknown provenance.

You can’t actually see all of the terms of Second Call Defense’s contract without giving them a credit card number and signing up (no thank you), but it appeears taht Second Call Defense is insurance: for $240 a year, they say, you get civil-suit defense, $50k in civil liability coverage, $50k in “accidental shooting protection” (whatever that is), and $50k in criminal-defense reimbursement, as well as bail money, $5k cash up front for a lawyer, and various other baubles.

Second Call Defense’s $50,000 will pay for a first-class defense on most any gun crime. If you had a one-in-208 chance of using that coverage—Second Call would be an even-money bet. But it’s highly unlikely that you’ll it. Still, it’s insurance, which can be a good bet, despite the numerical odds, when the possible loss is catastrophic. If there is no way you could afford $50,000 for a defense, you might pay $240 a year to insure against a less than one-in-208 chance of that $150,000 loss.

But if “reimbursement” means reimbursement, Second Call Defense won’t pay for the criminal-defense lawyer up front. They’ll pay you back after you’ve spent the money. But you’ll still have to come up with that money yourself. And if you have that money to spend, it makes more sense to self-insure than to pay for insurance for a minuscule risk.

If you don’t have that $50,000 to spend, you’re not getting that $50,000 lawyer with or without Second Call Defense’s reimbursement: reimbursement is not something you can spend on a lawyer. If you come to me and say, “I don’t have the money now, but I have Second Call Defense, and they’ll pay,” I’ll first ask to see your contract with Second Call Defense. And if “reimbursement” means reimbursement I’ll politely decline unless you can come up with the money elsewhere.

Because aside from the fact that you can’t be reimbursed for something you haven’t paid, I’ll see this in the Second Call Defense agreement: “The Membership Services WILL NOT be provided if your ownership or use of a firearm violates applicable law.” On those terms, I wouldn’t—in fact I couldn’t—agree to represent you in hopes of Second Call Defense’s reimbursement money. I wouldn’t because I get paid up front; I couldn’t because taking on a criminal case in the anticipation of getting paid after I win is taking the case on a contingent fee, and that would be unethical. (Suppose that I beat the State on an aggravated assault case down to an unlawfully-carrying-a-weapon plea. Is it in your best interest for you to take it? Is it in my best interest?)

Both Texas Gun Shield and Second Call Defense have an inherent conflict of interest: if you lose your criminal case, they don’t have to pay for your defense, so they benefit if you lose. Why anyone would trust a company with such a conflict to choose his lawyer for him is baffling to me.

Second Call Defense is—it appears—better on this front because it gives you the power to choose your own lawyer. It is insurance that pays for your lawyer of choice, but it only helps you if you have the money to pay for your lawyer of choice in the first place, and even then only if that lawyer beats your case. Just a more expensive sucker’s bet.

Copyright © 2013 Houston criminal-defense lawyer Mark Bennett. This feed is for personal, non-commercial use only. The use of this feed on other websites breaches copyright. If this content is not in your news reader, the page you are viewing infringes the copyright. (Digital Fingerprint: 9fddc86334d71f22cfdb4b70fe23bb0e (173.255.254.15) .)

2015.16: F**king Samir Chopra

Mark's Blog: Defending People - Sun, 01/11/2015 - 18:09

My fellow Delhi-walla Samir Chopra writes, in a post entitled “Mark Bennett is a Sexist Tool”:

Over at the blog Defending People, Mark Bennett, a Houston-based criminal defense lawyer, writes a long, technical, closely argued post critiquing Danielle Citron‘s putative

“Putative.” Which means that Chopra is at least partly on the right page: there is some doubt about Citron’s rebuttals.

rebuttals of arguments–based on First Amendment concerns–against her proposals for ‘revenge porn’ laws.  Bennett titles his post ‘F**ing Danielle Citron’ and at the end signs off thusly:

P.S. “F**king” is fisking. Sicko.

That was very witty. Chuckle, guffaw, chortle, snicker. I hope you got it and appreciated the joke, otherwise, Bennett is going to think you are one square, stodgy dude. I’m playing it safe, and issuing a few preemptive cackles.

Dad always warned me that most people wouldn’t get my sense of humor. It has never bothered me. I hope it doesn’t bother Chopra too much that he’s a humorless twerp.

It’s no surprise,

That’s a shame. I aim to be surprising. That or non-sexist. Sometimes both.

of course, that a male

One.

blogger–a brave defender of free speech!

I am guessing here, but I think, because of the exclamation point, that maybe this was meant to be facetious.

I wouldn’t say “brave”—I’m not facing censorship by statute (yet) nor by fear—but I have dedicated a good chunk of my personal and professional life over the past half-decade to defending free speech, mostly pro bono, with some realized success and more to come. I would bet that nobody in the U.S. freed more people who had been imprisoned for their speech last year than I did.

–should have chosen such a title and chosen to express his wit in such puerile fashion. He is, after all, writing a post that aims to ‘fisk’, to ‘take apart’ arguments made by a woman.

Two.

So why not invoke, for the amusement and entertainment of his male readers¹, the kind of aggressive language many men

Three.

academic or otherwise–like to attach to the art and practice of argumentation. Like, “I tore him a new asshole”, “I wiped the floor with him”, “I shut him the fuck up” and many others. So if you’re refuting someone’s arguments, you’re fucking them.

“Tore him a new asshole” is fucking? “Wiped the floor with him” is fucking? “Shut him the fuck up” is fucking? To Chopra all aggression is fucking.

I’ve apparently been doing them (both aggression and fucking) wrong.

Argumentation is a contact sport, innit?

Contact sports are fucking? It seems like I really should have been better at football.

Such language is almost exactly the precise converse of another kind

Does “almost exactly the precise converse” of a kind of language mean something?

that men

Four.

are inordinately fond of. As I wrote in a post last year commenting on a “culture, local and global, of sexual harassment, ogling, [and] innuendo”:

Quoting yourself as authority: always persuasive.

It’s not clear what the intent of this next bit is, other than to impress the reader with the breadth of Chopra’s thinking: not only do men describe argument as sex, but they describe sex as conquest and domination! Look what a good feminist ally I am!

The first premise—that men describe argument as sex—is questionable. It’s unproven here by Chopra, and in fact unillustrated unless we want to go along with “I wiped the floor with him” being sexual.

“[M]en

Five.

when talking about sex, cannot drop

If Chopra himself were able to drop it, he would not write that men “cannot.” I wonder: is it the Y-chromosome that makes it impossible for him to drop it, or does his penis physically get in the way? Maybe it’s just the guys that Chopra hangs out with. Perhaps Chopra’s experience with men talking about sex is somewhat limited.

I want to make one thing very clear: I am not volunteering.

Also, Chopra should eavesdrop sometime on gay men talking about sex. Or on women talking about sex. Ho-lee shit.

the language of conquest and domination, of conflating sex and violence (‘Dude, I fucked the shit out of her’ or ‘I was banging her all night’), who imagine sex to be a variant of rough-and-tumble sport (‘scoring touchdowns’),

Men cannot drop the language of conquest and domination when talking about sex. Chopra is a man. Therefore, Socrates is mortal.

Look, I’m not going to judge Chopra for the way he talks about sex with his bros. But he paints with a very broad brush. And apparently the reader is supposed to draw some sort of conclusion from this—he started with “As I wrote.”

So here’s the conclusion I draw: Chopra is deeply conflicted. He simply “cannot drop” the language of conquest and domination. Yet he so wants to be accepted by his sisters in the academy that he must condemn it. He is filled by self-loathing.

who associate weakness with womanhood (‘Don’t be a pussy’ ‘Man up’ ‘Put your pants on’).”

O, if only there were somewhere Chopra could look for examples of such sexist language actually written by me. Somewhere like a blog where I have written a War-and-Peace-and-a-half.

 In his self-exalted mind,

This is the “you think you’re better than me” argument, which I only hear from people who are afraid that I am in fact better than them. So thanks, Chopra, but I’m not accepting it. I’m no better than you.

Smarter, taller, better-looking, better-adjusted, better-dressed, a better writer, more successful, more comfortable in my own skin, less eager for the approval of others? Sure. But never “better.”

Bennett intended to ‘eviscerate’ the arguments mounted by Citron;

Why is “eviscerate” in quotes? Did I use that word? I don’t think I did.

More importantly, evisceration is sex? Sicko.

Look back at the form of the argument:

  • Bennett uses “f**king” in a blog post title knowing that people like me will take it as “fucking.”
  • Men use aggression metaphors, which are really fucking metaphors, for argument.
  • Men cannot help but use aggression metaphors for sex.
  • Therefore Bennett is a sexist tool.

It may well be that I am a sexist tool, but I remain unconvinced.

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-partner=”tweetdeck”><p><a href=”https://twitter.com/MarkWBennett”>@MarkWBennett</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/ScottGreenfield”>@ScottGreenfield</a> I thought @EyeOnThePitch did one of the lengthiest analyses of any blog post title ever.  Impressive</p>&mdash; Brian Tannebaum (@btannebaum) <a href=”https://twitter.com/btannebaum/status/554381564000604160″>January 11, 2015</a></blockquote>
<script async src=”//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=”utf-8″></script>

I invite Chopra to use the search box for examples of my being a sexist tool. He may find me calling my old friend Kurt Kerns a “Big Fucking Pussy,” and seize on that because he is humorless, becauase he has trouble with irony, and because that’s it: one word out of 900,000+.

he was really going to lower the boom;

I am pretty sure that’s a nautical metaphor, not a sexual one, sicko.

Citron was going to get some rough rhetorical treatment. So why not analogize–in that dazzlingly witty style above–that forensic analysis to, you know, sex?

Thing is, if I mean “fucking” I write “fucking.” I don’t write “f**king” unless I want foul-minded people like Chopra to think I mean “fucking” but I really don’t mean “fucking.”*

I apparently could have used just about any verb there, and Chopra would think I was talking about sex: “Touchdowning Danielle Citron.”

And for even better measure, why not stick your interlocutor’s name in the title?

Why not, indeed? Citron is public about her support of revenge-porn criminalization, one of a few people widely and by choice associated with this brave new world of speech crime.

Citron does write about the harassment of women online, by–among other things–hate speech and revenge porn,  so it would only be appropriate that her name feature in such a title.

Plus, it’s her arguments, published under her name, that I’m responding to. So there is that.

I bet that would make her squirm just a bit.

I’d take that bet. I doubt that Citron cares.

But it’s nice of Chopra to come to her rescue, whether she needs it or not. Nothing sexist about that. Nope.

Why not just let your dick flag flutter proudly?

Is that the dick flag that is attached to the boom I’m lowering? Just curious. I proudly fly my asshole flag all the time. Can I fly both at once? Should my dick flag really be fluttering like this? No, seriously, I think I might need to see a doctor.

I’m sure some of his male

Six.

readers–perhaps some drenched-in-testosterone

Does Chopra have something against testosterone? He may. It would go along with his self-loathing about how he dirty-talks his bros.

male

Seven.

law school students and bloggers–are passing around Bennett’s post and chuckling over how ‘Bennett gave Citron a good bitch-slapping.’

Why on earth would he imagine that? They say that all criticism is autobiographical. Is that the way Chopra talks?

(Incidentally, the tweet that led me to Bennett’s post said that it ‘just filets open and guts pernicious Danielle Citron+MaryAnne Franks revenge porn laws.’)

“Filet open and gut” is sex talk to Chopra?

I would definitely not want to be this sicko’s boyfriend or girlfriend.

I’ve given up being amazed or appalled by the sexism of smart men.

Eight.

Male

Nine.

power is well-entrenched and defiant, but it is embodied in some very insecure folks.

I won’t argue with “insecure.” Only losers are not a little insecure. “Very” is a bit harsh, though. That hurts my feelings.

Note #1: I doubt Bennett thought any of his female

Number of times that Chopra treated gender as a factor in his blog post: ten.

Number of times that I treated gender as a factor in my blog post: zero.

Number of instances that Chopra can find of actual sexism in posts on this blog: zero.

Isn’t that interesting?

When the only tool you have is feminist orthodoxy, every problem looks like a nail.

Can I say “nail”?

Nail nail nail nail nail.

Sorry. Didn’t mean to make Chopra hot.

readers would find that title amusing.

Bennett hopes that his readers aren’t fragile flowers like Chopra. Indeed, Bennett suspects that his female readers did find the title amusing—doubly so now—because, unlike Chopra, Bennett doesn’t think that all females think in lockstep.

WTH. Why’d I start talking about myself in the third person?

Truth is, I don’t see Citron any differently than I see any intellectually dishonest male zealot. Some of the most formidable lawyers I know (not Citron) are female, and I aspire not to treat them differently because of their gender despite (and to spite) the sexism inherent in the system. I think I do a good job of that.

PS: Bennett’s arguments are well-worth a read. Even sexist tools can be good First Amendment analysts.

That’s the money shot: In conclusion, none of this personal rebuke was an actual argumentum ad hominem: despite being a sexist tool, Bennett is a good First Amendment analyst.

Chopra seems to be an incoherent thinker and a poor rhetorician, but I am sure that as a philosophy professor he is a competent judge of First Amendment analysis.

P.S. and * This time, and this time only, “f**king” is “fucking”: the participial adjective.

Copyright © 2013 Houston criminal-defense lawyer Mark Bennett. This feed is for personal, non-commercial use only. The use of this feed on other websites breaches copyright. If this content is not in your news reader, the page you are viewing infringes the copyright. (Digital Fingerprint: 9fddc86334d71f22cfdb4b70fe23bb0e (173.255.254.15) .)

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