Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Brainwashed cult member pleads guilty -- am I the only one who thinks that's a problem?

A woman in Maryland has entered into a plea agreement with the state in the starvation death of her son. She agreed to plead guilty to felony abuse of a child resulting in death. In exchange, though, she insisted the state agreed the charge could be dismissed if (in her mind, when) her son is resurrected. Here is the full story.

My first reaction at seeing this headline is outrage. It's outrageous to me that a judge would accept a plea that includes written proof that the defendant is delusional. This woman was one of 5 followers of a woman who calls herself Queen Antoinette. Queen Antoinette was in the state's mind the force behind the son, Javon's, death. The one year-old failed to say amen after meals. For this, the boy was denied food at Queen Antoinette's insistence. The group would be considered by any rational person to be a cult. Everyone seems to agree that the defendant in this case is brainwashed. The fact that she wouldn't enter into this contract with the state without the resurrection provision would certainly lend credence to the brainwash theory. Despite all of this, a judge was still comfortable accepting a guilty plea from this woman, who clearly isn't all there.

Some will point out that she was found to be competent by a court psychiatrist. That means very little to me. In my many years, I've represented many, many mentally ill defendants and only one of them was ever declared to be incompetent. Several were evaluated, some medicated and monitored, but only the one was ever actually declared incompetent. And eventually a second psychiatrist declared that one competent, even though nothing had changed about his condition. It takes next to nothing to be declared competent and it certainly doesn't excuse a judge accepting a plea from a woman who wants proof of her delusion written into the agreement.

It also occurred to me that there's really not much difference between this woman's obviously wacky beliefs and the beliefs of any other religion. Didn't many people who heard Mary claiming her unborn child was the son of God, conceived without a man, and meant to save the souls of everyone think she was off her rocker? But now, 2000 years later, professing belief in that story isn't considered delusional. I wonder, though, how the legal system would view a plea agreement that included a provision that the charge would be dropped if the rapture occurred in the defendant's lifetime. I know I would still think it proof of the defendant's inability to distinguish secular reality from religious faith. But I'm an atheist who frankly thinks all religious beliefs are illogical and hard to understand.

Apparently, this judge would be a-ok with taking that plea, too. He (or she) shouldn't, though. If a defendant is entering a plea conditioned on some supernatural event or miracle occurring, doesn't that demonstrate the defendant does not recognize or understand the difference between the earthly, legal court system and whatever heavenly authority that defendant answers to? In that situation, maybe the judge and the prosecutor and the defense attorney should be a little reluctant to accept a plea. We probably need to make it clear that we in this earthly court system don't have any jurisdiction over god's realm.


Language Lover said...

Great post. .

S said...

Thanks, LL. Fortunately, I have found a few other posts from other lawyers that have the same problem I have with this plea. If only the judge or prosecutor shared my view!

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