Scott Hardie | September 15, 2005
I don't know if the Carlie Brucia case is of much interest outside of Sarasota – Missing Pretty White Girls have finally fallen out of vogue as news headlines (thank goodness) – but there's been an interesting new twist in the case: The defense attorney is seeking to bolster his case by arguing that Joseph Smith was intoxicated at the time of the killing. For this to work, the judge will have to declare that a state law banning this kind of defense argument is unconstitutional. (link)

Ethically speaking, does a state of intoxication excuse a crime? What about lessening the punishment deserved? If alcoholic intoxication does not excuse a violent crime, what if the person was in a state induced by taking a proper dosage of prescribed medication for health purposes? Where should the line be drawn?

Lori Lancaster | September 15, 2005
[hidden by request]

John E Gunter | September 15, 2005
[quote]If alcoholic intoxication does not excuse a violent crime, what if the person was in a state induced by taking a proper dosage of prescribed medication for health purposes?[quote]

To me, there is a big difference between intoxication by alcohol and not being in control because of medication. If the doctor is doing their job when prescribing the medication and the patient is doing their job by taking the medication correctly, then a reaction where you are not in control because of your meds should be a very rare occurance.

Therefore, if for some reason you have an odd reaction to your meds and aren't in control, that really shouldn't be considered your fault. After all, the doctors should be professional enough to watch for things like that. I'm not saying blame the doctor if someone commits a crime due to being improperly medicated, I'm saying that there might be a circumstance where that could happen.

Now, if patients of a particular doctor, we'll use the name Dr. Jones, constantly are improperly medicated, to the point where it is a regularly occuring situation, then something should be done about Dr. Jonesas he's not fufilling his professional commitment. After all, by not making sure the patients are properly medicated, he's not taking care of his patients and that's violating his oath.

But, when someone abuses alcohol, that's a decision that they have made. They have allowed themselves to loose control by doing something they know they shouldn't. If they continue to do that, they need to get help. Or remove themselves from society when they get in that drunken state, until such time as they are no longer drunk.

So as far as Mr. Smith is concerned, it shouldn't matter whether he was drunk or not when he commited murder. The man should have known better and stopped himself before he carried his drinking that far.

John

Amy Austin | September 15, 2005
Think I have to second Lori on this one.

Michael Paul Cote | September 16, 2005
I agree with the ladies.

Scott Hardie | September 24, 2005
Good points John, and I agree. (Actually, I agree with all of you that Smith is still at fault, but I was hoping for more discussion about it. :P) I do keep wondering about one logical loophole, though: To excuse his crime successfully, Smith's defender would have to prove that the alcohol impaired Smith's judgment and made him do things that no upstanding citizen would do – but isn't the killing itself proof of that? It's a circular reasoning. From the same site, I also recently read about anosognosia, the belief that you are not mentally ill, which itself is proof that you are mentally ill. Huh? As a friend put it when we discussed this "illness": How can someone think they're crazy and be wrong?

Amy Austin | September 24, 2005
Hmm... I'm afraid that you might have lost me there on that one, Scott -- is it the belief that you *are* or *are not* mentally ill... and which one is supposed to offer proof of it, because I'm pretty sure that I believe that I'm not mentally ill, but if that's grounds for proving "anosognosia", then I guess... I'M CRAZY!!! ;-DDD

As for the Smith guy... well, I personally feel that it's things like this that generate too much undeserved discussion (in terms of society's handling of it, not necessarily this forum!) -- perhaps that is really cynical and close-minded of me, but it really seemed a rather closed and clear-cut case to me that "fuck him, he deserves to be fried"... which is what I appreciated about Lori's comment and the reason I seconded that emotion! (Not that John's post wasn't well thought-out and points well made... just that I didn't think it particularly necessary. But I guess that, for discussion's sake, this is not really the best stance to have... sorry! ;-D)

Without having read more than the link above, but making a sort of jump/semi-connection to what Scott just said, however... I suppose that an ambitious defense could somehow make a case for undiscovered alcoholism (which, I think, differs slightly from just plain old "intoxication" -- since we could all get intoxicated of our own accord, but not all of us would act in the same manner as a result of it, and "alcoholism is a disease", right?) If it could somehow be proven that Mr. Smith was, in fact, crippled by this factor unbeknownst to him (and this, I think, is key and the really "ambitious" part, because I think most alcoholics start early on in life and start to realize by Smith's age that there is a problem -- and shouldn't he be held accountable for this knowledge???)

What I am suggesting for "alcoholism" as a truly legitimate defense is, say... this guy has never had a drop of liquor in his entire life, and then one day -- now -- he has some, goes overboard, and discovers "the hard way" that he does, in fact, have a big problem with alcohol (sort of like equating alcoholism to a drug allergy -- you can't predict how the "alcoholic" will behave... unless he already knows that he is an alcoholic). But just like a drug allergy/reaction, I don't think it would be fair to use that claim if it was already known to the doctor *or* the patient (but especially the patient) to exist... that's like driving a car or "operating heavy machinery" against the advice on bottles of certain medications that specifically tell you to use care when doing so -- it's kind of an "at your own risk" situation. So, if you were to wreck your car, for instance, while taking Percocet (an interesting example for me, since I did just wreck my car, am now taking this drug for the pain and am a bit scared to drive at all, much less while taking the meds!)... does or should this make you or the prescribing physician accountable? I'm not sure what the real answer to that is, but I don't think it should be the prescribing physician if the patient was advised of this possibility (why drug info leaflets accompany nearly all prescriptions these days!).

Hmm... I think I just ran out of ramble here, which is just as well, since the post is getting quite long... ;-D

Scott Hardie | September 29, 2005
I was extrapolating a little too quickly. In the original conversation, we pondered whether there was a corresponding mental disorder with anosognosia in which you believed you were crazy. One way or the other, can a person who believes they're crazy be wrong?

You're right on with your reasoning, Amy. There is an everlasting conservative trend in this country that demands people start taking personal accountability for their actions (ahem, hot coffee), but even in the face of this trend I don't think anyone wants to see a truly innocent person go to prison just for the principle of personal accountability. If a person really truly honestly was impaired by some kind of intoxicant that they had no way of knowing was going to affect them, they aren't truly responsible for their actions. What I think we're afraid of as a society, and what we're right to resist, are freeloaders who want this reasoning to excuse their indefensible transgressions. A guy drinks hard for twenty years and ignores all attempts at salvation and denies that he has a problem, then hits a kid while driving drunk, he shouldn't suddenly get to be an alcoholic in court. But a bright 18-year-old with a clean record goes away to college, pledges a fraternity, and gets impossibly drunk the first night he ever tastes liquor? I agree he needs to serve a sentence for whatever damage he causes that night, but it's more out of fairness for society than because he actually did something wrong, and a life sentence just doesn't seem right in such a case where there's simply no negligence. (And no, I would not punish the fraternity except for allowing underage drinking; they're not responsible for any damage he causes.)

Anyway, this is all hypothetical stuff, not intended to apply to Smith, who I agree with you all deserves to be harshly punished, if not put to death.


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