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California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Created: March 8, 2001
Latest update: March 12, 2001

The Lionel Tate Case

On Friday March 9, 2001, Robert Binford wrote:


I watched the William Tate sentencing this morning on MSNBC, which was immediately followed by two lawyers who spoke about the case and the crime, in general, and its subsequent sentence. I believe the old saying is, "don't talk out of both sides of your mouth at the same time," which is directed at those who uphold one view, yet simultaneously denounce it. This was certainly the case with the two lawyers on this morning's program.

jeanne's comment: But you will often find this conflict built in when we are arguing complex issues, for there is no "right" or "wrong." The "talking out of both sides of the mouth" to which you are referring is the result of genuine argument, and recognition of the strengths of the various perspectives.

One lawyer in particular commented on how he did not feel that William Tate should be sent to an adult prison, and even went so far as to imply that the prison system itself is an inadequate way to deal with his rehabilitation, however he started out this statment acknowledging that the law of Florida was well upheld throughout the case and also in sentencing.

jeanne's comment:

The lawyer's statement of the inappropriateness of sending this 14-year-old to an adult prison results from the perspective of understanding the significant differences between a child of 14 and an adult. This child has just entered into adolescence. His identity has only begun to take a solid shape. To place him in an environment with adults is to mix apples and oranges.

What so upset me was that this lawyer acknowledged that William Tate's individual situation did not fit the interperative generalities produced by the law, nor do a majority of the cases heard in court. He implied that alternative correctional and hearing standards need to be implemented, yet at the same time he commended the prosecution team for sticking to the rule book.

jeanne's comment:

The lawyer's contradictory statement comes from the perspective of the criminal justice system which must process thousands of cases, and must do so efficiently. And now we face the fundamental question of what is justice. Should we concentrate our resources on what works for most of those cases? Or should we set aside some of our resources to provide a fairness that takes significant differences between defendants into account. Rawls and Nozick again. Intelligent and well-meaning people disagree. And I would suggest that within this lawyer there is a conflict as to how we can best divide our resources to achieve justice. Few of us have solid answers to these questions.

It is not a secret that change, judicial change in this case, needs both a majority of people acknowledging that change needs to happen, and the active involvement of that majority in following through with enacting that change. There is no one closer to the core of the judicial problem, nor closer to its nucleus where the implementation of change needs to be executed from, than lawyers. Lawyers need to come to grips with the moral side of their job and fight for individual consideration of their client as opposed to subjecting them to the rigorous methods of upholding the law.

jeanne's comment:

We all need to come to grips with this issue, lawyers, teachers, philosophers, businessmen and women.

Law is a lot like psychology in the respect that the attempt being made by both lawyers and psychologists to codify and generalize the results, therapy and methods of discovery in their respective feilds is a fruitless one and disparaging to society. To acknowledge that a group of individuals are all unique and then in turn create categories to facilitate grouping those individuals based on loosely generalized distinctions is an insult to the dynamics of life. Law needs to uphold the desire of the people in society to help those who fail to add to the forward and united progression of that society, but in ways complimentary to the needs of the individual, whether that be psychiatric, familial, economic, etc.

jeanne's comment:

The problem you are addressing is much more subtle than you suggest: "Law needs to uphold the desire of the people." The desire of the people brings us back to positions like those of Rawls and Nozick. Most of us do not have clear images of how justice dictates that we distribute scarce resources. We waver, and speak out of both sides of our mouths.

Everyone is not the same. Therefore administering the same treatment to everyone is helpful as praying to God at night they they will get better. Who said Church and State were divided?

jeanne's comment:

This last paragraph is beautiful purple prose, but purple prose none the less. The issue is not simple. Justice is not simple. And there are those for whom praying to God works more effectively than any other remedy. Don't let the temptation to write resounding rhetoric lead you into statements you can't defend.

Nicely written argument.

loveand peace, jeanne

On Monday, March 12, 2001, Yolanda Johnson wrote:

Hi Jeanne My name is Yolonda Johnson and I am interested in your opinion and comments on Lionel, the young boy who was sentenced to life in prison for killing a six year old girl while re-enacting www wrestling techniques. What does this say about society when a mother rejects a plea bargain, that is for her sons' best interest, to save her own soul. Yes, Lionel should be punished for his crime but the mother, as the caretaker, should also bear some responsibility for the death of the girl. I am appalled by his mother's lack of reasonable judgment.

On Monday, March 12, 2001, jeanne responded:

Good point, Yolanda. In the Lionel Tate case, a plea bargain was turned down. Certainly the agency of this child is in question. The mother was home at the time of the incident. The mother must have influenced the refusal to plea. How does all this fit into the structural context that produced this life term in adult prison? If nothing else this points out the extent of interdependence between agency and structural context.

I look forward to the class's further comments on this case. I had been hoping to avoid this case. So much is already up on the site. But you and Robert dragged me into it. That pleases me. You're learning to question on your own.

love and peace, jeanne