Ross Harris and Criminal Negligence

It’s my current belief that the State has so far failed to prove that Justin Ross Harris intended for his son to suffer or die, indeed the evidence suggests the opposite.

But what about the claim that he is guilty of criminal negligence?

The State alleges that Harris was criminally negligent, that criminal negligence caused the child to suffer ( a felony ) and in the course of that felony, the child died. Felony murder.

Standard examples of criminal negligence involve activities that are inherently dangerous, for example texting while driving a car.

The State may argue that trying to look after a child while sexting women ( a distraction ) is criminally negligent, but I think that is problematic. It’s not at all clear that Harris or any reasonable person would think it’s wrong to be texting while looking after a child. It’s a common thing to do, and there is no law against it ( the fact that some of the women were under-age doesn’t I think make any difference here, as this doesn’t make the act any more dangerous to Cooper ).

The logical consequence would be that perfectly normal activities such as listening to the radio, making a telephone call, thinking about what you are going to have for dinner, all normal activities that could distract you, while caring for a child, could be criminal negligence, punishable with a lengthy prison sentence.

I think that would be absurd. We may want to punish Harris for his failure to look after his child, but if he had not criminal intention, if he was not in the least bit aware that his actions that day were a danger to anyone, least of all his son, a guilty mind, I do not believe he should be found criminally negligent.

See also “What is “Child Cruelty” under Georgia Law?” Pate & Johnson law blog, June 2014,

and “Lawyers’ smart move in hot car death” CNN, July 2014.

Update: 15 Nov, 2016. Harris found guilty of all charges.
See here or here.

 

 

 

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On Punishment

Two wrongs don’t make a right – you cannot compensate for a terrible loss by causing equal suffering to the person held responsible, even though revenge is a natural human emotion.
 
We don’t punish children severely when they make mistakes, even if the mistakes are terrible ( well not any more, look up the case of George Stinney ).
 
Now I am not saying that adults are children, they should be punished more than children for equivalent acts, plus there is a need to protect the public from offenders who may re-offend. But adults who commit crimes tend to be those who had bad childhoods, who suffer from mental illness, who have some kind of disadvantage.
 
A day is a long time in prison. A week is a long time. A month even longer, A year longer still. Ten years a very long time in prison. Twenty years an extraordinarily long time. These are harsh punishments, and provided authorities deem that someone has been rehabilitated, and is safe to release, this length of punishment should be enough even for the worst crimes.
 
This is how Norway approaches imprisonment. I would say it is humane and in the best interest of society.
 
It also gives some relief to the many people who are wrongly convicted. In my opinion the USA has fallen into a system of “ultimate vindictiveness” where large numbers of people are subject to unduly harsh punishments, often being sentenced to die in prison, being given no hope or reason to rehabilitate themselves. That is cruel.
 
[ Written in response to a comment here ]

Early thoughts on the Justin Ross Harris case

I believe the police have overstated the evidence in this case, for example saying Harris searched for “hot car death” when that wasn’t the case.

Kilgore also said that there was no evidence that Ross was searching on the internet for things like how long does it take for a child to die a hot car. Kilgore contends that police lied in their sworn statements when they accused Harris of these questionable searches.

from http://lawnewz.com/high-profile/emotional-testimony-in-day-2-of-justin-ross-harris-hot-car-death-trial/

That makes me suspect they don’t have anything solid. And it’s a strange and implausible way to murder your son, plus by all accounts he loved his son dearly.

I watched opening statements, and found the defense case to be convincing provided the evidence supports what was said, the State’s case unconvincing ( see discussion here ).

One thing to take into account is that these days some people will view a vast amount of material online on a huge number of topics over a long period of time. To be frank I think that if you did a similar analysis on any number of people’s devices, you would come up with a few “suspicious” things relating to almost any accusation. Unless the prosecution can show not only that various random topics (such as “child free”, a hot car info video) were accessed over a long period of time, but there was some pattern of planning, or incriminating things Harris actually said (typed, rather than reading ), there is no probative value.

It’s cherry picking evidence at it’s finest, and a new development over the last few years as disk storage capacity has increased massively. I think it should be ruled as irrelevant and inadmissible.

Still a long way to go in the trial, my opinion could change, but I am unconvinced so far by the State’s case, and there is at least reasonable doubt so far.