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Where are our priorities? Boy killed by Uzi at a gun show

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In Pelham Massachussets, police chief Fleury is under indictment in the death of an 8 year old boy who shot himself with an Uzi. The boy's father was 10 feet back of the child hands on his camera, and a 15 year old kid had given the 8 year old the Uzi to shoot

Dear god this is tragic. We can all agree that this event was incredibly, outrageously stupid. Everyone agrees that everyone involved made a huge mistake. By any reasonable yardstick the father has you-know-what for brains. Definitely, the chief is at fault to some degree and should have known the law did not allow what occurred.

But the father is more at fault because he was on the scene and did not exercise good judgment. Even though if a parent is present, it is legal for the son to fire the weapon, that does not protect his father against negligence. Parents are charged with negligent homicide for less clear things than  this. Certainly, the 15-year-old certified instructor who handed the gun to the 8-year-old kid is also at fault, and perhaps we shouldn't allow anyone under 21 to be certified. Arguably, that teen is at fault to a greater degree.  One has to wonder what this teenager was thinking? Had he ever fired an Uzi and experienced the kick? Children his age are tried as adults in capital cases--there is ample precedent here.

The purpose of criminal punishment is to protect society from future harm. A major part of the law is supposed to be about whether or not what happened is likely to recur. For this reason, first time offenders are treated with leniency. I guarantee you that this police chief, the father and the 15 year old boy will never commit this crime again. The general perception that the father will never commit this offense again and was told it was OK (but he was told this by a 15 year old) is why the father hasn't been charged. But if the police chief is charged with a crime that occurred when he wasn't around to prevent it, then the father should be charged also.

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Thinking through what the purpose of punishment will be in this case we must ask ourselves, "What will happen if this cop goes to prison for this?" Those who have been near families broken by criminal prosecutions, warranted or not, know the answer to this question. First, if the chief has children of his own, then the chief's family will probably wind up on public assistance. If he has them, his kids will grow up without a father, and have a high likelihood of becoming juvenile delinquents.

What will happen if the father goes to prison? If the father of the child that dies has no other children, the impact on society will not be as bad, because his child is gone. There is much less future impact on society. But of course, everyone realizes that the father has been punished severely by the loss of his son. This has not, however, stopped other prosecutions of fathers complicit in the deaths of their children.  However, if the father has other children, the same considerations apply.

Will we improve or protect society by prosecuting any of the three of them? Yes, the chief looks like a classic redneck, and that will prejudice some against him, as will certain remarks he has made in the past about weapons. And, it is reasonable to take the statements into account, though not his appearance. But we must still ask ourselves what we are trying to accomplish.

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Charging them all I can understand. I do think that if they don't charge the father, then there is little justification to charging the police chief who was not there. The theory presented for his criminal liability is more suited to a civil proceeding. In any case, justifying  anything more than probation for everyone is difficult in my view. 

I know personally a PhD educated woman who committed 2nd degree murder. She plea bargained it down to manslaughter and got 5 years probation. That was proper in her case--she is no risk to society. She lost her home, her husband, and her son died and her daughter took up a rather irresponsible lifestyle of drugs and drinking. The woman was destroyed as it was. The event was a total fluke and she was absolutely devastated by the death of her close friend who died in her arms. She never recovered from that event. She still needs to take medication to function after 25 years.

The law is an ass--it's been said many times. But we, the people, and judges--we don't have to be. We need to be thoughtful about this terrible tragedy.

If we put them away for the maximum (as many advocate), we cost society $100,000 per year for each for 15-30 years. That total cost, (in current dollars) is going to be $4.5 million to $9 million dollars. We should add to that the cost of having his family on public assistance (a mere $30K per year) for a few years. Add to that the high probability that the chief's kids will end up in trouble with the law also.

Then think carefully. Is anybody involved going to do this again? Is anyone involved a risk to society? Answer - No. Not a chance.

So here's the real choice:

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A. Prosecute everyone, lock'em up and throw away the key for 15 to 30 years at a cost of $5 million to $10 million. Probably create new criminals out of the innocent children of the cop. That is an unknown future risk adjusted cost.

B. Deal with this through probation and community service for some term of years, say 5 years. This will cost the taxpayers only about $50,000 for court costs and oversight. Is anyone a recidivist risk? Not likely.

C. Don't prosecute anybody. Put the charges on the books and have the parties involved sign paperwork that allows the state to bring charges any time in the next 10 years if any more felonies are committed by the three involved, at the state's discretion. Cost is about $5,000 to pay for court costs, processing, etcetera.

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John Toradze is the pen name of a scientist who ran an office in Tbilisi, Georgia for 5 years and traveled widely in Russia the former USSR nations and nearby. I have authored chapters for books published by the West Point terrorism center on (more...)

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