Saturday, June 12, 2010

Stanley Bond: Potent Evidence of the Value of One Type of Criminal Punishment

When I was a law student -- I was a law student or the equivalent (e.g., "visiting scholar") for many years -- I questioned many things (although I was and remain politically inactive). I even questioned the value of criminal punishment.

In 1971-1972 I was studying at Harvard Law School for my LL.M. degree. Sometime in the fall of 1971 I ran into Kent Nelson. I had known him at Yale College. When I saw him in 1971, he was running an educational program for prisoners at the Massachusetts penitentiary at Walpole. I agreed to give a talk there -- on Christmas Eve. I gave the talk there to a small group of prisoners. I felt very sorry for the people there; although a few of them gave me a hard time, they seemed to be ordinary human beings and I didn't understand why they should be in prison.

One of the people there who gave me a "hard time" was Stanley Bond. Stanley Bond was a very bright fellow. He was also one of a group of people -- a group that included Susan Saxe, Katherine Ann Power, and William Gilday -- who planned a bank robbery that ended in the death of Walter A. Schroeder, a guard at the bank. (The shooter, William Gilday, was one of the inmates I spoke to and with on December 24, 1971. Power and Saxe were political radicals who were apprehended only years later.)

I left the penitentiary at Walpole that Christmas Eve feeling awfully sorry for the inmates there and being fairly convinced that the society that kept them there was a cruel one. However, six months later -- in June 1972 -- Bond killed himself when the bomb he was building prematurely exploded. This incident made me reconsider my doubts that criminal punishment does any good.

In the fall of 1972 I took my first tenure-track teaching job. I taught criminal law.

  • The good citizens of Walpole later persuaded the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to remove "Walpole" from the title of the penitentiary. The place is now called "MCI-Cedar Junction."
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    The dynamic evidence page

    It's here: the law of evidence on Spindle Law. See also this post and this post.

    Grade & Honors Inflation

    At one American academic institution (I suspect there are many, many others) the question arose whether the honor summa cum laude should be awarded to "only" two graduating students or, instead, to a larger number of students (e.g., five or seven students).

    What do you think should happen?

    Is the appropriate solution to abolish the summa cum laude honor and replace it with "magna almost summa" or "very, very magna"? (As I understand it, the possibility of limiting the award of the summa to one person was not considered.)

  • Question: Is academic "honesty" at issue here? To wit: Is it dishonest or deceptive to award a summa to more than one graduating student?
  • Do only finicky academics or grinches care about matters such as grade inflation and honors creep? (N.B. In defense[?] of the professoriate: Most university professors do not care [or even think] much about the issue of grade inflation or similar issues.)

    Postscript (or whatever): I think grading is the worst part of the job of teaching. This is in part because if a mandatory grading curve applies, the decision to award a high grade is a zero-sum choice. It is also because grades have consequences, serious consequences.


    The dynamic evidence page

    It's here: the law of evidence on Spindle Law. See also this post and this post.

    Monday, June 07, 2010

    Your Opinion of Scott Turow's Innocent?

    Have you read Scott Turow's new book Innocent? If so, what do you think?

    I will not review the book myself. However, I do want to say that the "cross-examination episode" that perhaps forms the heart of the book is masterfully done.

    But what about the non-legal aspects of the book? Do you think it's a good thriller (if thriller it is) or psychodrama (if psychodrama it is)? Do you think the new book follows an old formula (too much)? Yes? No?


    The dynamic evidence page

    It's here: the law of evidence on Spindle Law. See also this post and this post.