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Questioning Craig's 'Criminal Intent'

Once an editor always an editor. At the blog LawBeat, Mark Obbie, former executive editor of The American Lawyer, issues an assignment to reporters who cover the law: "Tell us what it takes to prove criminal intent in a case like Sen. Larry Craig's." As Obbie notes, the police report describes Sen. Craig as having "placed his roller bag against the front of the stall door," then tapping his foot and swiping his hand under the stall divider. Apart from the obvious question of where else is there to put a roll-aboard suitcase in a cramped bathroom stall, Obbie sees larger issues for journalists to explore:

"How many such cases are there? How many are contested (I imagine very few, for the same reasons that led Craig to hope this would all disappear without a trace)? Is Minnesota law typical of other states' laws on such things? What's the history of police excesses in hunting down desperate, closeted gay men? These questions obviously matter because an alleged personal indiscretion became a police matter based on someone's interpretation of toe-tapping and hand-waving. Let's learn more about the law, and figure out if it's fair."

In Craig's case, those questions appear to be legally moot, given that he signed a plea of guilty to a charge of disorderly conduct. But Craig's plea raises questions in its own right. Although the plea states, "I now make no claim that I am innocent," any lawyer who has ever handled a criminal matter knows that a guilty plea is often more a concession than an admission. Criminal defendants (and criminal prosecutors) regularly enter into plea deals for reasons that have little to do with guilt or innocence and much more to do with the costs of contesting the case -- in money, time or, as here, reputation. Is the criminal-justice system truly interested in achieving justice? There's a question for an enterprising reporter to pursue.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on August 29, 2007 at 04:59 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)


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