Hold off on judging dad who left son in car

Written by Mark O'Mara on . Posted in Opinion

court of public opinionA debate is raging over the tragic case of Justin Harris, who left his 22-month-old boy, Cooper, in a car all day. Cooper perished, and now his father has been charged with murder and child cruelty. Some people call this a tragedy, and some call it a crime. Who is right?

Harris will appear in court Thursday to face a probable cause hearing in which the prosecution will try to convince a judge that it was indeed a crime. The defense will likely try to show that Harris' act was simple negligence. Either way, the focus will be on why Cooper was left in the car -- and although this seems counterintuitive -- for the purposes of the criminal proceedings, the tragic death will not be material for determining guilt.

Stop the Speculation Before the Harris Case Spins Out of Control

Written by Mark O'Mara on . Posted in Opinion

stop speculation

I’ve just read a report about the Justin Harris case, where the 22-month-old died after being left in his Dad’s car. It references a unnamed source “close to the investigation” who said “this is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s more than what meets the eye.” It also claims an unnamed law enforcement source says there was a search on Harris work computer for information on how long it takes an animal to die in a hot car.

Hold on a second.

This case is on the verge of spinning wildly out of control, and there is a risk of it turning into another Casey Anthony case or another Zimmerman case. It has all the elements: people are passionate and emotional about what happened. Unconfirmed information is leaking out, maybe, from the law enforcement offices. Or its simply being made up or embellished by someone who wants to have an opinion. We’re seeing public criticism of the charges, and law enforcement is getting defensive.

Speculation should be limited more than our collective imaginations, fed by sensational half-truths.

When Bullying Looks Like Felony Stalking

Written by Mark O'Mara on . Posted in Opinion

This is a story of tragedy on top of tragedy: A 14-year-old boy, Noel Estevez -- relentlessly bullied for months -- stabbed his bully to death.

A month earlier, Noel had attempted to take his own life. His parents had tried without success to obtain a “safety transfer” so they could send their son to a different school. Now the bully is dead, and Noel is being charged as an adult for murder.

I’ve been campaigning for an anti-bullying law here in Florida for months. And for months, people have been telling me “kids will be kids,” and “kids need to learn to stick up for themselves.”

Fine. So here’s the problem with that:

Supreme Court decision on guns a small step in right direction

Written by Mark O'Mara on . Posted in Opinion

Straw men cannot and should not buy guns. A “straw man,” in this context, is a person who buys a gun on behalf of another, an act that is prohibited when the purchase is made from a federally licensed dealer.

The intention of the federal law was to ensure people who cannot legally buy guns – felons, minors and the mentally ill, for example -- can’t simply hire a proxy, someone who can pass the rigorous background checks licensed dealers are required to perform. It is meant to inhibit those from buying guns with the intent of selling to other, incompetent 3rd party buyers.

An argument before the Supreme Court suggested this law shouldn’t apply to eligible gun owners buying on behalf of other eligible gun owners.

While this is probably the least obnoxious set of facts, the Supreme Court still did not agree, upholding the statute, and its application to even these facts, by a 5-4 vote. Justice Kagan, writing for the majority, stated that the law’s core purpose would be virtually repealed, and no part of it “would work if the statute turned a blind eye to straw purchases—if, in other words, the law addressed not the substance of a transaction but only empty formalities.”

Will this ruling keep guns out of the hands of felons and the mentally ill?

Sadly, no -- but it is a start.

We Cannot Deny Due Process To Minors in Slenderman Stabbing Case

Written by Mark O'Mara on . Posted in Opinion

What do you do with two 12-year-old girls who stabbed a friend in the woods multiple times to appease a sinister character from popular horror fiction? It’s a tough question, and there aren’t any easy answers, but I’ll tell you what you don’t do: You don’t deny them their Miranda rights, and you don’t charge them as adults.

But that’s exactly what’s happening to two girls in Waukesha, Wisconsin.

We essentially have two different criminal justice systems in the United States: one for children and one for adults. We do this because, as a society, we have come to recognize that children are often products of their environment — that they sometimes lack the cognitive ability to make fully rational decisions and that we are to teach, and redirect, our children rather than just punish them.

The sentences we mete out in our justice system are designed to punish, to rehabilitate, and to keep dangerous individuals away from the rest of society. The standards for what are effective punishment and rehabilitation for a juvenile — who has not fully developed their capacity to reason — are and should be different that the standards imposed on adults.

A child who is a danger to society, with proper care, may not necessarily grow to be a danger as an adult. This is why, in many states, we’ve banned the death penalty and life sentences for minors.