18 July 2006

Ivory Tower Judging

Your twelve year old younger brother steals a pistol and ammunition for a parked car in the neighborhood. You find him walking down the street with it. You are on probation, so a jury is unlikely to believe anything you say. Your brother has a record of juvenile delinquency and is familiar with guns, but is not about shoot anyone this instant. You don't know for sure that the gun is stolen, but have reasonable cause to think that it is because your twelve year old brother doesn't own a gun and doesn't have the money to buy one. In fact, you suspect, and are correct in your belief, that it is illegal to sell or give a pistol to a twelve year old boy. You have an Islamic last name and your brother's name is Hussein. Do you:

(a) Demand that your brother immediately hand it over to someone with a criminal record who is with you who intends to keep it for himself.
(b) March your brother back to the owner of the pistol to return it, knowing that this will almost certainly land your brother in juvenile detention for a long time, and might even cause him to be charged as an adult.
(c) Order your brother to put the pistol on the ground, have the convicted criminal watch over it, and leave to call the police and have them retrieve it.
(d) Grab the pistol from your brother and give it to someone else to deal with.
(e) Grab the pistol from your brother and hide it, so that it can be disposed of once your brother is no longer being investigated.

You have no desire to use the pistol or to sell it in the future. You simply want to get rid of it without anyone going to prison. You don't keep it in any of these situations, for more the a couple of minutes and it isn't stashed in your house or any place that you own.

You have seconds to decide. Choose carefully. Many years in prison will depend upon your choice. And, no, you didn't go to law school. In fact, you weren't even born in the United States and are not entirely familiar with its laws.

The answer:

If you chose (a), (b), or (c), you don't go to prison. If you choose (d) or (e), you will probably spend many years in a federal prison.

The Court hedged on the issue of whether grabbing the pistol from your brother and either promptly turning it over to the police or the owner, could exonerate you, implying that it might not, because choices (a), (b) and (c) were also available.

Either choice, of course, would have created enough evidence to convict you of the more serious crime of stealing a pistol, even though you didn't, particularly if you were obscure enough to hide your brother's involvement in the incident.

It turns out that you later cooperate with police to retrieve the gun when the investigation leads to your brother, so no one is hurt and the gun is returned, undamaged with all of its ammunition in tact, to its rightful owner.

Also, you aren't allowed to even introduce evidence that shows that you knew that the fellow with you had a criminal record, or to argue to the jury that you were justified in your actions because you were trying to prevent your brother from using the gun.

The jury decided that you chose options (d) or (e), even though you claim that you chose option (a). According to the 10th Circuit, this means that you, Mr. Al-Rekabi, are going to be doing some hard time, up to ten years in prison, although it isn't an offense subject to mandatory minimums, so a shorter term is possible if the Utah federal judge has mercy on you.

In all likelihood, if your last name had been Brigham, charges wouldn't have been pressed, and you certainly wouldn't have ended up in federal court.

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