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Prosecutorial Abuse vs. Parental Abuse

Apparently, the State of Texas is still trying to figure out what to do with those 400+ kids rounded up at the YFZ Ranch.  I don't really know enough about the case to comment on whether these kids were victims or not, though from reading this the evidence looks thin.

Here is my concern.  About 15 years ago I sat on a jury in Dallas.  The particular case was a child abuse case, with the state alleging a dad had sexually assaulted his daughter.  The whole case took about 3 days to present and it took the jury about 2 hours to find the guy innocent, and it took that long only because of one holdout.

The reason we found him innocent so quickly is because it became clear that the state had employed Janet Reno tactics (the Miami method, I think it was called) to put pressure on the child over a period of 6 months to break her out of her position that her dad had done nothing.  (By the way, is anyone else flabbergasted that Janet Reno, of all people, is on the board of the Innocence Project?).

Anyway, the dad was first arrested when the teenage babysitter told police that the daughter was behaving oddly and it seemed just like a story she had seen on Oprah.   Note, the babysitter did not witness any abuse nor did the girl mention any abuse to her.  She just was acting up one night.  At trial, the babysitter said her dream was to have this case propel her to an Oprah appearance of her own (I kid you not).

On that evidence alone, the state threw the dad in jail and starting a 6 month brainwashing and programming process aimed at getting the girl to say her dad abused her.  They used a series of negative reinforcements whenever the girl said dad was innocent and offered positive reinforcements if she would say dad had said X or Y.  Eventually, the little girl broke and told the state what they wanted to hear, but quickly recanted and held to the original story of her dad's innocent, all the way through the trial.

So, as quickly as we could, we set the dad free  (the last jury holdout, interestingly, was a big Oprah fan).  No one ever compensated for states abuse of the dad, and perhaps even worse, the states psychological abuse of his daughter.  I know nothing of what became of them, but I hope they are all OK.  I guess its lucky he did not get convicted, because while the Innocence project has freed a lot of people in Dallas, it sure is not going to work on this type of case with Janet Reno on its board.

Coming back to the YFZ case, I am worried that the state seems to be wanting to hold the kids for as long as possible, presumably to apply these methods to start getting kids to adopt the stories of abuse prosecutors want to hear.  In some ways, the YFZ case is even more dangerous from a prosecutorial abuse standpoint.  That is because there are a large number of people who think that strong religious beliefs of any type are, well, weird, and therefore are quicker to believe that other weird behavior may also be present.

Posted on April 24, 2008 at 10:37 AM | Permalink

Comments

I suspect the current case is much more likely to have true statutory rape - as evidenced by the statements of former members. Also, at least this time we don't have the federal government "rescuing" kids like they did at Waco. In that event, Janet Reno excused the unnecessary and tragic raid on the grounds that children were being abused, even though the feds had no jurisdiction!

Prosecutorial abuse, however, is a scary, scary thing. My friend Ray Niemeir suggests that a law preventing any former or current prosecutor from running for office would go a long way towards curbing that.

Posted by: John Moore | Apr 24, 2008 10:44:37 AM

I live here in Texas and while I haven't been hanging on every article that has come out about this case the abuse is only part of the story. I seem to remember reading in one article that there were girls as young as 14 or 15 that were pregnant and in "spiritual marriages". I don't know about the with parental consent marriage at 16 is legal here but 15 and younger it would definitely be illegal in this state. And for the girls to be pregnant at those ages would I believe constitute some form of abuse. In addition to those two possible illegal activities happening polygamy which is also alleged to be happening there is also illegal in this state.

As for the polygamy I don't care one way or the other what two consenting ADULTS do but the children must be protected if anything bad is happening to them there.

One of the big problems they have had is determining how everyone is related to each other and the age of most of the children. This is reportedly due to the families (wives and children) being broken up and swapped around at the whim of the leader at the compound.

Posted by: Richard | Apr 24, 2008 11:23:44 AM

In this case, I think the evidence of abuse will be 17-year-old girls with 3-year-old children. Once they figure out ages of the girls, and who's married to who, the cases should be pretty straightforward.

Posted by: Craig | Apr 24, 2008 12:37:11 PM

I don't have any problem prosecuting on the basis of statutory rape and certainly this particular sect condones and has practiced that in the past. However, the fact is the original raison d'etre of the raid has already been shown to be a false telephone call. Now, the prosecutors are doing nothing but fishing for the underlying crime. The precedent this sets is a little scary. Again, I'm pretty sure they may find instances of statutory rape, but they simply must have a better case before wholesale arrest and child kidnapping. Say they do find 10 cases of statutory. What about the other several hundred children and dozens of families. What has justified their arrest and breaking up?

Posted by: ElamBend | Apr 24, 2008 12:47:40 PM

"And for the girls to be pregnant at those ages would I believe constitute some form of abuse." Not if if the father is under 18.

Normally I try being a bit more diplomatic to better make a point and step on less toes. Being a northern boy, the cynical side of me says that what's driving this is Texas are some crazed evangelicals who can't handle a group of people so devoted to their religion but yet sooo different from them.

Posted by: Allen | Apr 24, 2008 1:18:32 PM

what i find most disturbing here is that the "16 year old girl" who called and alleged abuse has not been found. so this whole raid is based on the claims of an informant who no one can even identify and who has not come forward.

this seems like an awfully severe response to such claims and seems to fall dramatically short of any reasonable standard of evidence or prosecution.

Posted by: morganovich | Apr 24, 2008 2:12:13 PM

I've never understood how your Federal government got off with that slaughter at Waco.

Posted by: dearieme | Apr 24, 2008 4:02:49 PM

The 16-year old DOES NOT exist:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/04/23/AR2008042303551.html?hpid=sec-religion

That being said, apparently they have found 30+ underage mothers and there is no way in that sect that the fathers are minors.

This thing is crooked both ways.

Posted by: ElamBend | Apr 24, 2008 6:37:20 PM

Is anyone else reminded of the Anna Nicole Smith case? Lots and lots of irrelevant talk about what basically comes down to a paternity test - in this case, about 400 paternity tests. If the state can prove that adult men of a certain age have impregnated the younger girls, they have a case. If not, they have seriously overstepped their authority and I hope they get their pants sued off.

Posted by: tom | Apr 24, 2008 6:42:28 PM

Once it became clear that the original warrant to go in was based upon false information, it should be quashed. Any DNA evidence or written records of relationships become "fruit of the tainted vine", and should be inadmissible in any court. The statutory rape charges may fall apart on this misconduct by the state.

They are not practicing polygamy, they have only one legal wife. The other "spiritual wives", or "sister wives" are nothing but a name they use among themselves to describe a relationship. It has no legal status, like college kids having "friends with benefits". Like any other live-in girlfriend, the relationship is not recognized by law.

The intent of prosecutional abuse becomes most clear when you see that they are holding infants and toddlers of both sexes. It would be at least a decade or more before there is the slightest chance that on of them would become married, so there just isn't any valid claim of immanent harm if they were returned to their families. The judge has spoken about the exposure to a belief system where the children would grow up believing that "sister wives" are normal. Try going into every major public housing project nationwide and snatching every single child because they are growing up in a community where early teen pregnancy and unwed "baby mama's" with a different father for each child are common.

If this comedy of errors does not bring severe punishments upon the prosecutors, any time some official wants a warrant that can not be justified, there will be a bogus "anonymous caller" with a tip, and a hunt for something, anything, to justify the raid later.

Posted by: CT_Yankee | Apr 24, 2008 6:59:00 PM

CT Yankee has it wrong...

The "fruit of the tainted vine" argument applies to intentional government abuse. If the government acted without knowing that the information was a hoax, no taint applies. The purpose of taint principle is to discourage misbehavior by the government, not simply to prove a technicality to allow the guilty to go free.

Furthermore, it is polygamy - legal hairsplitting is beside the point. Just because they don't have licenses for their relationships doesn't mean the relationships are not polygamous. By your definition, polygamy is impossible in Texas, because it is illegal. Preposterous.

As far as holding infants... the question would be: can they establish who is the legitimate parent. You don't just hand over an infant to someone *claiming* to be its mother.

All that being said, it isn't clear to me if the government overstepped or not.

Posted by: John M, Phoenix, AZ | Apr 24, 2008 9:10:47 PM

CT Yankee, in addition to John's comments, keep in mind that the exclusionary rule only matters as far as future criminal prosecutions go. So the custody cases go on even if it is determined that the original warrant was faulty.

But there's no reason to believe that the original warrant was faulty. Law enforcement had a reasonable belief that a crime was going on or had been committed when they sought the warrant. They couldn't know that it was a false tipster. Probable cause does not require certainty. No one's throwing out that warrant.

Moreover, after observation at the ranch, police sought a second warrant. It was on the basis of the second warrant that they scooped up documents and (after 8 hours) the children.

Posted by: Gabriel Malor | Apr 24, 2008 10:34:53 PM

As far as this girl not existing goes...I'd want to have a good long look at any places on that ranch where the ground had been disturbed. Not to mention confiscating and analyzing any meat pies I came across...

"It's girl!
Try a bite of girl!
It's so good and sweet
It'll make your hair curl!"

--as Mrs. Lovett might say.

Posted by: Technomad | Apr 24, 2008 10:58:41 PM

Technomad:
It's been reported that law enforcement has been zealously looking for Sarah. It's also been reported that Sarah is almost definitely the fraudulent tipster. And because of the mindset people like you share, police were all too eager to destroy families because, you know, polygamists are all monsters.

Posted by: Stan | Apr 25, 2008 9:18:49 PM

Transcript of Frontline special 'The Child Terror'

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/terror/etc/script.html

Posted by: Scott | Apr 29, 2008 1:45:48 AM

Hahaha, what another joke from our collective governments...Millions of children are growing up in section eight government sponsored households while their mothers shack up with drug abusers, dealers and worse criminals. And, the state of Texas decides to draw a hard line on these people...I'm not saying they should not be investigated but I think taking their children away without facts being known is ridiculous to say the least. OK, let's give the heroic enforcers medals and send them up to the DFW and Houston areas to bust tens of thousands of section eight mothers and their live-in hoodlums/boyfriends...

Posted by: Scott Wiggins | Apr 29, 2008 4:56:44 PM

Hahaha, what another joke from our collective governments...Millions of children are growing up in section eight government sponsored households while their mothers shack up with drug abusers, dealers and worse criminals. And, the state of Texas decides to draw a hard line on these people...I'm not saying they should not be investigated but I think taking their children away without facts being known is ridiculous to say the least. OK, let's give the heroic enforcers medals and send them up to the DFW and Houston areas to bust tens of thousands of section eight mothers and their live-in hoodlums/boyfriends...

Posted by: Scott Wiggins | Apr 29, 2008 4:59:15 PM

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