A recent CNN.com article , Minister shot dead, deacon wounded before funeral, forced me to re-examine and expand my position on tailoring a sentence according to an algorithmic prediction of probable recidivism. The November 1st report describes the murder and injury of a Missionary Baptist minister and deacon, respectively, by Frederick Davis, a man at odds with the minister. The timing of the crime is quite interesting given that in October 2007, Davis had been convicted of disorderly conduct towards the minister’s wife and had been sentenced to a year of probation and distance from the church and minister’s family. In fact, however, court documents report a year-long dispute between the gunman and the victim leading up to the incident. The angle that caught my eye about this case is that the offender’s initial crime was a sexual offense toward the minister’s wife but the second was manslaughter of her husband. I am extremely hesitant to say that the law would be doing enough by predicting recidivism of one certain type of crime when criminal intent is not limited to repeated theft, child molestation, etc. but is really open to a breadth of society-threatening activities, the extent of which cannot be fully assessed by any present-day algorithms (I assume). Hypothetically, if this were in the future and Davis could have had an fMRI ran to search for typical signatures of a sexually predatory brain after his first conviction these results may have come out negatively. But would they have looked for murderous tendencies as well given that he showed no such physical aggression in the earlier case? Then again, if he did have a case of hypersexuality, for example, he could have received treatment turning him away from repeating sexual offences but it is highly unlikely that they would have predicted Davis’s proclivity to commit murder.
Perhaps in the very act of committing a crime, one surrenders certain “given rights” and therefore can come under much higher legal scrutiny and observation. This could mean regular evaluations by certified psychologists and possible detainment in high threat periods; however, this idea this seems impossible to enforce and borders on inhumane. Previously, I was optimistic about the potential for tailored sentencing as a just method to punish but on the other hand to help rehabilitate previously convicted criminals back into functioning, non-threatening members of society. Given the complexity of the situation, however, now I believe such treatment would misappropriate resources and attention leaving behind lurking tendencies toward yet unidentified criminal acts.
Davis, the gunman who quickly surrendered to enforcement, is to appear in court today (Nov. 3, 2008) in Ohio. In the given case, according to current reports, the crime was clearly pre-meditated, but it will be interesting to see if the defense claims any neurological quirks in the defendant and what kind of weight, if any, is given to these considerations.
1. Minister shot dead, deacon wounded before funeral (CNN.com)