Friday, December 01, 2006

Conspiracy to commit balance

A funny thing happened on my way to the law library just now...

Leaving the Hofstra Deli/Grill, I ran into my Civil Procedure professor and we chatted briefly. Earlier this week I saw him at the Sharon Olds poetery reading/talk, an on-campus event I attended that was part of Hofstra's "Great Writers, Great Readings" series. We'd briefly chatted there, too. Just now, the poet's talk came up in our conversation. He said something to the effect of attending such events being good for feeding the soul. I gave my usual two cents about loving writers and poetry, and keeping balance while in law school by not neglecting my artist side. In his typical Civ Pro teacher "now-let's-ask-what-if-it-were-this-way" fashion he posited that it could be a question of when the balance comes. Does it come during one's first semester in law school? Do you say, I have to play music/ride horses/run a marathon/head the church committee/finish a novel, or whatever other random thing, while you are a 1L, to keep the "balance"? Or do you put the blinders on and give yourself wholly over to law school for three years, with the "balance" coming in the three, five, ten years after that?

Everyone who knows me knows my choice but I thought it was a fascinating new perspective I hadn't considered. Of course, some would also argue that you will never get that balance in those years after law school because you'll be working like a dog to pay off loans (which is why I chose a school that gave me a scholarship), and then again you might always get hit by a bus, and then if you waited you'd never get to do that thing you were delaying. I'm sticking with the if-not-now-when? approach.

Here's another thing. I just read in the conspiracy chapter of my Criminal Law book that when the Allied Forces were preparing for the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal after World War II, the notion of punishing for conspiracy was a foreign concept to the French and the Russians, let alone the Germans, stemming as it does from the Anglo-American tradition of "common law" that is distinctly opposed in many respects to those aforementioned civil law countries. We apparently take it for granted that the theory of conspiracy makes it possible to punish a large number of people, even those who may not have committed the proscribed act. The French apparently found it barbaric and said it had no place in modern law. The Soviets were equally astounded. As Herbert Wechsler (then Assistant Attorney General) put it, "the common-law conception of the criminality of an unexecuted plan is not universally accepted in the civilized world."

We've been learning that conspiracy (in the U.S. legal system) involves agreement to commit a crime, agreement to help commit the crime, and at least one of the agreeing parties doing some overt act -- even if not an illegal act -- that is a step toward the agreed upon crime. For example, let's say three people agree to burn down the law school. As long as they sit around their apartment, wasted, having only agreed to do it, there's no conspiracy, but as soon as one of them goes to the store and buys matches, they can all now be charged with conspiracy. Buying matches was an overt act, but not necessarily an illegal one, by an agreeing party.

Of course, the Anglo-American view prevailed at Nuremberg, and leaders, organizers, and accomplices became responsible for the acts of anyone executing the plan.

In some ways, conspiracy charges are problematic. Are two people who commit one illegal act together as dangerous as an organized crime syndicate? Some people think the sentences should not be cumulative. Unlike attempt, a conspirator can be charged with and punished for the crime and the conspiracy to commit the crime. But if you commit a robbery, you can't also be charged with attempted robbery, although at one point you were obviously attempting the robbery, and then you completed it. Once you've completed the act, we forget about the "attempt" charge. Not so conspiracy. That's because we think of groups as inherently more dangerous, harder to renounce, and so forth. Think about it: the terrorists thwarted in London recently could be arrested etc. because of conspiracy -- they had not begun their attempt yet. (And, all the members of the conspiracy can be charged...)

I love my criminal law class. It is so philosophical and so interesting. The textbook and the professor are both wonderful. The class discussions are stimulating, and I find myself more engaged in there than anywhere else. I couldn't have imagined it turning out that way at all when I initially considered my first semester.

Now I have only one more week of classes! Then, two weeks of slogging through final exams, and after that -- Mexican food every day for three weeks in the Valley of the Sun! I am also going to watch movies. I think my goal will be to watch 20 movies during my winter break. I haven't been to a theater in ages. I have watched a few DVDs here and there. I'm hoping to find time this weekend to squeeze in my buddy Vincent -- my Lust for Life DVD has just arrived from Netflix.

All hail December!

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