Jan. 21, 2013

“According to advocates (of victim impact statements), they allow victims to personalize the crime and elevate the status of the victim by describing the effect the crime has had on them or their families. Some laud the courtroom ritual as an aid in the emotional recovery of the victim…. A few legal scholars suggest that the well-intentioned personalization of a crime can blur the line between public justice and private retribution….”

– From “Death by Treacle” by Pamela Haag in the American Scholar (Spring 2012)

“Prosecutor Nancy Lamb and the mothers of the victims burst into tears. Court officials handed out tissues.”

– From “Day Care Owner Convicted on 99 Counts of Child Abuse” by the Associated Press (April 22, 1992)

Count me with those “few legal scholars” who doubt justice is well served by injections of sentimentality. (Although Bob Kelly’s sentencing seems to have concluded without victim impact statements, prosecutors ensured an ample display of mawkishness – the front row was packed with supposed child-victims holding tight to their dolls and teddy bears.)

But sentimentality also extends to the blindered bonding of Little Rascals prosecutors and parents.

What if Nancy Lamb had managed to keep even the slightest professional distance between herself and the parents, instead of being swallowed up in their manic cause? Might she have been able to glimpse reality?

And what if Bill Hart had avoided dating (and later marrying) one of those parents?

Pennsylvania prosecutor Alan Rubenstein managed to avoid such pitfalls – why couldn’t others?