Friday, August 03, 2007

sex, lies, dogfighting, and videotape

Somebody asked me if I was ever going to write a post about the Michael Vick dogfighting scandal, given my ongoing dilettantish interest in Animals and Society. But a NYT column today seems to have it right:
“I think we are a forgiving people and a sports-loving people,” Lapchick said. “We have the potential to forgive a lot of athletes who do stupid things, or at least the sports they play.”

But, he added, “I don’t think society is going to forgive Michael Vick, unless the charges prove wrong.”
It's perhaps one of the more valuable criminal prosecutions in recent memory, as it has provided an unambiguous signal throughout American society regarding public sentiment for a crime about which there was otherwise much ambiguity. I take as the main evidence of ambiguity that companies with which Vick had endorsement deals at first weren't sure how to handle the situation, and now they can't get far enough away from him. I'm usually skeptical of the deterrent effect of "make an example of him" prosecutions, but I conjecture that this will have a real deterrent effect on dogfighting going forward.

I do think it's interesting that there are all kinds of ways that a football player could murder someone and have a much greater chance for public redemption than Michael Vick has. I think what makes the Vick crime so hard to imagine forgiveness is not just how much people love their dogs, but the way the scope and duration of the operation he bankrolled seems to bespeak a fundamental rottenness of core character, not the kind of thing to be resolved with a tearful televised apology or some anger management classes. Or jail time, I suspect.

Also: speaking of crimes that are unquestionably "bad" but ambiguous exactly "how bad" in the eyes of society, word from Madison a few weeks ago was that the neighbor of a friend of mine was arrested for having secretly videotaped himself having sex with women he was dating over the past five years (with no intent to distribute; the tapes were found in connection with a police search for other reasons). I think he was a graduate student--just so we're clear, not in sociology--and, according to the news story, he certainly gave the arresting officers a graduate student-ly explanation of his actions:
"It's funny, I never thought about asking anybody (for permission)," the complaint says he told police. "It stems from a sense of impermanence of relationships. ... I have the feeling like they aren't going to last. It lends itself to making the videotapes. The emotional need I have is to have a record."
(And saving letters and gifts apparently just wasn't enough.) His court date was set for July 30, but there hasn't been any follow-up story in the paper about what happened. I wanted to see what kind of punishment somebody would get for this crime, as I'll admit I genuinely don't know what I think an appropriate sentence would be. Interestingly, the maximum possible sentence for his crime is a jail sentence nine times longer than the maximum sentence possible for Michael Vick (45 years versus 6).

23 comments:

anomie said...

Oh, yes. I remember being introduced to this case as the one in which Larry Smith said what Vick did was worse than raping a woman.

Anonymous said...

"Somebody asked me if I was ever going to write a post about the Michael Vick dogfighting scandal, given my ongoing dilettantish interest in Animals and Society"

Scratching my head over the connection. So...if you ain't down with the manimal fringe...you must be FOR cock-fighting, bull-baiting, etc? Whew, glad you took the time to clear that up!

jeremy said...

As I have tried to suggest in previous posts, Animals and Society doesn't have to be about the manimal fringe, even if that may be what it presently is. The changing moral status of animals is an interesting social phenomenon.

Anonymous said...

It surprises me that you are uncertain about an appropriate sentence for the video-tape freak.

It never occurred to the guy to ask permission? He thinks his own "emotional need" is a valid reason to violate the privacy and dignity of his partners? This guy is a sociopath.

It is NOT OK to treat human beings like your own personal porn store. Having sex with someone DOES NOT imply consent to be videotaped, photographed, or otherwise used like a playboy magazine.

This guy should get jail time for every single video.
-Corrie

jeremy said...

Corrie: First, I don't see why you construe what I'm saying as an argument against him deserving jail time, etc.. Second, I don't regard "jail time for every single video" as an adequate response to the question of what punishment is deserved. He's got 15 counts and up to 3 years on each count. Are you arguing he deserves 45 years?

Anonymous said...

Jeremy:
I meant to say a year of jail time for every video, which would be 99 years (going from the state journal article that said they collected 99 videocassettes).

I didn't construe what you had said as against any jail time. I was under the impression you thought 45 years was too long (because of the comparison to Vick's 6 years, because of the "ambiguity") and was surprised at that. It just seems to me like this is a clear case of serious crimes, and he should be locked up for a long time. I don't see what's ambiguous about "how bad" it is.
-Corrie

jeremy said...

You are definitely correct that I personally do not believe he should be going to jail for 45 years for this. But, the whole point of my raising the example was that it seemed very uncertain to me what would be the distribution of public opinion about what the punishment should be.

Anonymous said...

A picky point that, nonetheless, annoyed me: the article didn't say anything either way about intent to distribute, but you stated that there wasn't intent to distribute.

Another detail from the article: you said "the tapes were found in connection with a police search for other reasons", but didn't mention that the other reason was that he was trespassing in one of the former girlfriend's apartments.

It seems like you are minimizing what the guy did.

Also, it bothers me that you are comparing crimes against dogs to crimes against women. Which, as anomie points out, has been going on a lot lately.
-Corrie

jeremy said...

I think there is a big difference between "minimizing" what someone does and not thinking they deserve 45 years in jail. At the risk of whatever, I will just be honest and say I cannot believe we are seriously contemplating the idea that this crime might warrant 45 years in jail.

I certainly do think that if Michael Vick had been busted for making covert videotapes of himself having consensual sex with women, he would be facing a much easier road in the court of public opinion than what he is facing from dogfighting, but this is conjecture.

Regardless of whatever else, sentencing is a commensuration metric for crimes, especially when jail time is involved, so a crime against anything can be compared to a crime against anything else.

Ann said...

I'm with you, Jeremy. If this video-taping guy were to serve a full sentence, which is unlikely to begin with, he would be 88 before he is released.

I don't think it's "minimizing" his crime to question whether this is an appropriate response.

I'm not saying that I think he should have an easy time of it, but I don't necessarily think it's in anyone's best interest to lock up this bozo, pay for his upkeep in jail for the rest of his miserable life, completely destroy any slight opportunity he might have for rehabilitating and returning to society as less of a bozo, and then pat ourselves on the back for protecting society and providing sanctioned payback. And as upset as it makes some people to compare crimes (property, drug, violent against animals or humans and just plain dangerous/noxious behavior) I think that's exactly what we SHOULD be doing. Perhaps we wouldn't have become the incarceration society that we are now if we had some big-picture perspective. But, you know, what do I know? Where's the real Ann? (Althouse?)

-Ann the Fan

Anonymous said...

Of course sentencing is a comparison of evils, etc. But when there is a pattern of comparing the Vick crimes to crimes against women, I start to feel like dogs and women are being equated.
I'm not saying that *you* equated them, but your comments are part of a larger phenomenon that is upsetting.

In terms of the jail time. This guy has been videotaping unknown numbers of women since the 1990s. I'm curious if there is a number of women that this guy would have taped that would make you think he would deserve a 45-year sentence? Like if he taped 100 women? if he taped 25?

jeremy said...

If he had never before been arrested for the matter, there is no number of tapes he could have in his closet that would cause me to think he should be sentenced to 45 years.

Anonymous said...

oops- anonymous 12:16 was Corrie again.

Anonymous said...

Regardless of how much jail time is appropriate fot the video taper, I think Jermey is nonethess right that if Vick had video taped women he had sex with, the general public would be far less outraged with him than they are over the dog fighting scandal. This is not to say that both are not terrible crimes, just that public opinion seems more emotionally raw when it comes to animals. Maybe because it is hard to 'blame the victim' when the victim is a dead dog.
Shelley

Anonymous said...

"'Vegansexuals' Do It With Each Other: Study Says Vegans Find Meat Eaters Sexually Repulsive"

Take it away Jeremy...

Anonymous said...

just another example of identity/lifestyle splintering under late-capitalism. a marketer's dream. soon there will be hotels, cruises, shopping-establishments, etc. catering to this latest market niche... "get your carnivore-free vegan sex on at 'club cucumber'"....

jeremy said...

BTW, here is average sentence length for Wisconsin and US as a whole. Median sentence for murder is 20 years.

Brayden said...

I agree with Jeremy in that I think most crimes are overly-punished with jail time. He should definitely get some jail time (without a doubt) but the question of how much is enough is tricky and I lean towards being lenient in the hopes that the scandal alone will have cured him of his repulsive behavior. This issue is really problematic as it is all tangled up with rehabilitation vs. justice.

jeremy said...

I am presuming that no one has inferred from my comments that I do not believe he deserves jail time. He does. So does Vick.

Corey said...

At the risk of raising further ire... under what theory of punishment should we incarcerate someone for making a surreptitious video tape of a consensual behavior? Does society need to be protected from this person? [Will the benefit of public safety outweigh the costs of incarceration (at ~30k per year)]. Will a prison stint deter other amateur videographers from capturing their own exploits? Will prison help to rehabilitate this particular individual [a philosophy that presumes some kind of illness drove the behavior]; or will a prison sentence met out retributive justice for such an egregious violation of social norms?

By reading some of the comments, the money is on retribution. Revenge driven public policy is typically not terribly productive.

jeremy said...

I don't think retributive punishment is bad policy. I don't see how putting somebody in jail for covert videotaping (regardless of the # counts) for twice as long as the median sentence for murder is appropriate retributive punishment. In any case, it's a strong mitigating factor for me that there is no evidence of intent to distribute.

It's a strange crime is that the harm of the crime to the victims is totally bound up in his getting caught (which is NOT to regret that he was caught). It's not just that if he was never caught, the victims would never know. Additionally, the tapes are now in the possession of people who may watch them--indeed, who to prosecute, will have to watch them--far beyond what the perv/perp believed when he made the tapes. Indeed, if the unfortunate reasoning of the DA in the Genarlow Wilson case was followed, the tapes could be subject to a FOIA request.

Anonymous said...

Corey:
My comments were motivated much more by fear than by a desire for retribution.
-Other Corrie

Corey said...

(1) Jeremy: I didn't mean to imply that retributive punishment is never productive. Durhkeim's entire corpus concerning punishment emphasizes the social importance of retributive sentiment. But as your examples illustrate, retributive justice is most appropriate when it is connected to actual danger. (e.g., it merges retribution with incapacitation). In my opinion punishing simply for the sake of retribution leads to an inefficient penal policy. [Lots of smart people disagree with me on this]. I'm in agreement with you on this case that a penalty for surreptitiously video taping an intimate moment without the other party's knowledge is creepy and wrong, but not worthy of a penalty 2x the sentence for murder.

(2) Corrie: I'd argue that there is a tight connection between fear and retributive justice. I hope you do not take my comment as being dismissive of your concerns. I'm just trying to think through the logical policy implications.