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The ultimate test of the Rule of Law

The backbone of any civilized society is the Rule of Law. It’s a system of established rules that, if broken, has consequences. The intent is to modify behavior such that society can function without unreasonable threats of violence, theft, and other unacceptable malfeasance. In the U.S. our laws tend to balance society’s need for order with the desire for a baseline level of freedom.

A test of the Rule of Law always comes when the rich and powerful are the accused. Most societies tolerate a certain level of unequal application of the law based on the violator’s connections, fame, and/or economic status. America’s fascination with sports and celebrity produces the most glaring examples of the unequal application of justice. But regardless of the status of the accused, unequal application of the law for certain violations should not be tolerated by any society.

One such violation is the unconscionable fraud committed by the finance villains who gamed the mortgage-backed securities market and crashed the global economy. (If you read Michael Lewis’s new book, The Big Short, you’ll see the fraud was epic in scope and execution.)

The SEC civil charges against, and the criminal investigation of, Goldman Sachs and others are a start, but, a la Jeff Skilling and Bernie Madoff, the wingtip mafia that robbed these banks need to hear large metal doors clank behind them.

Anything short of significant jail time does nothing less than convince the masses that the entire system is impossibly corrupt. In that frustration, they become convinced that there’s no Rule of Law for those who reach a certain economic status. It becomes Them versus Us.

A society without the Rule of Law devolves quickly, resulting in anti-everything rhetoric from the disenfranchised. (Sound familiar?) Over time this manifests itself in prejudice, aggression, and sometimes violence, especially among those who have lost jobs, homes, and property. When you add that to a citizenry’s love affair with firearms, that spells trouble.

Locally, the most recent violation that cannot be tolerated is the murder of 22-year old Yeardley Love.

By now you know the story: rich, punk UVA senior lacrosse player (George Huguely) allegedly breaks into his former girlfriend’s room, literally beats her to death, steals her computer to hide evidence, and leaves her there to die – just weeks before her graduation and a life of untold promise.

One wonders what the outcry would be if the accused were black or Latino. Our experience, however, tells us that Huguely’s Chevy Chase address, his elite school connections (Landon, UVA), his athleticism, his race, and his resources (summer home in Florida, check; 40-foot yacht, check) will lead to something short of justice. Sadly, that’s probably what will happen. But this exact situation is where the citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia can restore some faith in the Rule of Law.

You see, it’s easy to picture the Ted Bundy mass murderers of the world receiving the death penalty. It’s easy to picture child rapists and murderers as dead men walking. It’s even easy to see convicted terrorists hanged or dealt with by a firing squad.

But nothing would send a message to the country and the world about the equal application of the Rule of Law like a rich, white athlete being convicted of murder, strapped to a T-shaped table, and administered the needles that stop his heart. And that’s why George Huguely should die.

13 comments

  1. Agree that the law should be applied even-handedly to all; that it usually isn’t; that what Huguely did was sickening and that he should pay dearly for it (which he will – if you think this case will be plea bargained away you’ve never worked in a prosecutor’s office); but don’t you think your Cato-like (“Carthago delenda est”) use of the populist vengeance schtick is a little crude? After all, Ted Bundy killed 30 people, and with a good deal more conscious planning. As for the yacht, from what I’ve read, Huguely tried to jump off and swim to shore.

  2. Actually, assuming he is guilty of what has been alleged, a sentence of life in prison either without parole, or serving a minimum 40 years would accomplish the same desirable end.

  3. So I guess we’re going to throw the presumption of innocence out of the window?

  4. Jesus, and you call yourself a lawyer? What a shameful display of prejudice and ignorance. Not to mention the fact that there has been no trial, no airing of all of the facts, and no evidence produced yet in a court of law. How totally ironic it is that you title this article the “The Ultimate Test of the Rule of Law” and then proceed to ignore the most fundamental rule of law: innocent until proven guilty. No, you not only ignore and trample it, you go on to pronounce the sentence of death without knowing anything about this crime or these two young people. Mr. Bielieu, if you think that everything you read in the newspapers is spot-on true, you really do need to grow up.

  5. Ms. Forster – I understand the liberal PD prespective of your rant, but the whole thesis presumes a full, fair trial and conviction of felony murder, which appears available based on the facts now known. The point is if Hughley were black or Latino the outcry for the death penalty would be deafening. He shouldn’t get something less than justice because he’s a rich, white athlete. Certainly you can’t disagree with that, can you? Thanks for reading though.

  6. “The ultimate test of the Blogger”

    The ability to post while refraining from a flame war with respected legal professionals.

  7. James F. Doherty, Jr.

    I was pretty much with you until the last two paragraphs, then I jumped ship and joined forces with Ms. Forster. Perfectly fine to talk about equal application of the law and the impact of privilege on the system, but it would have been nice to also mention the fact that it can go both ways, witness the public pillorying of the Duke lacrosse team before all the facts were in because of who they were. It was also unnecessary to call Ms. Forster’s post “liberal” and a “rant”. Defending yourself without name calling is always more impressive.

  8. As someone who decidedly did NOT graduate from Bryn Mawr, I can appreciate the class-based anger here. But let’s not delude ourselves: this case also has sex appeal because the victim was young and pretty and white and athletic, and if she hadn’t been those things we’d probably be hearing little about it. As for Ms. Forster’s response, I think there is nothing inappropriate about an uninvolved attorney expressing an opinion about a case in the public eye. You might disagree with that attorney’s opinion, but questioning the attorney’s competence (“you call yourself a lawyer?”) on that basis is a bit much. How ironic that you take such a stand on a case in which the Public Defender’s services would be so soundly rejected in favor of more expensive, more “upscale” private counsel.

  9. Patricia Jessamy

    I would think that this generation of tech-savvy individuals, “Generation J.D.,” would consider that an internet posters claimed identity is not always their true identity.

    Young ladies in my all female prep school used to write statements attributed to other students all the time. It was not a big deal.

  10. We call them trolls. And yes, the Forster post is likely a troll. Good catch.

  11. Also somewhat interesting is your statement that this crime is legally sufficient to warrant the death penalty under Virginia law. I can only assume that you believe it qualifies for the death penalty as felony murder. In Virginia, there are distinctions in felony murder, and it seems pretty clear based upon a casual read of the applicable law, that were everything you said in the article as to the facts accurate, you are wrong that the death penalty could apply.

    In Virginia, only Capital Murder is punishable by death. First degree murder, including murder in the course of a burglary, is a Class 2 felony, and is punishable by life in prison.

    In order to seek the death penalty they would have to prove that he actually committed a robbery. While it is possible that they could prove he committed a burglary, I think it is exceedingly unlikely that they would be able to prove a robbery occurred.

    For your convenience: Va. Code Ann. §§ 18.2-10, 18.2-31, & 18.2-32.

    And from a personal standpoint, tossing around the death penalty as lightly as you seem to – “a rich, white, athlete being convicted of murder, strapped to a T-shaped table, and administered the needles that stop his heart. And that’s why George Hughley should die” – is not very becoming.

  12. sometimes, as a lawyer, we get blimded by rules and ignore the facts staring us in the face. If ever a set of facts cryed out for wiping someone from the face of the earth, it is here. Please someone, make up some facts that make this less than a capital case. Hang him by his balls. That would be only too kind

  13. “But nothing would send a message to the country and the world about the equal application of the Rule of Law like a rich, white athlete being convicted of murder, strapped to a T-shaped table, and administered the needles that stop his heart.”

    …Except that he probably didn’t commit felony murder and is thus ineligible for the death penalty. Nothing would send a message to the country and the world about the sad state of progressive politics in this country than a rich, white athlete being executed just because you’re pissed off at rich, white people.