More on crime and (lenient) punishment

If you are interested in the issues raised by the case of Wolfgang Daschner (discussed in two earlier posts), you might wish to acquaint yourself with the similar case of Alexander Holmes.

I mentioned this case in comments to the earlier of those two posts. I also mentioned that you really ought to read it. Happily, you can now do so even if you are reading afoe on your PDA and have foolishly left your leather-bound volumes of the Federal Cases at home. You’ll find the report of United States v. Holmes on the website of the State University of New York at Buffalo. The University deserves a hat-tip for making this report easily available to anybody with an internet connection. It is one of the most fascinating court reports ever written, and unlike most is also a cracking read. (And, unlike more modern reports, it records the arguments of counsel as well as the opinion of the court.)

At first blush, Holmes’s story doesn’t seem similar to Daschner’s at all. The crime for which Holmes was tried was far graver than Daschner’s. And, crucially, Holmes was not an agent of the state. Holmes’s story tells us nothing about whether torture may be justified and, if so, under what circumstances. But Holmes illustrates, even more dramatically than does Daschner, the problem faced by the state when a good man is driven to a terrible deed by overwhelming circumstances entirely beyond his control.
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