Jacob Appel: Allowing a manslaughter defence brings risk of anarchy

Share
Related Topics

Law-abiding Americans on both sides of the abortion debate were horrified when George Tiller was shot dead outside his church. They should be equally disturbed should anti-abortion extremist Scott Roeder be allowed to present a voluntary manslaughter defence at his trial for the crime. Should this decision stand, the defendant can avoid a murder conviction if he proves he had "an unreasonable but honest belief that circumstances existed that justified deadly force".

Allowing this defence significantly increases the threat to other abortion providers. It also has disturbing implications for the prosecution of a wide range of suspects – from animal rights extremists to al-Qa'ida terrorists.

Judge Warren Wilbert had already rejected efforts by Roeder to plead "necessity", a legal argument that would have excused his acts if he could establish that they were required to save the lives of unborn children. In doing so, Wilbert cited a Kansas Supreme Court ruling in another case, which warned that allowing the necessity defence in abortion cases would "not only lead to chaos, but would be tantamount to sanctioning anarchy". Now, by ruling that Roeder may plead what amounts to "guilty with a good explanation", Wilbert has sanctioned precisely such anarchy.

A murder conviction will likely place Roeder in prison for life. In contrast, a manslaughter conviction would lead to a roughly five-year sentence. For those extremists who believe that they are killing to save innocent babies, losing five years of freedom may appear trivial. In short, Wilbert's ruling lowers the bar to violence.

The decision has implications far beyond abortion. The militants who flew jetliners into the World Trade Centre presumably also believed their actions justified, as does the Animal Liberation Front when it murders researchers to save monkeys. By this approach, trials about violence would become public hearings on abortion or foreign policy or research ethics.

Trial judges in the US have two goals: to serve justice and to avoid being overturned by an appellate court. Most likely, Judge Wilbert has given Roeder's defence team considerable latitude at present so that Roeder will have fewer grounds for appeal if convicted. As a method of trial management, that makes practical sense. Unfortunately, this approach threatens to transform the trial of Scott Roeder into a hearing on abortion and even a broad exploration of American social values, a subject for which an obscure Kansas courtroom is poorly suited.

Dr Appel is a writer and bioethicist who practises medicine and healthcare law in New York

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Residential Property Solicitor - Hampshire

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: NORTH HAMPSHIRE - SENIOR POSITION - An exciti...

Recruitment Genius: Gas Installation Engineer

£29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Gas Installation Engineer is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor

£28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor is req...

Recruitment Genius: HVAC & Mechanical Service Estimator

£27000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Yorkshire based firm looking to...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Michael Brown was shot and killed by police in August  

Ferguson: The sad truth is that Michael Brown was killed because he was a black man

Bonnie Greer
A protestor poses for a  

Ferguson verdict: This isn't a 'tragedy'. This is part of a long-running genocide of black men in America

Otamere Guobadia
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

Colouring books for adults

How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

Call me Ed Mozart

Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
10 best stocking fillers for foodies

Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

'I am a paedophile'

Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

From a lost deposit to victory

Green Party on the march in Bristol
Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

Winter blunderlands

Putting the grot into grotto
'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital
In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

The young are the new poor

Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty