Grappling with the Gray

Grappling with the Gray #82: Guilty on all counts?

February 28, 2024 Yonason Goldson
Grappling with the Gray
Grappling with the Gray #82: Guilty on all counts?
Show Notes

How far can we ethically stretch the letter of the law in an effort to fulfil the spirit of the law?

That's the question the panel takes up on this episode of Grappling with the Gray.

Here is our topic:

Last week, Jennifer Crumbley was found guilty on four counts of involuntary manslaughter for her role in her 15 year old son Ethan’s murder of four classmates in a November 2021 shooting. Ethan pled guilty in 2022 and received a life sentence with no chance of parole.

This was the first time manslaughter charges were ever brought against anyone other than the actual perpetrator. Prosecutor Karen McDonald devised a “novel legal theory,” stretching the conventional application of the law in a way that her own legal team warned her was a “huge risk.” She seems to have been motivated by the belief that if parents know they can be imprisoned for their children’s crimes, they will take more responsibility for their children to prevent horrific mass shootings from happening.

In contrast to some other states, like Texas, Michigan law does not distinguish between involuntary manslaughter and criminal negligence – the former being active and the latter being passive. Consequently, the prosecutor had to choose whether to bend the accepted understanding of the law or settle for pursuing a lesser charge carrying a much reduced sentence.

Does it set a dangerous precedent for a prosecutor to reinterpret the law to work around lawmakers’ failure to legislate proportionate responses that serves as an effective deterrent? Is it fair to Jennifer Crumbley to be made an example of when parents of worse shooters were given a pass or a slap on the wrist? And isn’t there something incongruous about convicting a parent for a child’s crime while simultaneously trying and convicting the child as an adult?

Finally, is it possible to differentiate between one kind of judicial activism that fills necessary holes in the system and another kind that reflects the personal bias of court officials and potentially undermines the integrity of the law?

Meet this week’s panelists:

Ed Brenegar is Founder and Chief of Circle of Impact, LLC, teaching people to think for themselves, to act on their own initiative and to become people of impact within their organizations, communities, and institutions.

Cris Parker once again joins us from Sydney, Australia. She is Head of The Ethics Alliance, a community of organizations across sectors that are connected through The Ethics Centre, providing ethics-based counseling, consulting and education programs.

Stewart Wiggins joins us from Paris. He is Chief Advisor at Induna Advisors, working to significantly increase company revenue by developing positive client reports and establishing solid business relationships.