Topic 1- Elder Neglect and the Law

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Question 1: Should children be required to support an aging parent? Why or why not?

Although children should generally feel a strong moral compulsion to support an aging parent, they should not be required to do so by law – at least not beyond providing them with basic necessities. Under the law, there is generally no duty for individuals to act affirmatively to aid others who are in peril (Stiegel, Klem & Turner, 2007). When it comes to the elderly, the only time there should be such a legal duty is when there is a contract obligating someone, such as a long-term care facility, to provide such services (Stiegel, Klem & Turner, 2007). States that impose a duty on children to support their parents through the establishment of statutes usually limit the required aid to necessities like food and shelter, which should be allowed so long as there are no additional financial obligations imposed and they are not frequently enforces, as is the case currently (Stiegel, Klem & Turner, 2007). Everyone has a different experience and relationship with their parents throughout the course of their lifetimes, so expecting all children to treat their aging parents the same by providing them with the same support is misplaced.

Question 2: How should the parent’s age or disability play a role in determining the punishment?

In cases where children do have a duty to care for their parents, that parent’s age and disability should not play any role whatsoever in determining punishment. Instead, the only role that these factors should play is in determining whether or not a child should be held liable for failing to provide care in the first place. Under the law: “Liability for elder neglect is predicated upon a caregiver relationship between the neglecter and the victim, and the neglecter’s failure to fulfill the obligation to provide care” (Stiegel, Klem & Turner, 2007, p. 7). As such, the age and disability of a parent only determines how much care is needed and what the child would have to do to provide that care. Once liability is established, punishment should simply be determined based upon the egregiousness of the child actions, or lack thereof; not the physical disposition of the elderly parent.

Question 3: How extensive or limited should the government’s role be?  How is this similar or different than the crimes against morality that we discussed last week (i.e. prostitution)?

The government’s role in the elderly neglect should essentially be as extensive/limited as it currently is. This means that it should monitor elderly neglect, enforce the laws against it in instances of willful harm when the care is between family members, and enforce them as extensively as possible when it comes to contractually binding situations like those of care facilities. In many ways this is similar to how the government handles crimes against morality, because it is involved enough to make sure that there are not vicious crimes being carried out against innocent people, but removed enough to not be constantly intervening in private matters, which in this case should largely be left up to private individuals to take care of.

Topic 2- Capital Punishment and the Death Penalty

Question 1: What did state law require the jury to consider in deciding whether death was the appropriate punishment in this case?

In the case of Weeks v. Angelone (2000), the Virginia law as applied by the trial judge directed the jury that if they found the evidence on either one of two aggravating circumstances to have been proven beyond a reasonable doubt, then they may either issue the death penalty or issue life in prison if they found that the death penalty was not justified. The defendant, Lonnie Weeks, Jr., appealed his conviction to the Supreme Court on the grounds that the judge’s action here was improper due to him simply referring to an ambiguously worded jury instruction (Weeks v. Angelone, 2000).

Question 2: What is the basic disagreement between the majority and dissenting opinions?
At its most basic, the disagreement between the majority and dissenting Supreme Court Justices in the case’s 5-4 decision was whether the Constitution requires jury instructions and judge’s responses to jury questions to be just adequate, or whether it imposes a duty of making almost certain that juries understand the legal bases upon which they are instructed (Weeks v. Angelone, 2000). The original jury instructions given by the judge were adequate, and his response to their inquiry directed them to the right section of these jury instruction, which in the view of the majority was all that was needed to meet constitutional scrutiny (Weeks v. Angelone, 2000). Yet according to the dissent, “[t]he record in this case establishes, not just a ‘reasonable likelihood’ of jury confusion, but a virtual certainty that the jury did not realize that there were two distinct legal bases for concluding that a death sentence was not ‘justified.” (Weeks v. Angelone, 2000, p. 6).

Question 3: Which opinion do you agree with? Why?
I agree with the dissenting opinion in this case and feel that the justice’s who make up the majority are rather quite detached from the comprehension level of everyday citizens, who obviously make up jury panels. When it comes to the judge’s initial direction to the jury, I agree with the analysis provided by Gross (2001), who stated that the “instruction is plainly ambiguous, at least to a lay audience” (p. 283). I also agree with his take on the problem in the majority’s view on the way the trial judge answered the jury’s question, because the judge simply “sent the jury a note saying … the very same instructions that triggered the question in the first place” (Gross, 2001, p. 284). Thus, there was clearly jury confusion as they asked a question, and it clearly remained because it was never answered; how the majority could not recognize this is beyond me.

Question 4: In addition to the questions above, should the jury get to hear victim impact statements BEFORE sentencing?  (Hint – think about the process of a death penalty case when answering this question).

I do not believe that juries should be allowed to hear victim impact statements before sentencing, because these statements are emotionally charged and would likely cause juries to convict defendants more frequently regardless of the other evidence (Schmalleger, Hall & Dolatowski, 2010). Prior to sentencing, a jury’s sole role is supposed to be that of an objective fact finder. During sentencing, they can take a slightly more subjective approach to the case, by determining if the death penalty amounts to a punishment that fits the crime. Victim impact statements deal entirely in the subjective-world, as they are simply details of suffering and trauma, which are important emotive qualities in determining punishments, but are not statements of fact that should be used to determine guilt.