Attorney General Mike DeWine has stepped into the middle of the Steubenville rape case. He then stuck his foot firmly in his mouth.
The Attorney General’s Office is handling the investigation of a terrible sexual assault on a juvenile last August. The victim allegedly was assaulted multiple times after she passed out a party. Two juveniles are charged with rape. The New York Times did an excellent story, titled “Rape Case Unfolds Online and Divides Steubenville.” Later, a group of hackers – likely connected with “Anonymous”—hacked sites connected to the case. Because the crime occurred at a several parties, Anonymous claims that many people did not intervene but, instead, took photos or videos. They obtained and are making public evidence, including photos, tweets and videos.
For those just getting up to speed on this story – a story that may have gone a bit below the radar screen after Sandy Hook – the best summary is by Amanda Marcotte on the Slate XX Blog.
One of the videos released this week shows a teen joking about the assault. One report describes the video as follows: “The teen is seen in the video sitting among a roomful of young people. In twelve minutes of video, he laughs about the woman being urinated upon, refers to her anatomy, and says she is ‘deader than Obi Wan Kenobi when Darth Vader cuts his head off.’”
(Note: we aren’t going to link to any of the videos; they make us sick.)
Here is where DeWine messes up. He suggested that the witnesses like the teen in the video did nothing wrong. DeWine told reporters that “Ohio law makes it illegal to aid or abet a crime, but observers of a crime aren’t always legally obliged to intervene. ‘It’s horrible. It’s insensitive. It’s hard to understand, but it may not be a crime,’ he said.”
DeWine is wrong.
Ohio Law, Revised Code § 2921.22, provides that “no person, knowing that a felony has been or is being committed, shall knowingly fail to report such information to law enforcement authorities.” Violation of this law is a Fourth Degree Misdemeanor.
This law was adopted in 1974. The law requires people to inform authorities of felonies. The law does not require someone to attempt to stop the crime or apprehend the offender. The law exempts a number of privileged relationships, such as attorney and client, doctor and patient, and clergyman and parishioner, as well as not requiring someone to report on a family member.
DeWine’s suggestion that someone who witnesses a felony doesn’t have to intervene is incorrect. As the State’s top law enforcement officer, he should know that the immediate reporting of crimes is necessary to crime prevention. The law clearly applies to this type of situation and requires “intervention” by calling the police. The 1974 Committee who drafted the law noted that the “section covers, for example, the situation where bystanders ignore a murder victim’s pleas for help because they do not want to ‘become involved.’”
(Deep in the Weeds Note: we don’t want to get hung up on DeWine’s use of the word “intervene.” Some might attempt to defend DeWine by suggesting that he only meant that the witnesses did not have to physically stop the rape. But calling 911 fits within the definition of intervene: “to come in or between by way of hindrance or modification; . . . to interfere with the outcome or course . . .” More importantly, DeWine shows his lack of knowledge about this law by suggesting that unless a bystander is aiding and abetting the criminal, there is no criminal liability.)
We just don’t understand DeWine’s approach to law enforcement these days. DeWine advocates the “horrible idea” of arming teachers to protect schools. Presumably, he is OK with these civilians “intervening” with deadly force in the face of a perceived threat. But DeWine doesn’t know about or want to enforce a law that requires people who are witnessing a rape of a young girl to just pick up the phone.
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