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Is intent always political? NYU Law Profesor Jacobs at U.S. Senate

September 22, 2012

No actual mention of “zombie” in this quote but it seems relevant to zombie themes. Hate crimes are at the intersection of free expression and criminal law. At hearing this past Wednesday (just seen on CSPAN), NYU Law Professor of Constitutional Law, James Jacobs responded to Senator Blumenthal‘s questioning (around 1:30 in clip):

These quotes are close paraphrases:

it’s harder to get into a person’s motivations then simply whether it is intended or not intended is fairly thin mental state … what is the bias… look at these crimes prosecuted … what was his motivation? He himself might not have known what his motivation was, there is a lot of motivations, maybe he didn’t have any motivation

The Senator follows-up: why Professor is it bad to impose “an expression of community outrage” when prosecutors can meet the “burden of proof” in those of “in fact motivated by bigotry and bias and that kind of intent”? Answer:

it might also be very divisive and juries might begin to see criminal prosecutions as actually kind of political trials and crimes about making a statement about the perpetrator’s group as opposed to the victim’s group, and start to see the crime problem as one that is divided along all of the fractures of American society. I would not welcome seeing the crime problem in that way and I think it’s unnecessary to do that.

The Senator responds:

I think the reservation that you’ve expressed has been articulated… and those reservations or objection have been overcome. I think because people do feel that the expression of the community’s intolerance for violence resulting from bigotry, bias and hatred is very much a proper and appropriate measure to take

I think this is related to zombies because it is about the question of what we know about what we are actually doing and what we could be liable for. It is related to Orwellian thought-crime. And it is also related to identity politics and violence.

Though no one actually said “zombie” here, I am still going to zombify Professor Jacobs anyway. He is arguing that we are all (or that, at least many violent criminals are) sort of zombied-unconscious-behaviorist-zombie-actors — he is arguing to criminalize behaviors not intents because (whether as a matter of epistemology of merely as a matter of proof), intent is non-existant and/or unknowable.

zombie james jacobs

Query: does knowing that your intent is a rationalization of your socially-constructed-zombie-habits make you any less of a habitual zombie?

Forgive us zombies, we know not what we do; and we’re doing it in groups.

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From → Academics, criminal

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