Inside: Guest Editor’s Column, June 2016

Inside: Guest Editor’s Column, June 2016

The classic film, Rashomon, takes a searing look at the nature of justice through the individual perspectives of four people each witnessing the same ghastly murder and rape. Directed by Akira Kurosawa; the 1950’s film was lauded for its unconventional approach to storytelling.  It stimulated thought and invited moviegoers to reflect upon their own notions of justice.

A good written story, like film at its best, can inspire an audience to examine their assumptions about the world, and be surprised by things they hadn’t previously considered. Perhaps in so doing they can find their own truth.

When given the opportunity to guest edit Contra Costa Lawyer, I wanted to try something new; to present our members with an opportunity to engage in the kind of experience Kurasawa gave moviegoers long ago. Walk in someone else’s shoes, see things from another’s point of view, and determine what is your truth and what is not. Try to think about whether there is a greater meaning to the stories that confront us as lawyers, judges, and probation officers, on a daily basis. What follows in the pages ahead is my attempt to direct this exercise. As in the film, you will find a set of facts and then eight different perspectives from participants along the road of criminal justice. I hope that you enjoy the journey.

Fact Pattern

Miles and Whitney Knight live with their parents, Elaine and Stefan. Miles is 5 years old and Whitney is 8. Stefan is a licensed contractor and works as a construction manager for a large construction company. He is originally from Ukraine, and has lawful status in the United States while he seeks citizenship here. Elaine is a permanent county employee. The couple has been married for 10 years, own a home and each have retirement accounts. The Knights presently live in a home they purchased as a fixer upper prior to their marriage. Stefan has been working diligently on the home to improve it on weekends and nights after returning from his own job. Neither parent has a criminal history.

On July 4 after an extended family barbecue and fireworks the Knights were attempting to put Miles and Whitney to bed. During the course of the day both parents had consumed several alcoholic beverages, a keg of craft beer was emptied at the party as were several bottles of wine. Stefan and Elaine had argued loudly in front of their guests about the amount of time it was taking to finish the home renovations begun many years before. The party ended when both parents screamed at each other to shut up.

Elaine had a hard time settling Miles down after the evening’s fireworks. He was an active boy, smart and energetic. He refused to go into his bedroom and told Elaine that he didn’t want to go to bed nor did he have to go to bed. Hearing his refusal Whitney jumped in and threatened, “you better do what Mom says!” Miles yelled at her to “Shut up!” repeatedly. Soon both children were yelling at each other and began hitting one another. Elaine shouted at the top of her lungs for them to stop it, then strode into the kitchen and told Stephan to deal with his children; she needed a time out.

Stefan hurried back to the hallway his boots pounding on the floor. He loudly demanded that Miles and Whitney stop fighting and get into their rooms. For the third time Miles yelled, “You shut up!” Stefan grabbed Miles by the shoulders forcibly spun him around and kicked him in the rear end pushing him into his room. Miles screamed and Stefan closed the bedroom door.

Elaine, who told authorities she had taken a walk around the block to get away from the sibling rivalry, came home to hear Miles’ sobs. Inquiring as to what was wrong, Miles told her, “Daddy gave me a bad time out.” He complained of pain to his backside. Elaine took Miles to a nearby emergency room. She informed the doctors that she did not see what happened. Miles told the doctors that he got a time out from his dad. Hospital notes indicate alcohol on Elaine’s breath.

An X-ray of the child reveals a fractured femur. Child welfare workers and the police are summoned to the hospital. Elaine and Miles repeat their statements and Stefan is arrested at his home. He is given his Miranda rights; tearfully waives them and explains that he had no intent to injure his child; but was frustrated and unaware of his own strength. Child welfare workers interview both children who state they were afraid when their father got angry.

Stephan posts bond at the jail. He contemplates what comes next.