Skip to main content
Report this ad

See also:

James Brady death and legal precedent

The question where the line is between murder and malicious wounding is under serious review with the decision by a medical examiner that the death of James Brady was caused by John Hinckley many years ago in the attempt on the life of Ronald Reagan. Many will recall that Brady was injured because he intervened. Some are considering new charges of murder in the case.
It is important to recognize that there are a variety of standards of evidence in various scientific and legal endeavors. Opinions can be based on very different criteria.
A long established legal opinion is the "year and a day" rule for deciding whether a malicious wounding should be considered a murder. It holds that if a person lives a year and a day after the wounding then it is not a murder. It is clearly not a "scientific" rule in the sense of specific data or clear connections between cause and effect. It seems to some to be made up by a preacher with alcohol abuse problems.
It has remained a respected rule though because there was no science and legal decisions have to be made whether there is any science or not. Legal decisions are not typically based on science anyway. They are based on stare decisis, a Latin phrase meaning to stand by that which is decided. They are based on precedent. They are based on common law or the way things have always been done. There simply is no science for most laws. Yet laws about property and marriage and civil order have been found to be expedient.
It is also important to remember that things do not become "scientific" fact simply because of "expert" opinion or any argumentum ad verecundiam. Expert testimony in courts still has to be weighed by juries. If the "expert" does not set out a clear explanation for his opinion the jury might not consider it more important more than one.
In the future "science" might have a better idea exactly how long people will live. Today estimates of survival are not so specific or dependable, especially when it is more than a year.
It would seem logical that to know whether Brady's death was caused by his being wounded, a doctor would have to know how long Brady would have lived had he not been wounded. Doctors don't really know that quite yet.
That should make it clear why the the "year and a day" rule is so important. It is not based on "science" and it doesn't have to be. It is based on the way things are done in orderly society.
There has been a tragic attempt lately to base law on science. It might be connected to a rise in atheism and the faith many have in what they like to believe is science.

Report this ad