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In California, it's now legal for criminals to profit from the sale of stories related to their crimes.
February 22, 2002 10:54 AM   Subscribe

In California, it's now legal for criminals to profit from the sale of stories related to their crimes. Yesterday the CA Supreme Court unanimously struck down the 16 year-old Son of Sam law. The test case involved the movie rights to the story of the man who kidnapped Frank Sinatra, Jr. Victims are angry, but others say that the law represented a direct conflict with free speech, and could have been used to suppress anti-government voices. (more inside)
posted by bingo (15 comments total)

 
The court said such a law also discourages the discussion of crimes in even "nonexploitative" contexts. The ruling noted that works by such authors as the political activist Emma Goldman and Martin Luther King Jr. could have been subject to the California law if it had been in effect at the time of their writings.

Could this law have been used as a weapon to suppress popular dissident voices like, say, Noam Chomsky, by criminalizing him and then forbidding him to write about his crime? Is it really reasonable to suppose that criminals might decide to go ahead and commit a serious wrong because they figure they can always write a book about it afterward? Once you've served your time, should you be able to do with your memories as you please? How does this really affect the free flow of information? What about the creation of art that may be based on morally problematic situations, but is itself an important part of human progress?
posted by bingo at 11:02 AM on February 22, 2002


*dazed* Suddenly I feel the need to buy insurance from "21st Century Insurance" Was there an article in that link too? I must not have seen it...
posted by plaino at 11:07 AM on February 22, 2002


"This sends a message that there is profit in crime," from the article, and I always thought that was one of the reasons people pursued a life of crime.
posted by onegoodmove at 11:12 AM on February 22, 2002


Another take on the issue, from Law.com.

Justice Janice Rogers Brown concurred separately Thursday to make clear that the court's ruling isn't meant to indicate that "crime does pay." Victims can still file civil suits to recoup damages, she said, courts can compel restitution from sources including but not limited to a criminal's storytelling, and statutes can be drawn to compensate victims without violating free speech.

In fact, the Justices went out of their way to point out that new laws could be drafted which would satisfy victims' demands without being unconstitutional. It is now up to legislators to take the ball and run.
posted by jewishbuddha at 11:17 AM on February 22, 2002


plaino, are you saying you saw a big push advertisement or something? I don't get any such thing when I click on the link...
posted by bingo at 11:18 AM on February 22, 2002


I see nothing wrong with this. They'll only profit if people buy their story. No buyers = no money. An interested public = money.
posted by fried at 11:55 AM on February 22, 2002


Yay! More pro-criminal laws. Fantastic.
posted by owillis at 12:01 PM on February 22, 2002


plaino, are you saying you saw a big push advertisement or something?

The first time I went to the linked article it had a giant orange insurance ad in the middle of the page and all the article text was crammed in around it. It was barely legible. I left and went back a minute later and the ad had been replaced by a much smaller grey rectangle. Is this a common form of ad now? I'm not that web savvy, I guess.
posted by plaino at 12:02 PM on February 22, 2002


owillis, I knew you would be happy. ;)
posted by bingo at 12:08 PM on February 22, 2002


So freedom of speech only occurs when you're paid for your speech? I can see how they would want to make the law less broad, but I really don't see the supression of freedom of speech here.
posted by gyc at 1:45 PM on February 22, 2002


I see nothing wrong with this. They'll only profit if people buy their story. No buyers = no money. An interested public = money.

But the problem is there will be buyers. I am sam made a lot of money. Now granted I don't think that every criminal would be able to make money from this, but I am sure the bigger cases would be able to. The problem is this makes it so crime can pay, not does, but can.
posted by willsey at 2:04 PM on February 22, 2002


For this to be of even remote interest to anyone here, you would have to have a lot of balls and an amazingly creative/shocking crime, not to mention defense. So quit dreaming about getting away with spectacular, violent, inhuman crimes and focus on selling what few skills you *do* have!!
posted by Settle at 2:56 PM on February 22, 2002


Ignoring all legal issues surrounding this, let me just say that I'm eager to watch the movie that is going to come out of this case. This American Life did a great show on "plan B's" a couple weeks ago and a profile of Barry Keenan and his FSjr plot was: "Act Three. Kidnapping as Plan B. Ira talks with Barry Keenan, who was living a lot of people's Plan A in the early 60's. He was rich, he was successful. But when he lost all his money and got hooked on painkillers, he switched to a Plan B to make money. He decided to kidnap the 19-year-old Frank Sinatra, Jr. " . . . Requires RealPlayer: http://www.thislife.org/ra/205.ram . . . clip is ~27min into the show.
posted by donovan at 4:02 PM on February 22, 2002


Snatching Sinatra
Here's the story in Barry Keenan's own words; funny as hell and a good read.
posted by Mack Twain at 9:45 PM on February 22, 2002


It basically boils down to prior restraint. The First Amendment has been interpreted as saying that was a very few exceptions, the government cannot define what can or cannot be published in advance of publication.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:01 PM on February 22, 2002


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