Friday, February 5, 2010

Ignorantia Juris Non Excusat

Ignorance of the law is no excuse.

We all know this old saw, right? Well, I was playing around with a post about the Bungling Baptist Baby-Snatchers in Haiti, explaining that their criminal stupidity could not provide them a defense. We presume that everyone knows the law, just so people charged with a crime can't claim lack of knowledge -- something we'd all be tempted to do. There'd be a strong motivation to bury one's head in the sand so that one could claim ignorance. In law, we actually talk about it as "willful blindness" or "the ostrich defense."

And this group can't claim ignorance based on the fact that they were in a foreign country; no matter how transient your connection to a place, we presume you are aware of that country's laws. Nor can they claim ignorance because they were engaged in activity beyond the ken of most ordinary persons; we presume that you will inform yourself of the laws when you're doing something outside the norm.

But now it seems completely unnecessary to explore the defense of "mistake of law" as more facts are developed -- they weren't ignorant at all! They consulted a Dominican Republic official who told them their plan was criminal. There's even the suggestion that they bribed a Haitian police officer, which seems inconsistent with claims that they had no idea what they were doing was wrong.

Sometimes "mistake of fact" can be a defense, if you were ignorant as to certain facts that made your conduct criminal, and if that ignorance was reasonable. But that won't help them, either, it seems. They lied about where the children came from -- only a few came from a destroyed orphanage, as they first claimed, while most came directly from the arms of their living parents. And there's little doubt but that they knew the children weren't orphans -- they were actually THERE when the children's living parents handed them over.

Even the group's Haitian lawyer says at least the leader of the group knew:

The group's Haitian lawyer, Edwin Coq, who attended Thursday's hearing, portrayed nine of his clients as innocents caught up in a scheme they did not understand. But Coq did not defend the actions of the group leader, Silsby, who helped organize the mission to Haiti and has spoken for the Americans since they were detained last Friday.

"I'm going to do everything I can to get the nine out. They were naive. They had no idea what was going on and they did not know that they needed official papers to cross the border," Coq said. "But Silsby did."
(Nothing like having your own lawyer throw you under the bus! Looks like Silsby needs her own lawyer!)

Given all of this, it isn't surprising that the Haitian authorities have charged them with kidnapping.

But it seems to me we should be able to charge them with moral failings that would condemn their souls. The most chilling thing to me is that this group KNEW the villagers from whom they took most of the children. They KNEW these parents were giving them the children because the parents were homeless, living in tents, with no money and little food. How can these 10 able-bodied Baptists NOT say, "Let's rebuild these homes so families can stay together?" How can they NOT take the money they intended for this ill-fated adoption scheme and buy food so the families could stay together?

It isn't criminal to fail to act, unless one has a legal duty to act. No one is legally obligated to provide relief to these Haitian families. But in these circumstances, it certainly is a sin. And you'd think these missionaries would care about that. If only they hadn't be so blinded by their image of themselves as "child savers" instead of "family savers."


Anonymous said...

I mentioned this story in my book review of Three Cups of Tea (’s_Mission_to_Promote_Peace_._._._One_School_at_a_Time.html) and compared the guy in this book with these Americans. Greg Mortenson (the guy in Three Cups of Tea) helped communities provide educational opportunities to their own children in their own communities, whereas the American's charged with kidnapping the Haitian children seemed to think that to help the children of Haiti, they had to take possession of them and remove them. What about helping the community rebuild so that the Haitian people could take care of their own children!?!?

BTW, I love the photo!


J said...

I think their biggest crime was arrogance. They assumed that because Haiti is poor and and traumatized, their laws are somehow porous or optional. They assumed that the life they planned for these children was better than the lives they were given. They assumed that the weight their Christian mission was superior to the laws of Haiti and the ultimate welfare of these children & their families. They even look smug in the photos I keep seeing. These people make me sick, and I think they deserve some time in a Haitian prison.

Wendy said...

Well said all.

Bukimom said...

Yes, I totally agree that what these people did was wrong, and especially their leader needs to be punished for it. But let's remember, too, that all of us who read this blog are more educated than the average person on adoption issues.

I think this Baptist group (most of them)probably truly believed they were doing a good work here. Were they wrong? Yes. But are they evil? How many of us have never been blinded to the truth in some areas of our lives? Ethnocentrism runs deep in many of us and is so easy to justify.

Could they have really thought, by some crazy logic, that these children would have a chance at a better life if adopted by American families? Of course it would have been the right thing to try to help the families get the resources to keep their children and help the families stay together, but I somehow feel that maybe we should take a more charitable view of their mistaken judgment. Let us hope that it can be a learning experience for them.

Mahmee said...

Malinda - As usual, your post is well said!

Anonymous said...

I don't think Laura Silsby is about *learning* at all. The other people with her may be a different story. But she decided to enter another sovereign nation and make her own rules because she knows best and God is on her side. Her former actions also do not speak well of her intentions.

A Chinese Dad said...

HA! I have to laugh at this one. While I agree with your this post (every word of it) completely, I must also point out that I feel all of you laowais (foreigners in Chinese, not a derogatory) are guilty of what is being written on this post. Every single American living in China whom I came into contact with while living in China was at one point or another guilty of being arrogant and maybe ignorant. Just listen to these sentences often uttered by Americans (sorry for picking on Americans alone but Brits are probably the worst) living in China.

1. "In America, we do blah blah blah..."

2. "In America, we don't blah blah blah..."

3. (In their mind) "We are Americans. We are untouchable."

4. If a Chinese speaks English to an American, the American feels offended because s/he wants to hear Chinese.

5. If a Chinese speaks Chinese to an American, the American feels offended because s/he feels Chinese people speak so little English. What an uneducated group of people!

6. If I want to do something, I just do it because I am American. Who says the military base up in the beautiful mountain is off the limit? I am American and I love hiking. You can't stop me, PLA.

I just need to think of every American friend that I know from my China days and can keep the list go on forever.

Sandy said...

Laura Silsby was only hearing the cash register ka...ching for each child she scooped up and would continue to scoop up and take to her orphanage with the "seaside villa and cafe for the adoptive parents to stay at while they waited out the residency requirements of the DR".

Very happy she and the others were caught and jailed.

Excellent post.