COMMENTARY BY ATTORNEY SAM SPITAL, SAN DIEGO CRIMINAL DEFENSE LAWYER:
“On February 6, 2013, the UT San Diego electronic edition reported that a teenager was arrested for arson and vandalism of a Day-Care Center, causing about $70,000 in damages. The suspect was shortly thereafter booked into Juvenile Hall.
The reporter did not reveal whether she contacted the parents, the school and/or any friends of the boy to ascertain whether he was having any challenges in school, with his peers and/or home environment. It would not be unusual for there to have been previous signs and/or indications that therapeutic intervention was necessary and appropriate. What motivated this 14-year old to do these types of crimes is however unclear, but the boy admitted to the charges.
Many therapists and forensic experts have opined that often individuals with rage and aggression also have a lack of impulse control, and these crimes are their way of crying out for help so their life can be different. Unlike others in society, they have no healthy way to express their overwhelming anger. Sadly, these types of crimes often progress beyond significant property damage cases but can lead to serious injury and even death.
If the family cannot afford private counsel, the Judge will appoint a Deputy Public Defender to represent the boy. The goal is rehabilitation and not just punishment and to deter others from committing crime. The strategy of defense counsel will initially be to perform a thorough investigation as well as to obtain a forensic evaluation.”
Commentary by Sam Spital Criminal Defense Attorney:
“A 4:00 a.m. Sunday fire that seriously damaged a Greek Orthodox Church in an amount estimated to be a ¼ million dollars in El Cajon, an adjacent city to San Diego, was reported in the digital NBC Channel 39 news on January 28, 2013 . The story revealed the suspect in the arson, 38 year old Darin Williams, has a history of being institutionalized, in out of mental hospitals. He was arrested for arson, burglary and a hate crime. Fortunately, the fire occurred at a time when no one was inside the Church that was founded about 20 years ago.
The reporter did not personally offer nor seek an opinion from a forensic expert on the motive of the suspect with whom other church members were aware. It was also known that the Reverend allowed him to live on the grounds, had received his checks and was paying his bills. It is evident Williams needed more than spiritual guidance for his mental illness. This story is a further example of a far too common situation in which an individual fails to be accountable for his apparently overpowering challenges; even more importantly, it evinces how others with whom he came in contact failed to insist upon him obtaining ongoing therapy and psychiatric care to safeguard against this and similar devastating scourges repeatedly taking place in society today.”
“The UT San Diego (more commonly known as the “Union Tribune”) Newspaper on September 12, 2012 in its online and digital edition reported an arrest of a man for arson for what could be the source of a series of many recent fires in San Diego in dumpsters, a coffee cart and at least one automobile in Downtown, Hillcrest and North Park. The arrest and apprehension stemmed from a Security Officer observing the defendant “trying to set fire to a (wood) pallet.”
It is important to note, however, the mere fact the individual was taken into custody, to be held and/or detained for what appears to be a criminal offense should not in and of itself be the basis for one to conclude he is guilty of the charges in question or any other crime. Perhaps a person of prudent sense may have reason to believe the crime of arson was taking place in the case of the wood pallet, but the true and complete set of facts and circumstances must be known in order to justify more than a suspicion. And, we do not convict people in the United States on the basis of a notion or belief; instead, the prosecution must present and establish evidence beyond any doubt to obtain a conviction.
The article noted the police were “questioning” the man in connection with the other fires; however, a whole panoply of rights must first come into play. No one can lawfully be interrogated while in custody without being informed and admonished of their Fifth Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution against self-incrimination and their right to counsel under the Sixth Amendment. This is more commonly known as the Miranda warning. While the police may interrogate a person in custody, they cannot use that person’s statements and admissions to incriminate him in a later criminal trial. The U.S. Supreme Court in 1966 in the landmark case of Miranda vs. Arizona, established a set of guidelines that require law enforcement prior to an interrogation to (1) clearly and explicitly inform a defendant so he is adequately and fully informed of his right to remain silent; (2) that anything he says can and will be used against him in Court; (3) that he has the right to consult with a lawyer; (4) that the attorney would be present during any questioning by law enforcement; (5) if he cannot afford a lawyer, one would be provided to represent him at no cost; and for the warning to be deemed proper and, therefore, meaningful, (6) the suspect must be asked if he understands these rights. Because of various levels of education and to avoid any ambiguity, it has often been argued by criminal defense counsel that an affirmative answer of “yes” to each of the elements of the above warring must occur. Some states further provide that a juvenile be advised of his right to remain silent unless his parent or guardian is present.”