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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A Post-Script on Samuel Sheinbein

I'm not sure how many of you remember this, but one of the more fascinating stories my co-authors (Jennifer Collins and Ethan Leib) and I relied upon in our 2009 book on criminal justice and family status had to do with Samuel Sheinbein.  After he gruesomely murdered someone in Maryland, Sheinbein, with his father's assistance, escaped to Israel and avoided extradition. The Sheinbein parents thought they were doing their parental duty by trying to squire their son to a more compassionate jurisdiction.  Sheinbein was charged and convicted in Israel and sentenced to 24 years in prison in Israel, with furloughs, which is probably a better outcome than he would have received in Maryland. (Though with the recent excuse of affluenza, who knows?)

For our purposes, we were primarily interested in Sheinbein's parents' involvement in assisting their son, since our Privilege or Punish: Criminal Justice and the Challenge of Family Ties focused on two questions: what role does and what role should family status play in the operation of the criminal justice system? Among other things, we discovered that about a dozen states around the country explicitly carve out exemptions for family members from laws that otherwise prohibit assisting fugitives and we argued that these exemptions were largely misguided and should be jettisoned.  Here's a short version of what we argued on the Freakanomics Blog.

The Sheinbein parents' good intentions, certainly understandable if not justifiable, have had deadly consequences. For the latest news is that Samuel Sheinbein the killer is now dead. He was shot by special forces in a prison raid once he barricaded himself in a room within the prison; somehow, Sheinbein secured the firearm of a guard and seriously wounded three prison officials along the way. There's no definite lesson to be learned here from one anecdote--one might well imagine the Sheinbein saga ending with a story of redemption and rehabilitation. Here, however, it was intransigence and bloodshed. And so, when legislators are considering whether to be sympathetic to parents or children placed in difficult positions by their criminal family members, they would also do well to remember the Sheinbein story, a case where we see the cruelty and cost of misplaced compassion.  

Posted by Administrators on February 25, 2014 at 11:36 AM in Article Spotlight, Criminal Law, Current Affairs, Dan Markel, Privilege or Punish | Permalink


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I would think skepticism about the argument to eliminate the family carve-out would be based largely on doubt that imposing criminal liability on family members would affect their conduct. Advocates of imposing liability need a case suggesting the threat of sanction would have caused family members to withhold aid to a fugitive relative. Sheinbein hardly seems to be such a case. But if criminalizing family members' conduct wouldn't change it, what's the point? Just to inflict as much retributive suffering as possible?

Posted by: SR | Feb 28, 2014 11:29:11 AM

IN this case, the parents' good intentions vis-a-vis taking their kid to Israel indisputably did have deadly consequences for the kid. But that's just flukey and a tragic denoumenent (particularly for the Israeli guards who were injured by Sheinbein.)

As I mentioned, the point of the post was to draw attention to the dangers of the family ties carve-out from a policy perspective. It was not to suggest that the law we were criticizing was more likely to have a deadly consequence (as concerns parents) than a policy like the one we were endorsing.

Posted by: Dan Markel | Feb 28, 2014 12:14:46 AM

Thanks for relaying the news, Dan, and the reminder about your excellent original post. People here teaching PR may know about the Sheinbein case from the professional responsibility side, which is where I ran into it.

In 2002 Samuel Sheinbein's father was disbarred in Maryland and then (if I recall correctly) reciprocally disbarred by the PTO and the D.C. bar. Because Maryland's crime on point isn't codified, the decision (Attorney Grievance Commission v. Sheinbein) had to convict Sheinbein senior, in an ad hoc way, for common law obstruction of a police officer, and then conclude that this crime made him unfit to practice law. There's a lively dissent.

Posted by: Anita Bernstein | Feb 27, 2014 8:16:55 PM

Now I am even more confused. If the shootings could just as easily have happened had Sheinbein stayed in Maryland, in what sense are they the "deadly consequences" of his parents' "good intentions"?

Posted by: AF | Feb 26, 2014 8:57:20 PM

@ AF,
No, the assumptions of the post had nothing to do with whether Sheinbein was in Md or Israel.
The challenge, muted as it was, of the post was directed at those legislators (and their supporters) who support carve-outs for family members when it comes to statutes proscribing the knowing harboring or assistance to fugitives.

Posted by: Dan Markel | Feb 26, 2014 1:51:09 PM

Re: somehow, Sheinbein secured the firearm of a guard

In the first article I read about this incident, it noted that Sheinbein had attempted not long ago to steal a gun while on prison furlough and that it was uncertain how in fact he obtained a firearm. The latest news says that he in fact did not take a gun from a guard but somehow smuggled one in from outside the jail.

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Feb 26, 2014 12:35:24 AM

The assumption being that this wouldn't have happened in Maryland?

Posted by: AF | Feb 25, 2014 8:46:30 PM

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