Sunday, February 28, 2010

Court Commentary: United States v. Comstock ... In Verse

(My company's Hamlet is still running, with six shows next week. Tickets are still available, and I've already had one blog reader say hello!)

I wrote the following response to the Supreme Court case United States v. Comstock, because I was tired and I was waiting in the wings during Hamlet. There may be more in the future. You are warned.

Respondent in this case is Comstock
Petitioner's United States
Defendent herein seeks to unlock
Comstock's cell and prison gates
Comstock's jailed for crimes of sex
Perpetrated years ago
To be release he should have been next
But the second jury's 'no'
Leaves the plaintiff jail'ed still
With to certain date to leave
His term is up but he's not done yet
So he feels he's been deceived
See, our Congress passed a statute
Creating one more step to get through
Before your jail bags can be packed
You must prove that you're no danger
That your term has fixed your mind
Convincing panel, judge, or juror
You've left sexual crimes behind
They quiz you on your deepest fancies
And you're lawbound to reply
And if they find your dreams abhorrent
Kiss your sweet release goodbye
They can, indeed, hold you forever
Civil commitment's the name of the fate
If they decide you still think evil
They won't tell you your go-home date

Comstock's case is quickest to recount
"My term is up, so let me free!
No matter what, I must be let out
And that's the way the law should be
Imagine if the gov could jail you
On the tiniest of charge
But on the final day detain you
Let your jail term slow grow large
The law mandates a term to start with
And judge confirms that at the trial
But if we say 'That's only part'
You could stay locked up for a while."

"But wait!" the U.S. seeks to argue
"What if perverts don't repent?
Should we release a rapist to you
If we think to crime he's bent?
Our job is, in a word, protection
Like doctors we can do no harm
while knowing he'll return to prediliction
The public will raise the alarm
We'll be blamed for missing ation
If we knew him, and released
There'd be no way to fix the damage
No resurrection for deceased
The process used by our parole board
To review the impact of freeing
Can, in these cases too, prove more
safe than just 'release and see'ing.
We are bound by higher calling
To protect and also serve
If we find his state appalling
He will get what he deserves."

The case has resonances, clearly
With other policies of late
The mind is drawn at once to Cuba
And the enemies of state
In other cases, courts have found
The Eigth Amendment must prevent
Incarceration stretching long
Though, there are some different features
To distinguish this from those
Detentions of the Bush Admin years
(Although those are just different clothes)
For instance, this detentions legal
inasmuch as there's a law
This isn't presidential fiat
In Guantan'mo's legal maw.
Secondly, there are review boards
Judges, juries, or a panel
Evidence must be looked over
Before a term is made so final

For my part, I side with Comstock
On the issue of the term
How many viewings must we watch
Minority Report before we learn?
You see, a trial revolves around a crime,
Event, which happened in the past.
We ask, "prove so-so did this!"
That's a manageable task.
Here, however, crime is future
So begins a dicey game
Now we're talking just desire
Whether or not the beast's been tamed.
Can we know what folks will do
Years and years along the line?
And if the perp has disagreement
How to prove to us he's fine?
In this case, as with Gitmo,
Or police who use entrapment
Passing judgment on a person
Not one what a person's done
To paraphrase in verse from Franklin:
Want safety over liberty?
have none.