NY Assault Violinist's Lawyers Say They Know Who Drugged Him

Stefan N.'s lawyer has issued a statement, saying they've identified the person who he says drugged him:

This unfathomable and, entirely out-of-character, incident and Stefan’s arrest stemmed directly from Stefan himself being the victim of a crime upon him. We have identified the person who stole items from Stefan and are working to develop what else was done, including involuntarily drugging Stefan with powerful agents.

Investigation revealed that an as yet unknown person left Stefan’s hotel room with his Ipad, wallet, including cash, credit cards and identification and began using Stefan’s credit cards around New York City, successfully and unsuccessfully, on items that Stefan would unquestionably never have sought to purchase. We have obtained a photo of this person and are working with the police to identify and locate the perpetrator of this horrendous crime.

The upside is that Stefan seems to have aggressive lawyers. Issuing a statement like this during a pending investigation is not something to be done lightly, since (1) it ensures the case stays in the headlines; and (2) if later events cast doubt on it, that could be problematic at trial. Therefore, we can be pretty sure the lawyers are sure of the facts detailed in this statement, which do tend to back up Stefan's story.

As to point number 2, the statement is interesting for what it leaves out, including (1) the gender and background of the suspect; (2) how the suspect got into Stefan's hotel room; and (3) exactly how the drugs were 'involuntarily' administered to Stefan. The statement leaves open the possibility that Stefan invited this person into his hotel room. And it also seems to indicate that whoever he let in -- if he indeed let anyone in -- was stupid, desperate, or high enough to try using someone else's credit card right after stealing it. Not the sort of behavior one associates with guests at a luxury boutique hotel.

Stefan is innocent until proven guilty and may well end up actually being shown to be innocent of any crime, but I have a strong feeling we're going to learn some rather pungent details about his private life.


The Leipzig String Quartet in Happier Times and Now

Here is a review from ClassicsToday (website highly recommended) of the Leipzig String Quartet's performance of Schönberg's String Quartets Nos. 2 & 4:

Soprano Christiane Oelze’s pure intonation and ethereal tone ideally combines with the deep, bittersweet sonorities of the Leipzig Quartet. The German musicians play this cosmic work with acute intelligence and clarity, while their sense of rubato helps them to unveil the music’s most secret and sorrowful expression. The homogeneity of their ensemble playing seems hard to match. Altogether, this performance is one of the most gripping and inspired committed to disc.

Wow! Gotta get me that CD. Now to a much less inviting incident. Stefan N. (see what I did there?), a violinist in the quartet, recently made a very different kind of news:

A renowned German violinist went on a naked rampage at a Manhattan hotel, forcing his way into a female tourist’s room and choking her, law enforcement sources told The Post.

Staffers at the boutique Hudson Hotel at Columbus Circle were first alerted to the bizarre antics of Stefan N. after guests reported seeing a man roaming around naked early Friday, the sources said.

A 64-year-old female hotel guest from North Carolina “heard a knock and opened her door slightly’’ around 8 a.m., a law enforcement source said.

She was confronted by a wild-eyed N. — who recently performed at the Library of Congress — “completely naked,’’ the source said.

The violinist allegedly choked the woman so hard that the blood vessels in her eyes were ruptured, according to a court complaint.

Hotel staff heard the victim crying for help and pulled the crazed man off her, cops said.

N. managed to flee back to his room, but police arrested him shortly after, the sources said.

The victim and N. did not know each other, the sources said.

A source close to the musician claimed that the episode happened after someone slipped a drug into N.’s drink at the hotel bar. He has no memory of what happened, the source said.

But police said that when they took N. into custody, he showed no outward signs of mental distress.

It's early days yet, and I don't want to prejudge the case. Anything from a fugue state to an allergic reaction to a stroke could have caused this behavior. N. is innocent until proven guilty, and I hope he is in touch with the German consulate and getting good legal help. 

However, the source is putting about the story that someone must have secretly drugged his drink. Now, the rumors are true: I used to be a criminal defense lawyer. 'They must have slipped it in my drink!' is one of those claims that upstanding citizens often make when their first experiment with drugs goes spectacularly wrong. (Especially when that experiment occurred in the BDSM-themed darkroom of the Manhole, something you might not want your wife Jill or your managing partner Bob to find out about.) It's not quite as fishy as the evil-twin / parallel universe defense, but it's in the same general category.

Now I am certainly not saying source's story can't be true. Nobody knows yet! But as to the general question of people slipping drugs into drinks, think it through. You're Johnny Scumbag, the drug-slipper. You have just spent lots of your own good money to buy powerful drugs, you're either (1) going to use them yourself (99% of the time); (2) use them to knock someone else out so you can rob/take advantage of them; or (3) trade them for something else you want. But #2, the presumed scenario here, requires drugs that would actually *knock someone out*, not make them allegedly run around a nice hotel naked, allegedly strangling strangers.

The only reason you would secretly slip psychotomimetic stimulants into someone's drink is if you hated them and wanted to put them in danger and ruin their reputation. Giving them crazy drugs to rob them is itself crazy, since they are just as likely to kill you instead (see strangling described above). I know the classical-music world can be a nest of intrigue, but I have a hard time believing someone hated N. that much. In any case, I hope N. is in contact with his consulate and has a good lawyer. He's going to need one.


New Documentary on Jens Soering

This is a new German documentary about Jens Soering, the German national who was convicted of a 1985 double-murder and sentenced to life imprisonment in Virginia, where he still is. Here are two trailers, the first in German, the second in English.

Soering's case has a long and complex history. While in England, he fought extradition to the state of Virginia on the grounds that it would violate European human rights law for Britain to extradite Soering to Virginia to face the possibility of capital punishment. The European Court of Human Rights agreed in Soering v. UK. Virginia dropped its demand for the death penalty, Soering was returned, convicted, and now is in prison for life.

He initially confessed to the crime and fled the country. He now claims he's innocent of the crime, but I haven't really been convinced by anything I've read so far. The documentary looks intriguing, I'll post any thoughts as soon as I've seen it.

This is the first and last time I will ever put a trigger warning on this blog, but these videos contain brief shots of crime scene photos with mutilated human bodies, so be advised. 


US Department of Justice: No Charges for Michael Brown Shooting

After an exhaustive analysis of all the evidence surrounding the Michael Brown shooting, the U.S. Department of Justice concludes (as I predicted long ago) that federal charges against Darren Wilson aren't justified, since his story of what happened is supported by the evidence and provides him with a defense:

Witness accounts suggesting that Brown was standing still with his hands raised in an unambiguous signal of surrender when Wilson shot Brown are inconsistent with the physical evidence, are otherwise not credible because of internal inconsistencies, or are not credible because of inconsistencies with other credible evidence. In contrast, Wilson’s account of Brown’s actions, if true, would establish that the shootings were not objectively unreasonable under the relevant Constitutional standards governing an officer’s use of deadly force. Multiple credible witnesses corroborate virtually every material aspect of Wilson’s account and are consistent with the physical evidence.... The only possible basis for prosecuting Wilson under Section 242 would therefore be if the government could prove that his account is not true – i.e., that Brown never punched and grabbed Wilson at the SUV, never struggled with Wilson over the gun, and thereafter clearly surrendered in a way that no reasonable officer could have failed to perceive. Not only do eyewitnesses and physical evidence corroborate Wilson’s account, but there is no credible evidence to disprove Wilson’s perception that Brown posed a threat to Wilson as Brown advanced toward him. Accordingly, seeking his indictment is not permitted by Department of Justice policy or the governing law.


Bad Kaarma: 70 Years for Montana Burglar Trapper

Remember Markus Kaarma, the Missoula, Montana man who waited outside his garage for someone to come burglarize it, then fired his shotgun into the garage, killing German exchange student Diren Dede?

Well, as you might expect in America's gun-obsessed paranoid fanatic culture of cowboy-style vigilantism, he claimed self-defense under the frontier-style 'Castle Doctrine' and acquitted. He is now on a celebrity speaking tour among American gun-rights groups.

Sorry, having a bit of fun there. You didn't think I could pass up a chance to poke a little harmless fun at German Besserwisserei, did you? Kaarma was convicted of murder by a jury and sentenced by a judge to seventy (70) years in prison:

He dismissed Kaarma's claim he suffered from "anxiety" and an "anti-social disorder," saying it "doesn't excuse the anguish you have caused."

"You pose too great a risk to society to be anywhere else but the Montana State Prison. Good luck to you, son," McLean said.

"I'm sorry my actions caused the death of Mr. Dede," Kaarma told the judge before learning his fate.

He will be eligible for parole in 20 years. As a law-talking guy, I feel compelled to use this as a teaching moment. Right after the shooting, both Kaarma and his wife, apparently believing Montana law gave them the right to do what they did, spoke in detail. They described how they had been burglarized many times, got fed up, and set a 'trap' by leaving their garage door open and waiting until a motion sensor told them someone was inside. Then Kaarma fired.

When a lawyer reads about people talking so freely about their involvement in a homicide, our reaction is similar to a doctor seeing a pregnant woman down a liter of vodka. If you're ever arrested -- and I hope  some of my readers live life loud enough to risk this -- do not say a word to anyone, no matter what, until you have spoken to a lawyer. This rule applies to everyone, everywhere, no exceptions. It's the equivalent of a fundamental physical constant, one of the basic building blocks of the legal universe. By chatting so volubly about his motives and actions, Kaarma didn't just tie his lawyers' hands, he practically chopped them off.

FWIW, I should add that this penalty, like most American criminal penalties, strikes me as Draconian. It is certainly longer than he would have gotten for a comparable crime in most European countries, including Germany. 


In Defense of 'Serial', a Brilliant Podcast about the Epistemology of Investigation

 
If you haven't been following 'Serial', the podast from Chicago Public Radio, you should. It's like nothing you've ever heard before. Go to the podcast website and listen to the episodes in order. 'Serial' patiently re-investigates a 15-year-old American murder case:
 
On January 13, 1999, a girl named Hae Min Lee, a senior at Woodlawn High School in Baltimore County, Maryland, disappeared. A month later, her body turned up in a city park. She'd been strangled. Her 17-year-old ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, was arrested for the crime, and within a year, he was convicted and sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison. The case against him was largely based on the story of one witness, Adnan’s friend Jay, who testified that he helped Adnan bury Hae's body. But Adnan has always maintained he had nothing to do with Hae’s death. Some people believe he’s telling the truth. Many others don’t.
 
'Serial' uses the unique openness of the American criminal justice system: the reporter, Sarah Koenig, plays audio recordings of the actual trials of Syed (the first ended in a mistrial), interviews jury members, and plays for us long excerpts of her conversations with Syed from the Maryland Correctional Center. She re-interviews witnesses at the original trial, and many who didn't testify. She visit the places where things important to the case happened. Experts on everything from cellphone tower tracing to attorney competence to police investigations to psychopath and personality disorders weigh in on both the original evidence and what Koenig's team have uncovered since the trial. She discovers some new evidence that seems to point away from Syed's guilt, and other new evidence that is either ambiguous or, as we lawyers say, 'unhelpful' to Syed. And then she speaks directly to Syed on the telephone and asks for his comments on what she's found. Syed is not your average convicted murderer -- he's intelligent, articulate, and a model prisoner, and knows precisely when to parry and when to thrust in response to accusations.
 
The podcast has sparked huge interest, with over a million people listening, and partisan commentary raging all over the Internets. The last episode broadcasts today and is already available for download, but I haven't heard it yet. The comedy sketch above satirizes one aspect of 'Serial' -- its open-endedness. Many want the podcast to end with everything tied into a neat little bow: Syed is innocent, and I found the magic bullet that proves it! Syed is guilty and has been lying all along, and I uncovered the magic bullet that proves it! To these people, the podcast seems to meander back and forth between trying to convince listeners Syed is innocent and sadly confirming the charming young sociopath's guilt.
 
This attitude slights 'Serial's' genuine achievement, which is precisely its openness, its effort to bring the reader along on a journey to genuine understanding. Journalists -- especially German ones -- are prone to be condescending crusaders, spoon-feeding their readers one-sided narratives intended to hammer home Approved Opinions™ about everything from the death penalty to fracking to immigration to Greek finances. To make sure nothing complicates the lesson, these journalists swallow the most outlandish tales of victimization, ignore glaring contradictions, and leave contrary viewpoints and empirical verification outside in the cold. Not all of them, to be sure -- there are lots of German journos doing solid, thoughtful work. And the problem ain't just Germany. Why, just last month a major American magazine published a made-up-story of gang rape based on a teenager's romantic catfishing ploy without doing even the simplest verification.
 
Koenig treats her listeners like adults, in fact almost like accomplices in the investigation. And on the way, she illustrates a number of points that ordinary people don't understand about criminal investigations (full disclosure: I was a criminal defense lawyer in a previous life):
  • Eyewitnesses who saw the same incident often -- in fact usually -- describe it in inconsistent ways, which makes eyewitness testimony one of the leading causes of false convictions.
  • Many criminal cases are based on the testimony of acomplices who are just as guilty, if not even more guilty, than the defendant they testify against.
  • Men and women who are guilty of crimes can adamantly and convincingly protest their innocence. Many can even do so sincerely, because they have convinced themselves they are innocent.
  • Since most normal humans are lucky enough never to have never encountered a sociopathic liar willing to recite detailed, convincing lies to another person, they are often taken in by these people. (I'm looking at you, European women who marry American death-row inmates).
  • The way in which a person reacts to news of a loved one's death is so individual and unpredictable that it's meaningless as a clue to guilt or innocence.
  • If you hire a private criminal defense lawyer in the U.S., there is no effective real-time regulation of that person's fee policies or performance. If they make an error that leads to you being convicted, you can only argue about that after the fact in expensive appeals, and you face a forbidding standard in proving your case.
  • Notorious criminal cases attract unstable people who will do everything from claiming responsibility for horrific murders to fabricating evidence for or against the accused.
  • If you investigate any incident long enough, you will inevitably come across spectacularly improbable 'coincidences', such as the fact that the man who discovered Lee's body happened to be a notorious streaker who once intentionally exposed himself naked in public to a female police officer in uniform. (After he waggled his dong at her he ran away. She found his clothes and confiscated them).

During her patient re-investigation of Lee's death, Koenig encounters almost all of these vagaries of investigation. She shows how the fabric of reality attending the actual events starts dissolving immediately, and decomposes further with every passing day until the original pattern is irretrievably lost -- or distorted by bias, error, or selective memory. Koenig can't wrap the events up in a neat little bundle because this isn't fiction, there is no bundle, there is no happy ending. It is to her credit that she chose a case marked by ambiguity, and that she resisted the urge to channel the facts she found into a pat, tidy, misleading narrative. By doing so, she conveys profound truths about memory, bias, violence, and justice. 'Serial', if you ask me is journalism at its finest.


Are There Any Crises at German Universities?

Given my interest in public opinion and constitutional law, I've been following the so-called University of Virginia rape story with considerable interest. Briefly put, here's what happened:

  • On November 19, the US pop-culture magazine Rolling Stone publishes an explosive story about an alleged gang-rape at the University of Virginia, a prestigious state university. The lodestar of the story is an account by a 20-year-old student named Jackie, according to which she was viciously gang-raped by a bunch of fraternity members.
  • The story gains massive publicity in the U.S. According to some activists, there is an 'epidemic' of sexual assault on campus at American universities. One study concluded that 1 of every 5 female American university students will be 'sexually assaulted' before she graduates, although that statistic is based on an Internet survey conducted on just two campuses and which used an extremely loose definition of 'sexual assault'.
  • While skeptics question that statistic, which would mean that rape is more common on US university campuses than in war-torn central Africa, the President of the US, sensing a low-risk, high-reward political issue, decries the epidemic of campus rape on American universities.
  • Five days after the Rolling Stone story is published, Richard Bradley, an American editor, publishes a blog entry basically saying it's over-the-top, thinly sourced, and generally incredible:

One must be most critical about stories that play into existing biases. And this story nourishes a lot of them: biases against fraternities, against men, against the South; biases about the naivete of young women, especially Southern women; pre-existing beliefs about the prevalence—indeed, the existence—of rape culture; extant suspicions about the hostility of university bureaucracies to sexual assault complaints that can produce unflattering publicity.

And, of course, this is a very charged time when it comes to the issue of sexual assault on campuses. Emotion has outswept reason. Jackie, for example, alleges that one out of three women who go to UVA has been raped. This is silly.

  • For this, Bradley is pilloried by feminists. Until, that is, further reporting, especially by the Washington Post, shows that Jackie's story is almost certainly a fabrication, and that the original reporter, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, never spoke to several witnesses who would have cast doubts on Jackie's story. In particular, she didn't even speak to the men Jackie accused of the rape.

The story has also gotten plenty of play in Germany, as you might expect. The story and its implosion raises plenty of fascinating legal questions, but I will spare you a discussion of those.

What strikes me is this: I work at a German university every day. I am surrounded by young undergraduate students, male and female. Many of them live close together, and they most certainly have parties, get drunk, and have sex. I mean, how could they not? Yet there seems to be no hysteria about a supposed epidemic of sexual assault or rape at German universities. No 'slut walks', no pressure to reform 'campus guidelines' to punish students accused of rape, no sit-ins, no dramatic stories of sexual assault. It's possible I've missed an op-ed or demonstration here or there, but I think I'm on 100% solid ground in saying there's nowhere near the level of hysteria in Germany as there is in the USA on this issue.

Why is this? Is it because German university students are more mature and law-abiding? Is the 'campus rape' bubble a typically American 'moral panic'? Is it because many German universities don't have traditional campuses which many students live on or near? Is it because German universities aren't expected to deal with crimes between students?

Or is it because the problem exists, but German universities are covering it up? What say you, readers?


Hollywood Upstairs Law College

Ahh, America, land of few regulations, especially in Alaska:

Alaska’s first in-state law school will open March 2015, according to the not-always-reliable Internet.

But ask an array of state agencies and one of the institution’s alleged staff members about the “Alaska Law School, In God We Trust” and the reality of what’s promised on thealaskalawschool.com grows less certain.

...

The at-times kooky website, riddled with spelling and factual errors, asks for an $85 fee to apply to the law school. It’s looking to raise $185 million from individual donors, though the linked PayPal account displayed an error message Wednesday pointing to a problem with the account holder’s email address. 

Despite its flaws, the website does intricately explain the law school’s staffing, tuition rates and academic offerings, from a Juris Doctor program that costs $43,000 a year for in-state students to certificates in criminal justice and public safety that cost about $1,500 a year. The website says the school will kick off what it’s calling the “Michaelmas Term” on March 3. It has already handed itself the honor of “the first law school in the history of our great state,” according to the website.

Many would argue that certain existing American law schools have turned into little more than tuition-milking scams, but this might be the first school to actually start that way -- the legal equivalent of Hollywood Upstairs Medical College.

In any case, you know your law school's in trouble when newspaper articles describe 'alleged staff members'. Plus, where did they come up with 'Michaelmas Term'? Did they cut and paste it from a Dickens novel?

Let's wait and see. This should be fun!


That $23.6 Billion Florida Tobacco Verdict is Meaningless

Both the BBC and the German media (g) have reported on the $23.6 billion verdict a Florida jury handed down against R.J. Reynolds tobacco company for damages she suffered after her husband died of lung cancer. The jury found that R.J. Reynolds had purposely concealed the addictive and harmful nature of smoking. Most of the $26 billion is in punitive damages, which can be awarded in Florida if the jury finds that "[t]he defendant’s conduct was so reckless or wanting in care that it constituted a conscious disregard or indifference to the life, safety, or rights of persons exposed to such conduct."

These sorts of stories come out a few times a year, and are always covered by the German media. They serve an important function for the German journalistic class: they instruct obedient German news consumers that the American jury system is a crazy lottery in which ignorant, envious bumpkins are given free rein to milk large corporations on behalf of other ignorant, envious bumpkins.

By implication, therefore, these stories support the Panglossian narrative of German superiority. After all, am deutschen Wesen soll sich dereinst die Welt genesen -- the German way will heal the world. There are no juries in German civil trials, nor are there any punitive damages in the American sense. German judges award damages according to fixed schedules, and the amounts are smaller than American courts.

To apply the necessary corrective: No, the tobacco company will of course never have to pay the $23.6 billion verdict. An appeals court, following rules laid down by the American Supreme Court, will reduce it to a tiny fraction of that size. Punitive damages awards are extremely rare in American courts, and usually modest in size. A recent study sums up the situation:

Contrary to popular myth, punitive damages are rarely awarded.

  • In 2005, the most recent year studied by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), punitive damages were awarded in only 5 percent of civil cases where plaintiffs prevailed at trial.

        ...

Most punitive damage awards are modest in amount.

  • In 2005, the median overall punitive damage amount awarded to plaintiff winners in civil cases was $64,000.15 The median punitive damage award for all tort cases was $55,000.16
  •  In 76 percent of the 632 civil trials with both punitive and compensatory awards, the ratio of punitive to compensatory damages was 3 to 1 or less.

...

Of the 45 states that allow punitive damages in this country, at least one-third have enacted some form of cap, or limit, on the ability of judges and juries to award punitive damages. Over 30 state legislatures have made it more difficult for injured consumers to prove punitive damages by raising the standard of proof required for awarding them. Several states order victims to pay a portion of punitive damages into state-designated funds. Other states require or permit bifurcated trials where the injured person is forced to essentially try a case twice, first proving liability and second, arguing the size of the award. And in some states, juries are prevented from deciding the amount of a punitive damages award -- only the judge is permitted do that.

That's been today's corrective to the German media.