Andreas Lubitz, Tarasoff and the duty to warn

March 29, 2015

Troubling evidence has emerged that Andreas Lubitz, the Germanwings copilot, may have been delusional and mentally unfit to work, much less fly a commercial jet carrying 144 passengers and a crew of 6, including himself. Reuters reports today,

The co-pilot suspected of crashing a passenger jet in the Alps may have been suffering from a detached retina but investigators are unsure whether his vision problems had physical or psychological causes, a German newspaper said on Sunday.

Bild am Sonntag also reported how the captain of the Germanwings Airbus screamed “open the damn door!” to the co-pilot as he tried to get back into the locked cockpit before the jet crashed on Tuesday, killing all 150 aboard.

Another German newspaper, Welt am Sonntag, quoted a senior investigator as saying the 27-year-old co-pilot Andreas Lubitz “was treated by several neurologists and psychiatrists”, adding that a number of medications had been found in his apartment in the German city of Duesseldorf.

Police also discovered personal notes that showed Lubitz suffered from “severe subjective overstress symptoms”, he added.

Lufthansa, the parent company of the budget airline, said the carrier was unaware of a psychosomatic or any other illness affecting Lubitz. “We have no information of our own on that,” a Lufthansa spokesman said.

The terrible crash and loss of life raises an interesting question: Whether and to what extent do mental health professionals have a duty to warn police and potential victims that a patient is a threat to their lives and safety. More specifically, should the mental health professionals treating Lubitz have warned Germanwings (Lufthansa) that he was mentally unfit to pilot one of its commercial aircraft?

I do not know European law on the subject, but I am familiar with U.S. law.

In Tarasoff v. Regents of the University of California, 551 P.2d 334 (1976), the California Supreme Court created a new cause of action in tort for the negligent failure of a mental health professional to notify the police and potential victim regarding a threat to harm or kill communicated by a patient to the mental health professional. Before Tarasoff, mental health professionals were prohibited by the therapist/patient privilege of confidentiality from disclosing threats to harm or kill others uttered by patients during treatment.

The unique facts and equities of Tarasoff compelled a majority of the California Supreme Court to ignore legal precedent and create a new cause of action against mental health professionals founded in negligence to compensate victims of violence committed by a patient under the care and treatment of a mental health professional who failed to warn the police and the victim of a threat to harm the victim uttered by the patient.

In Tarasoff,

An exchange student by the name of Poddar met another student, Tarasoff, at UC Berkeley. During one encounter, Tarasoff kissed Poddar. Poddar took the affections to be very serious, and once Tarasoff learned of Poddar’s feelings, she immediately told him that she was involved with other men and not interested in pursuing a serious relationship. As a result, Poddar became depressed, resentful, and stalked Tarasoff. Once Tarasoff left the country for a study session abroad, his condition improved, and he sought counseling from a psychologist at UC Berkeley. During their sessions, Poddar admitted his intent to kill Tarasoff. The psychologist, believing Poddar to be suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, requested that campus police detain Poddar and that he be civilly committed as he was a danger to others. Poddar was detained, but appearing rational, was released. Tarasoff then returned and Poddar stopped seeing the psychologist. Tarasoff was not warned of the threat posed by Poddar and eventually stabbed and killed her. Tarasoff’s parents sued the psychologist and other University employees asserting that they had a duty to warn Tarasoff or her parents of the danger she was in, and they were negligent in releasing Poddar without providing a warning.

The Court held that,

Therapists and other mental health professionals may not escape liability merely because the victim was not their patient. When a mental health professional determines that a patient presents a serious danger of violence to another, he or she is obligated to use reasonable care to protect the intended victim from the potential danger. This obligation, this duty, may require warning the police, the intended victims, or others likely to warn the victims of the danger.

After Tarasoff, many mental health professionals complained that a substantial percentage of their patients commonly expressed anger and even rage during counseling sessions. They raged against their spouses, family members, teachers, bosses and all manner of persons in positions of power and authority over their lives. Statements like, “I dream about killing [insert object of frustration and rage here],” were typical. Most of the time these statements were not intended as threats to kill by the patient and not perceived as threats to kill by the therapist.

After Tarasoff, therapists suddenly were concerned about their potential exposure to ruinous lawsuits, damage to their professional reputations and public humiliation, if they failed to report a threat that a patient later carried out. They realized that they were risking the loss of their careers every time they dismissed a threat as a figure of speech and declined to report it to the police. Many decided to report all threats, no matter how unlikely they believed that a threat would be carried out.

Although the CYA approach protected the therapist, it caused many problems for patients. Consider, for example, a patient’s frustrated statement to the therapist that the next time his boss insults him in front of others, he is going to kill him. If the therapist reports this statement to the police and to the boss, the boss likely will fire the patient, despite the patient’s claim that he never intended to carry out the threat.

Getting your patients fired from their jobs or divorced by their spouses as a consequence of your desire to eliminate your potential liability for failing to warn is an unacceptable, unprofessional and possibly unethical practice.

Therapists also lamented that the accuracy and reliability of predicting future violence was only marginally more accurate than flipping a coin and they complained that the Tarasoff Rule was forcing them to predict future violence accurately everytime they decided to risk not reporting a patient’s threat in order to protect the patient from suffering probable adverse consequences.

Law enforcement agencies also expressed frustration and concern that their ability to carry out their primary policing responsibilities was being compromised by having to investigate threats and warn the potential victims or their families about the threats.

Despite widespread sympathy and concern for the Tarasoff family and recognition that something needed to be done to prevent another tragic and preventable homicide, increasing numbers of mental health professionals in California, and other states whose supreme courts had adopted the Tarasoff Rule, began to question its wisdom and propose changes.

For example, the California Legislature passed a law immunizing mental heath professionals from civil suit for failing to warn or protect reasonably identifiable potential victims, so long as the mental health professional’s decision not to attempt to warn or protect was made in good faith. Other state legislatures soon passed similar laws.

Should the mental health professionals treating Andreas Lubitz have warned his employer that he was unfit to fly and a danger to everyone on that flight?

What do you think?


Tsarnaevs: Why did they murder the innocent?

March 27, 2015

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev wrote a note in pencil on an interior wall of a trailered boat in which sought refuge after the Watertown shootout. He attempted to justify killing innocent people with the following words,

“The U.S. Government is killing our innocent civilians but most of you already know that. As a M [bullet hole] I can’t stand to see such evil go unpunished, we Muslims are one body, you hurt one you hurt us all. …”

“Now I don’t like killing innocent people it is forbidden in Islam but due to said [bullet hole] it is allowed.”

He is wrong. The Prophet, whom he revers, prohibited killing the innocent.

From the Islamic Supreme Council of America:

The Prophet sent the following message to his military leaders who were setting forth in the way of Jihād to stop hostile advances and defend Muslim territories:

Advance in the name of Allah, with Allah, on the pattern of the Messenger of Allah . That means do not kill the elderly, infants or children and women. Do not exceed the proper bounds. Gather your spoils and make peace, “and do good. Lo! Allah loveth those who do good.”

The Prophet passed by a woman who was killed and said, “She was not engaged in fighting.” The Prophet then sent to the Muslim leader Khālid ibn al-Walīd the following message, “The Prophet orders you not to kill women or servants.”

This was to show the reason in the prohibition of killing her was due to the fact she was not with the fighters. The inference here is “the reason we fight them, is because they fight us, not on the simple principle that they are disbelievers.” This is clear evidence the woman was not a fighter and the Prophet prohibited her killing. From the strong expression the Prophet made, going so far as to send a letter to his topmost military commander, we see how concerned he was to prevent any such incidents, and to insure that every single Muslim warrior was aware of the rules of combat.

The question arises here: when someone explodes a bomb or commits a suicide attack in a public place, how many innocent women, children and elderly people are killed? If for one woman’s death, the Prophet scolded his top general, Khālid ibn al-Walīd, what then about killing twenty, thirty or even hundreds of non-combatants, some of whom may even be Muslim?

Just as the Messenger of Allah forbade the killing of women and the young he forbade killing priests.

The first caliph Sayyidina Abū Bakr aš-Šiddīq’s commandment to the leader of the first Islamic military expedition after the Prophet was:

…No hermit should be molested…Only those should be killed who take up arms against you.

So we see from these various narrations of the Prophet ―and there are many more like them―that the Prophet prohibited the Muslims to fight anyone, Muslim or non-Muslim, even if they are unbelievers, if they are not transgressors against the security of the nation.

This shows that terrorist acts, in particular suicide attacks which kill indiscriminately, are utterly unacceptable forms of combat, even during valid combat authorized for defense of the nation.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev needs to come to an understanding that his God, whom he calls Allah, does not approve of what he and his brother did. He has an opportunity in this lifetime to atone for what he did, but he is running out of time. A good place to start is the penalty phase of his trial.

With not just his life, but his soul at stake, he must reject self-deception, own what he did and admit that it was wrong. His actions and his note are offensive to his God and he must admit that too and plead for mercy.

The prosecution will likely rest on Monday after the Medical Examiner, Dr. Jennifer Hammers, concludes her testimony about the deaths of Lu Lingzi, a graduate student from China and the child, 8-year-old Martin Richard. Court recessed yesterday for the weekend after Dr. Hammers concluded her graphic testimony about the death of Krystle Campbell, a restaurant manager from Medford, MA.

I am going to pray for him to find the light while there is still time.

I am also going to pray for the jurors because, despite the law that permits them to sentence him to death, no human should kill another.

Let us all pray for the victims whose lives changed forever the day the bombs exploded. May they find peace in this lifetime.


Tsarnaev: Terrorism expert links Tsarnaev’s message in the boat to al Qaeda produced files on Tsarnaev’s computer

March 24, 2015

The prosecution entered the homestretch of its case today against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev by calling Dr. Matthew Levitt to the stand. Levitt, who claims to be an expert on Islamist terrorism, is a senior fellow and director of the Stein Program on counterterrorism and intelligence at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He also is a professor and lecturer in International Relations and Strategic Studies at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

Dr. Levitt testified that al Qaeda initially encouraged people to travel to the mideast and join their organization to fight U.S. oppression of Muslims. Later, they reached out to those who could not travel to the mideast and encouraged them to join the cause by fighting at home. Death in service to Allah and Islam is good, if you do your jihad with “true intention” to get entry into highest levels of heaven, according to Anwar al Awlaki.

An example of fighting at home is provided by an article in Inspire, which had been downloaded to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s computer. The article provides instructions on how to make a bomb out of ordinary stuff in your mother’s kitchen. They detail how to build a pressure cooker bomb just like the ones the Tsarnaev brothers used.

Dr. Levitt also reviewed and sourced the statements that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev wrote on the wall of the boat to al Qaeda produced documents and audio files on his computer. Court recessed for the day before Dr. Levitt completed his testimony sourcing Tsarnaev’s note.

Not a good day for the defense.

Nevertheless, serious questions exist about the legitimacy of so-called terrorism experts, as this article in Salon explains.

Dr. Levitt finished testifying this morning. He admitted that someone could have put the content on his devices and also have harangued him and contributed to his radicalization.

That person would have been his brother, Tamerlan.

The cross of Dr. Levitt by David Bruck made these points that are relevant to Dzhokhar’s lesser role in the offense.

Bruck: you said there always has to be a “radicalizer” who encourages someone?

Levitt: yes, often a virtual one, online.

B: You weren’t asked to find a radicalizer in this case?

L: No.

B: You analyzed only the info you were given from #Tsarnaev’s drives? L: Yes

Bruck: your understanding was that you were to focus on the defendant and no one else?

Levitt: He’s the one on trial.


Jeffrey Williams has been charged with shooting two police officers outside Ferguson P.D.

March 15, 2015

Reuters is reporting,

A 20-year-old man was charged on Sunday with first-degree assault in last week’s shooting of two policemen during a protest rally in Ferguson, Missouri, a crime that shocked a city that has been devastated by months of racial strife.

The suspect, Jeffrey Williams, has admitted to firing the shots that wounded the officers early on Thursday, said St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch.

The right wing is going crazy claiming that Williams was a protester, even though he allegedly fired from inside his car at a location that was nowhere near where the protesters were. In fact, they were not protesting. They were celebrating Chief Jackson’s resignation from the Ferguson Police Department.

Yet more evidence, as if we needed it, that the racist right wing hate machine doesn’t bother with evidence. They just keep on making stuff up.


Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has a right to allocution

March 15, 2015

Various articles in the Huffington Post, the National Monitor and the International Business Times have discussed whether Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will testify during his trial.

I do not believe he will testify in the guilt/innocence phase or the penalty phase of his trial because that would open him up to cross examination, which he dares not risk. This does not mean, however, that he cannot speak to the jury. He has the right to allocution, which means he has the right to speak before sentence is pronounced. All defendants have this right.

In the first death penalty case that I tried, I had my client read a letter that he wrote to his daughter expressing regret for what he had done and for how that had affected their relationship. He broke down several times but eventually managed to get through it. The jury spared his life and several jurors told me afterward that they voted to spare his life because of his genuine tearful regret.

I am certain Judy Clarke and David Bruck have considered using allocution as a means for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to speak to the jury about sentencing without being cross examined. Whether the tactic will succeed depends on whether he genuinely expresses remorse and regret.

The keyword is ‘genuine.’ Anything less and he will almost certainly be sentenced to death.


Riveting testimony in the Boston Marathon bombing trial hurts Dzhokhar’s chance to avoid death penalty

March 13, 2015

During the past two days, the prosecution presented evidence about the murder of MIT police officer Sean Collier and the kidnapping of Dun Meng, a Chinese businessman, and his Mercedes vehicle by the Tsarnaev brothers.

The Boston Globe reports,

Dr. Renee Robinson, a state medical examiner, told jurors that the 26-year-old Collier was shot three times in the head, including once between the eyes, and three times in the hand, and he would have died instantly. Robinson said the shots were fired at close range, at least one with the muzzle pressed against his skin, based on the pattern of the bullet’s entry wound.

Two people were captured on campus security video approaching Collier’s vehicle from behind after he pulled over and stopped. They are visible leaving the scene from the same direction that they approached. The apparent motive for the murder was to steal his gun, but they were unsuccessful because it was locked in his holster. Police discovered that the holster had been damaged in an apparent effort to remove the gun.

Dun Meng, the Chinese businessman, testified about his encounter and escape from the Tsarnaevs. Here’s the Globe again,

Sitting at the edge of his seat, he described how he took several turns, and pulled his car to the side of the road on Brighton Avenue to send a text message to a friend. Suddenly, a sedan pulled up behind him quickly. A man stepped out of the passenger side of the car, approached his passenger side window and tapped. He asked him to lower the window. Deng thought he was going to ask for directions, but the man instead reached inside and opened the door, stepping inside his car.
“He pulled the gun to me, to my head,” Meng told jurors, describing how he thought he was being robbed. The man pulled out his magazine, to show he had bullets.

“I’m serious, don’t be stupid,” the man told him.

Then he said, “Do you know the Boston Marathon explosions? I did it, and I just killed a police officer in Cambridge.”

Meng identified Tamerlan Tsarnaev as the man with the gun. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was following behind them in a green Honda. He eventually parked the car and joined them sitting in the back seat behind Meng. Dzhokhar used Meng’s ATM card to withdraw $800. Meng escaped when they stopped at a Shell station for gas while Dzhokhar went inside to pay for the gas and Tamerlan was distracted fiddling with a GPS device.

Meng unbuckled his seatbelt with one hand and unlocked and opened the door with his other hand. He tumbled out onto the ground and took off in a crouching sprint across the street to a Mobil station where he called 911.

Police were able to find the Mercedes because it was equipped with a sophisticated GPS positioning system that located it precisely. The shootout ensued.

So far the evidence has shown Dzhokhar to be a willing participant and that is going to hurt his chance to beat the death penalty.


Bill Richard’s unimaginable horror and a jury’s choice

March 6, 2015

We do not expect our children to die before we do.

Yesterday afternoon, Bill Richard took the stand in the Boston Marathon bombing trial. He told the members of the jury what happened to him, his wife and their two children, Martin and Jane. “We were running late,” he said. The winners had already finished and they had to walk back along the race course to find a place where they could see the runners pass on their way to the finish line. After watching for awhile, the kids got bored so the family took a break and got some ice cream at a nearby Baskin & Robbins. Then they tried to find a spot closer to the finish line. They found an opening in the crowd in front of the Forum Restaurant where the kids could stand behind the metal rail barricade next to the street and see the runners.

When he heard the first “thunderous explosion” near the finish line about a block away, he thought it was a sewer explosion. Concerned, he decided that they should leave the area. He hopped over the fence and turned to help his family into the street. A few seconds later, the second bomb exploded tearing his pants apart and knocking him to the ground. He gathered up his son and carried him across the street and gently placed him on the ground.

Chris Caesar and Hilary Sargent of Boston.com pick up the story,

“When I saw Martin’s condition, I knew that he wasn’t gonna make it,” he said. “I told [Denise, his wife who lost an eye] I was gonna go be with Jane [his daughter whose leg was blown off]…she agreed.”

“It was at that time I saw my son alive, basically for the last time,” he added. “I knew we needed to move quickly, or we’d lose Jane, too.”

Richard accompanied both Henry [Martin] and Jane to Boston Children’s Hospital, describing the environment “like a scene from the movies.” There, Denise called Richard to tell him Martin had died.

“I said, ‘I know,’” he told the jury.

Jane later had 20 pieces of shrapnel removed from her body. Richard—unwilling to abandon his injured daughter—was also treated at Children’s Hospital for hearing loss, burns, and shrapnel wounds.

“But I can still hear the beautiful voices of my family,” he said.

No one ever expects to be in a situation like this. Unimaginable physical pain and unimaginable never ending emotional pain.

Incomprehensible.

What should we do with the man who visited this horror on this innocent family and more than 260 other innocent people, including two other people who died?

What should we do?

Should we kill him?

What good would that do?

Does he even understand what he did?

I have been here before. I was a death penalty lawyer and I have witnessed awful things.

I have learned that even the worst of the worst have that spark of light that binds us all to each other and can be nurtured into a mighty flame.

That is my cause, my purpose, my life’s work.

I believe in forgiveness, mercy, redemption and resurrection, no matter what a person may have done.

I would never deny that to anyone.


Since his lawyer admitted Tsarnaev’s guilt, why didn’t he plead guilty?

March 5, 2015

Since his lawyer, Judy Clarke, admitted Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s guilt during her opening statement yesterday in the Boston Marathon bombing trial, why didn’t he plead guilty?

Many people have been asking this question in comments to news stories and blogs. The answer is the defense offered to plead guilty, if the prosecution would agree to drop the death penalty. The prosecution refused, so the defense decided to use the guilt/innocence phase of the trial to introduce evidence that they believe mitigates or reduces his culpability for the bombings relative to his older brother Tamerlan, whom the defense claims was the principal instigator or moving force who came up with idea and put it into effect.

Mitigation is not a defense to the crimes charged. Mitigation is any evidence about the defendant and the crime he committed, including the exercise of mercy, that calls for a sentence of less than death. As a matter of law, for example, a person who conspires with another to commit a crime, is just as guilty as the person who actually commits the crime, even if he is not present when the crime is committed. Even if he is present, that does not mean that he deserves or will receive the same sentence.

There is no crime, no matter how offensive, heinous or depraved that automatically merits the death penalty. Instead, jurors have to weigh the evidence admitted in aggravation (i.e., evidence about the crime and the defendant’s prior criminal record of convictions) against the evidence admitted in mitigation and decide whether the evidence in aggravation so outweighs the evidence in mitigation that a sentence of death is merited.

Evidence about the crime committed can also qualify as evidence in mitigation. For example, in a multiple defendant case such as the Boston Marathon bombing case, a defendant’s minor or minimal role in comparison to a defendant who plays a major or supervisory role is definitely a mitigating factor. The defense wants to use the guilt/innocence phase of the trial to establish that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was the instigator, the committed jihadi who was the planner and the energetic force behind the scheme to detonate two IDEs near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. They want to elicit evidence from prosecution witnesses, including law enforcement and his former friends testifying under oath that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was a young, immature and rather typical American college kid who never would have involved himself in the crazy scheme but for his older brother who seduced him with tales of revolution, retribution and immortality in the service of God.

I have referred to this strategy as a ‘slow motion guilty plea.’ Dzhokhar has a Sixth Amendment right to go to trial, even if he is guilty. Guilty or innocent, every defendant in a criminal case has the right to force the government to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. What Judy Clarke said in opening statement is not evidence. The government still has the burden of proof. She believes that eliciting mitigating evidence by cross examination during the trial from witnesses testifying under oath will have greater impact than presenting the evidence in a penalty phase after the jury has decided the case. I agree because I have done this myself. In other words, timing matters.

I would never advise a client to plead guilty to a death penalty offense, unless the prosecution agreed to drop the death penalty. I believe it would be malpractice to do that.

Judy Clarke plans to use the trial to save his life.


Opening Statements Today in Boston Marathon Bombing Case

March 4, 2015

Opening statements are not evidence and they are not arguments. They are statements by the lawyers to sketch out their respective cases for the jury. Think of them as guided tours of the witnesses to be called and the evidence to be introduced. They are often described as roadmaps of the case and you can reasonably expect many sentences will begin with the phrase, “The evidence will show . . . “

Since the burden of proof is on the prosecution, the defense is not required to give an opening statement, but it would be foolish not to do so because they will not get another chance to speak to the jury until after the prosecution finishes putting on its case-in-chief, which will likely take several months.

I always gave an opening statement after the prosecution’s opening so that I could break their momentum and get the jury thinking about my case and I believe the defense will give an opening statement today for the same reason.

As I have said before, I do not believe this case is about winning or losing for the defense. It is about living or dying. From the defense perspective, they are going to be using the guilt/innocence phase of the trial as a slow motion guilty plea emphasizing evidence that mitigates the offense.

The defense has three powerful mitigators: Dzhokhar’s youth and immaturity, his absence of a serious criminal record, and most importantly, his fawning and submissive relationship with his older brother Tamerlan. When Tamerlan said, “Frog,” Dzhokhar said, “How high do I jump?” Beginning with their opening statement, I expect the defense will emphasize these mitigators every time an opportunity arises.

I am not expecting the defense to advance any elaborate government conspiracy theory to frame the Tsarnaev brothers. I do not believe there is any evidence to support such a theory and pursuing it would likely infuriate the jury and assure a death sentence. This does not necessarily mean they will refrain from mentioning and exploiting errors of commission or omission by law enforcement.

To our readers: Crane and I have been posting regularly at Firedoglake during Jane Hamsher’s hiatus from the site. She is the owner. You can expect to see my articles here more often as I am now growing more comfortable handling my responsibilities there.


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