Troy’s Latest Crusade
Meant to blog about this yesterday . . .
Just in time to distract us from his latest problems, Troy King once again has an opportunity to preen about how much he hates criminals:
Killers on Alabama’s Death Row who are selling works of art that appear to depict their victims may be violating the law, state officials said Tuesday.
Alabama Attorney General Troy King has opened an investigation into the posting on Internet auction sites of sketches and paintings by Death Row inmates Jack Trawick and Daniel Siebert.
“We expect to send a letter to operators demanding they stop providing a forum for this art work,” said King, who called the postings “atrocious.”
And I’m sure the operators will respond with a hearty laugh and a single digit solute.
Here’s King’s argument for shutting down the forum (emphasis added):
Alabama’s version of a “Son of Sam” law has broad language that bars prisoners and anyone who has a contract with them from profiting from any expression of a “person’s thoughts, feelings, opinions or emotions” regarding their crimes, Deputy Attorney General Kenneth Steely said. That includes works of art, he said.
The law doesn’t prohibit the sale of the images or of book or movie rights. But it does require that any money made on such a deal be turned over to the state Board of Adjustment. Conviction for failure to do so can lead to a prison sentence of one to 10 years.
“The money’s got to be going somewhere,” Steely said of the sale of the inmates’ art. “We’re looking into it.”
Bzzt. Wrong answer. This is the actual law, codified at 41-9-80 of the Alabama Code (emphasis added):
Every person, firm, corporation, partnership, association or other legal entity contracting with any person or the representative or assignee of any person, indicted or convicted of a felony in this state, with respect to the reenactment of such crime, by way of a movie, book, magazine article, radio or television presentation, live entertainment of any kind, or from the expression of such person’s thoughts, feelings, opinions or emotions regarding such crime, shall pay over to the Board of Adjustment any moneys which would otherwise, by terms of such contract, be owing to the person so convicted or his representatives.
Any person, firm, corporation, partnership, association or other legal entity who fails to pay said moneys to the Board of Adjustment shall be guilty of a felony punishable by imprisonment for not less than one nor more than 10 years and by a fine equal to the net proceeds earned as a result of the reenactment of the crime.
The company selling the work can reap all the profits it wants, the only person who doesn’t get anything is the criminal. The only way the operators get into trouble is if they paid the criminal for the work instead of turning it over to the Board. Even then, the penalty is a fine or imprisonment, King has no authority to shut down the forum or prevent publication of the “art.”
But this is all academic. Like the paper said, “Alabama’s version of a “Son of Sam” law has broad language.” So did the original version of this law, the one Alabama cut and pasted into our code. That broad language is the reason a unanimous Scotus has already declared the original version – New York’s Son of Sam law – unconstitutional in the case of Simon & Schuster, Inc., v. Members of New York State Crime Victim’s Bd:
As a means of ensuring that victims are compensated from the proceeds of crime, the Son of Sam law is significantly overinclusive. As counsel for the Board conceded at oral argument, the statute applies to works on any subject, provided that they express the author’s thoughts or recollections about his crime, however tangentially or incidentally. See Tr. of Oral Arg. 30, 38; see also App. 109. In addition, the statute’s broad definition of “person convicted of a crime” enables the Board to escrow the income of any author who admits in his work to having committed a crime, whether or not the author was ever actually accused or convicted. 632-a(10)(b).
These two provisions combine to encompass a potentially very large number of works. Had the Son of Sam law been in effect at the time and place of publication, it would have escrowed payment for such works as The Autobiography of Malcolm X, which describes crimes committed by the civil rights leader before he became a public figure; Civil Disobedience, in which Thoreau acknowledges his refusal to pay taxes and recalls his experience in jail; and even the Confessions of Saint Augustine, in which the author laments “my past foulness and the carnal corruptions of my soul,” one instance of which involved the theft of pears from a neighboring vineyard. See A. Haley & Malcolm X, The Autobiography of Malcolm X 108-12 (1964); H. Thoreau, Civil Disobedience 18-22 (1849, reprinted 1969); The Confessions of Saint Augustine 31, 36-37 (Franklin Library ed. 1980). Amicus Association of American Publishers, Inc., has submitted a sobering bibliography listing hundreds of works by American prisoners and ex-prisoners, many of which contain descriptions of the crimes for which the authors were incarcerated, including works by such authors as Emma Goldman and Martin Luther King, Jr. A list of prominent figures whose autobiographies would be subject to the statute if written is not difficult to construct: the list could include Sir Walter Raleigh, who was convicted of treason after a dubiously conducted 1603 trial; Jesse Jackson, who was arrested in 1963 for trespass and resisting arrest after attempting to be served at a lunch counter in North Carolina; and Bertrand Russell, who was jailed for seven days at the age of 89 for participating in a sit-down protest against nuclear weapons. The argument that a statute like the Son of Sam law would prevent publication of all of these works is hyperbole – some would have been written without compensation – but the Son of Sam law clearly reaches a wide range of literature that does not enable a criminal to profit from his crime while a victim remains uncompensated.
No doubt the particular images in this situation are atrocious, and that the folks displaying them are probably scum. But King is wasting our resources in order to make himself look good.