25 June 2018

Spaces of Sorrow: Reticence over Extrajudicial Punishment

Luke Heimlich.  Based on my perusal of things baseball on the internet, there is perhaps no single issue that fans and media all agree on: Heimlich should not be allowed to play professional baseball.  Fangraphs put out an article title, "Luke Heimlich and Relitigating the Past," which is a solid article to get you aware of what has happened and assorted links to the original document.  The one thing it does get wrong is suggest that Heimlich chose to relitigate his past when, in actuality, he was responding to what transpired after his conviction for sexual abuse against a minor was accidentally made public when it was scheduled for expunging from the public record.

Other groups, like Baseball Prospectus, have chosen to ostracize Heimlich from the site and never utter his name without really providing a transparent rationale.  Others conflate Heimlich's terrible crime with the absolutely monstrous things perpetrated by Larry Nassar and Jerry Sandusky, which is peculiar because do you really need to color a perspective to recognize how depraved the sexual abuse of a six year old is? Meanwhile, others appear to think that rehabilitation of Heimlich is a lost cause and his exclusion must be permanent and ignores what we know to date about recidivism in minors who commit sexual abuse against younger minors.

That link to the review study may be difficult to read.  And, it should be mentioned that by reading a review, it does not make you an expert in that field.  In May, Sports Illustrated ran an in depth look at Heimlich and the issues surrounding him.  To my knowledge, it is the only article that actually consulted with established experts in the field as opposed to the opinions of baseball analysts.  Elizabeth Letourneau, an expert on juvenile offenses at Johns Hopkins, provided a great deal of worthwhile information about this offense and co-authored a definitive paper on this general topic.  The paper also discusses the issue with a law expert, but this passage probably is one of the more applicable.
But juvenile sex offenders present a vexing paradigm. In the popular mind their crime—especially one involving an age gap like Heimlich's—is singularly heinous and powered by an urge that can never be cured. Yet it's precisely in the area of sex offenses in which juvenile justice can seem most effective. A preponderance of studies, including pioneering work by Letourneau and Michael Caldwell, has found that the five-year recidivism rate for an offender like the first Luke—who pleaded guilty—is 2.75%. Research suggesting a low reoffense risk for first-time offenders who consistently deny guilt, the second Luke, is far less definitive. But, Letourneau said, "denial is normative," for juveniles facing sex-offender stigma, "and there's definitely no strong evidence that it influences reoffending rates."
What does a "low reoffense risk" of 2.5% mean? Low is not really a very descriptive word. It might be good to compare that to society at large. Of course, societal figures are estimated as the 60,000 reported cases of child sexual abuse are an undercount. That said, somewhat less than 5% of adults in the United States are considered to be pedophiles. In other words, the group of sex offense convicts that Heimlich finds himself in has a risk profile for reoffense that is equal to the generic risk profile assigned to you.

Needless to say this is a frustrating conversation to have where our emotional and what we actually know from studies often collide.  This entangles with the rights of the victim; rights that need to be advocated for and protected.  That is not mutually exclusive from the advocacy needed for the rights of the ex-convict.  It does not need to be said, but this is even true when the interests of these specifically conflict with one another.  Yes, we have rededicated confirmation by the victim's mother that these events occurred as described first-hand by the victim.  Yes, we know Heimlich has gone against his court-ordered apology that was dictated by the plea deal.  And, we also know how plea deals muck everything up.  Innocent people plead guilty especially when charges can be expunged by exhibiting good behavior.  That does not mean Heimlich is innocent. It does not mean you should ignore the word of the victim.  It means simply that you recognize that this case is a mess and the best thing the state thought to do was to push forward with a plea deal that was designed to make no one know about the case.  A terrible crime, but a terrible crime the state did not see as being a social life sentence for Heimlich.

What has transpired is that a reporter doing normal reporter things found a mistake made by the government that provided record for what Heimlich pleaded to.  This undermined what was litigated and invited the public to try Heimlich again, but in public and with its own desired punishment.  Heimlich, who successfully met the state's requirements, now finds himself having a public double jeopardy imposed upon him and the punishment determined necessary by the public at large is a permanent prohibition from a job that is seen as a desirable form of employment.  This public effort includes dehumanizing this ex-convict, publicly restricting work options, and threatening any baseball organization that extends an opportunity for him to keep on track.

This secondary punishment is done with absolutism based on assumption.  The only individuals to date who have spoken publicly about the case and actually know the evidence of the case are Heimlich and the victim's mother.  Everyone else putting in their declarations in the media are doing so and thinking that somehow even greater punishment should be placed on Heimlich without actually knowing the evidence.  They want to push the goalposts further back than what his due process resulted in.

Ex-convict rights are often an awkward thing to advocate for.  Ex-convicts are ex-convicts because they were found guilty or accepted plea deals to crimes.  Crimes can be heinous.  What Luke Heimlich pleaded to was heinous.  He may well be a terrible person.  But, a terrible person remains a person.  The individual is a part of society and it should be in our interest to respect the outcome of a system that may well be broken.  If that system of law is broken, then I would put forth that what needs to be done is to fix that system of law and not to lead a public effort to provide extrajudicial punishment on those you infer to be more rewarding of that punishment.

There are reasons why we have judges and lawyers.  There are reasons why we have due process.  There are reasons why we have jails and why sentences are usually not for life.  There are reasons why we provide assistance to help those convicted move forward and be positive contributors to society.

If Heimlich is good enough to play baseball, then he should be allowed to continue.  If teams choose to not hire him, that is their right.  Regardless, a public push to further punish someone who was already punished by our society through the delegated authority of the state is something I find to be distasteful and unethical.  You can certainly prefer him to be elsewhere.  You can certainly profess a Not in My Backyard perspective, but when you actively try to prevent his employment you are joining a chorus that wishes to dehumanize ex-convicts and put in place mob justice.

Luke Heimlich is not Larry Nassar.  Luke Heimlich is not Jerry Sandusky.  Studies suggest that Luke Heimlich almost certainly is rehabilitated even if he is not repentant.  The psychology of a 15 year old changes drastically into adulthood.  Let him suffer for his own crime and not the crimes of others or what you assume his crime and due process was.

Do I want Heimlich on the Orioles? No, I can be a hypocrite.  There are spaces of sorrow where I lack the moral compass to enter, but can see what is right from afar.  There are spaces that are difficult for me to enter even when I know that people better equipped to answer this question say Heimlich should be able to re-enter society without restriction, having served the terms of his punishment and being in line with what we know from in-depth studies on the behavior of juvenile sex offenders.

Would I use whatever public power I have to prevent him from being an Oriole? No, a cornerstone of our legal system is the goal of rehabilitation and reintegration. I will never stand against our efforts to take broken people and make them positive contributors to our society.  This is not a victim versus abuser situation.  It is coming in at the end of the process, keeping the bond of our societal contracts, and shuffling forward.  If experts in juvenile law and clinical juvenile psychology (or related fields) would develop a consensus against Heimlich being hired into these positions, then I would change my mind on this.  To date, I have not seen that.  I have seen the opposite of that standing against what baseball analysts and fans have proclaimed.

Life is often not pretty.  Life is often not what we wish it to be.  Life is not insulated.  Darkness is made light every day and we have reason to think Heimlich can be reformed.  I will not stand in the way of that.  I will not be an impediment to keeping someone broken.

This is advocacy for the ex-convict.  While this is done, it should not be ignored that the victim also needs continued support and advocacy at the end of this process.  Vengeance and a second extrajudicial punishment on the abuser may feel good and right to the person who just learned about it this year or last, but I question whether that is truly the type of support she needs.  As a society, it is in our interest to provide her with the assistance she needs to carry this burden and learn to succeed in spite of it.


Pip said...

Jon I really wish I knew you in person. We would disagree on politics and religion, but I don’t think that creat the slightest problem.
I appreciate your thoughts a lot.

Unknown said...

He did His time, if hes good enough to play let him. Professional sports every yesr has people that have been convicted of a multitude of awful things and they are allowed to continue to play. This kid if hes good enough should get the same chance.

The thing is tho he probably is not good enough. Any player thats commited crimes the teams have to weigh the pro vs the con. Every year football teams cut lose bottom roster players immediately if they break the law but better players get a multitide of chances.

Seems this kid is not good enough for the PR hit. Hes a 4th or 5th starter senior sign. Massive PR hit now for maybe 2 or 3 years from now a back end starter. Teams seem to not be willing at least currently. Should go over seas rip it up a few years and maybe come back.

Pip said...

I tried to comment multiple times but couldn’t.
I appreciate your integrity in admitting the contradiction in your comment that he deserves to play but you don’t want him to play here.
However I disagree. I think he should be allowed to play without stigma, and I hope that he is allowed to. I agree with your point, but not your desire.

Dave Beal said...

The Royals are going to sign him, and they should. He was a confused minor when this took place, it was a family member not a stranger, and he has paid the price socially and legally. He isn't going to do anything remotely like it again. He deserves a 2nd chance like everyone else. I don't say it lightly either. I'd be the first to beat his ass if he was the type of person he's been accused of in the court of public opinion. But most people have something in their childhood they would ashamed of the world knowing. Only political correctness dooms him to a life sentence for an act as a child. He was wrong for sure, but it probably isn't truly the person he is. And saying he isn't good enough to be signed is silly. He has 1st or 2nd round talent.