December 7

Only one short year ago I presented a workshop entitled, Nuts and Bolts of Violence Risk Assessment, sponsored by Suffolk County Psychological Association and Suffolk County Academy of Psychology at Commack High School, Commack, N.Y.

The event had been planned several months earlier. I had been given a choice of dates, and I felt privileged to pick December 7 to present this particular topic:

December 7, Pearl Harbor Day:

Only one week later we witnessed one of the most horrific school mass shootings in history at Sandy Hook Elementary School:

And here we are, a year later, and the country pays tribute to Pearl Harbor after 72 years:

December 7, 2013 carries lingering memories for many Long Islanders, and, indeed a nation, of the terrible LIRR massacre:

Colin Ferguson killed six persons and injured nineteen after opening fire with an automatic pistol on a crowded commuter train 20 years ago, December 7, 1993. His crime came at the heels of Godinez v. Moran in which competence to stand trial (CST) and competence to plead guilty were determined by the United States Supreme Court to be equivalent competencies. Was Ferguson’s CST really equivalent to his competency to waive counsel?  Was the legal substrate the same?  The ruling says yes, and that the low Dusky standard is sufficient.

Dusky v. United States, 362 U.S. 402 (1960)

Whether the defendant:

1) has sufficient present ability to consult with his lawyer with a reasonable degree of rational understanding

2) and whether he has a rational as well as factual understanding of the proceedings against him.

The trial was marked with controversy. Ferguson discharged Ronald L. Kuby and William Kunstler, his court-appointed attorneys. Concerns about his CST were raised. The judge, however, allowed him to act as his own attorney. His attorneys had prepared an insanity defense, “black rage”:

Ferguson did not pursue this defense and argued that a mysterious gunman had committed the shootings. What ensued was a bizarre courtroom drama in which Ferguson asserted, despite many eyewitnesses, that a white man had taken the gun from his bag while he slept and shot the passengers and managed to escape.

Other historical events on December 7:

So, in their memory, we pay homage on December 7.


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