Desperately Seeking Attention

In An Editorial about the woman who said a man had tried to drag her daughter away at a mall, the Huntington Herald-Dispatch editorialized that the false accusation “brings shame to the entire area,” and notes that if she is convicted, Santana Renee Adams faces a $500 fine and up to six months in jail.

But let’s back up a bit and start with the story, from True’s 7 April 2019 issue:

Desperately Seeking Attention

Santana Renee Adams, 24, told police in Barboursville, W.Va., that while she was shopping at the Huntington Mall, a man grabbed her 5-year-old daughter by the hair and tried to drag her away. The crime was thwarted when she pulled a pistol and confronted the man, who then ran away, she said. A short time later a 54-year-old suspect was found at the mall, identified by Adams, and arrested. “I’m thankful I was prepared to protect my daughter regarding a situation that could have gone worse,” she told a reporter. However, there were not only no witnesses to the supposed crime, Adams never even yelled for help. On the other hand, security camera footage indicates the man didn’t go anywhere near the girl, and Adams never pulled the gun that was found in her pocket, nor showed upset at any time. The next day, Adams told police that “she might have misjudged” and “overreacted” to the man, and maybe he was just “smiling” at the girl when he “patted her on the head.” Even that was a lie. The arrested man said he never interacted with Adams or her daughter in any way, and charges were dropped — but Adams has been arrested, charged with filing a false report of an emergency. (RC/Huntington Herald-Dispatch) …While she “might have misjudged” the situation, let’s hope the judge doesn’t.

Doing it Right

I don’t fault the Barboursville police one bit: when presented with a credible accusation of a crime, and a victim identification of the perpetrator, of course they arrested him. Yet it didn’t end there: detectives worked the case diligently, got the mall’s security camera videos the next day, found glaring discrepancies, and called the mother in for a second interview that same day. That’s what they’re supposed to do, and they not only did it well, they did it quickly.

It was heartening that police went out of their way to help the falsely accused suspect, an Egyptian engineer who was in the state on business and scheduled to fly home within a few days. He actually made it onto his scheduled flight, in part because officers took him to the airport themselves, and made sure he got through airport security with no problems! While the false accusation may have “brought shame” to the region as the local newspaper said, I think the police department’s professionalism brought some deserved pride to the region too.

By the way: I’m purposefully not including the name of the actual victim in the case: he’ll probably have trouble for the rest of his life as it is with such an accusation easily found with online searches.

Social Media Hysteria

Police have a theory about Adams’ false accusations. Barboursville Police Detective Greg Lucas told reporters that “false rumors on social media about attempted child abductions” could be a factor. Yet all of those reports or rumors have been “entirely baseless,” he said. “Nobody has made a police report and nobody has called 911 about these issues, but it’s out there” on social media anyway. “I can’t say that she had any kind of agenda or what her agenda was,” he continued, “but it still was very, very bad to hurt this man and upset our entire community like it did.”

Barboursville Police Sgt. Anthony Jividen put the online trend in clear perspective. He said in his 30 years as a police officer in the city, “no actual child abductions have been reported or investigated.” Yet such rumors persist online.

Penalties: Not Enough

My tagline on the story seems to call for Adams to get a significant sentence. Yes: yes it does.

A photo of Adams and (presumably) her handy husband that she posted on Facebook prior to the incident to show off their firepower. She has since deleted her account there.

When it’s proven that someone lied to implicate an innocent person of a heinous crime, they shouldn’t face a small fine and a short jail sentence. No, they should face the sentence the accused would have received on conviction. For this case, the West Virginia Code’s Chapter 61 (Crimes and Their Punishment), §61-2-14 (Abduction of person; kidnapping or concealing child; penalties) dictates that “Any person, other than the father or mother, who illegally, or for any unlawful, improper or immoral purpose other than the purposes stated in subsection (a) of this section or section fourteen-a or fourteen-c of this article, seizes, take or secretes a child under sixteen years of age, from the person or persons having lawful charge of such child, shall be guilty of a felony, and, upon conviction thereof, shall be confined in the penitentiary not less than one nor more than ten years.”

One to 10 years? While that sounds pretty light for abducting a child, it sounds more like an absolute minimum for Adams. Why shouldn’t she get what she was trying to push on a man that never actually went anywhere near her young daughter? That’s not an “overreaction” or (as she claimed) a “cultural misunderstanding,” that’s clear perjury in a sworn statement to investigators. Conveniently, the state’s Code (Article 5. Crimes Against Public Justice, §61-5-3, Penalties for perjury, subordination of perjury, and false swearing) also specifies a penalty of 1-10 years upon conviction — again a felony, not a mere misdemeanor.

Why do I say it’s “clear”? Note from the story that in her second interview the next day, while Adams started to admit she perhaps “overreacted” and that rather than try to drag the girl away by her hair he merely “patted her on the head” while smiling. That was still a lie. Remember, by then the police had already seen the video evidence that the man never went anywhere near the girl or her mother. After sleeping on it, Adams continued with her false statements. So much for any “heat of the moment” excuses.

Adams was apparently released from jail pending trial after posting a $20,000 bond. Maybe she can sell her gun to help pay for a lawyer.


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39 Comments on “Desperately Seeking Attention

  1. Why either/or? As with any crime, the penalty should take into account intent, if nothing else. In this case, sure, but there other plausible scenarios where the false accusation could be less devious, more careless than malicious, etc. You wouldn’t want to entirely stifle eyewitness testimony either — while fallible, it’s not useless.

    Not sure I really follow this: eyewitness testimony, while famously fallible, isn’t considered a direct accusation of a crime: it’s usually a disinterested witness saying what they saw. It’s pretty clear when there is malice, which would need to be shown in court before they could be convicted on a felony for false reporting. -rc

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  2. Anyone who knowingly falsely accuses someone if a crime should have the sentance the falsely accused person faced assigned to them.

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  3. Obviously not all claims are false but in cases like these, we are left to wonder just how many are fabricated, either for personal fame, or revenge.

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  4. Additionally, she should lose her gun rights, regardless of whether she pleads down to a misdemeanor (the likely outcome).

    The actual charge is already a misdemeanor, but your point still stands. -rc

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  5. There are many who file false police reports and the penalty is often not much more than a slap on the wrist. It should be the same as the penalty for the crime they are falsely reporting. PLUS the cost of the investigation. The more we can discourage this the more effective our police can be at arresting people who DO commit crimes. This one included.

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  6. This is a sobering story for anyone but men in particular since the case involved a man. The idea that an innocent person could be falsely accused and arrested, with lifelong effects, is horrifying. The police did a great job and it’s not their fault that the guy may have ongoing problems for no good reason. Hopefully the story won’t plague him in Greece as much as it would if he were a local.

    One concern though. I would change it to “When it’s proven that someone *INTENTIONALLY* lied to implicate an innocent person of a heinous crime….”

    It would be important to avoid making actual victims fear reporting crimes that really happened.

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      • To lie is to say something factually incorrect. You can do it without intent.

        Bad memory: “The Mariners had their first winning season in 1993.” Acually it was 1991, I just misremembered.

        Differing perception: “He moved toward my car door to attack me” and “I stepped off the curb to let someone with an armload of packages pass” – two reports of the same incident.

        There are many other examples.

        Sorry, but you’re way off base with this. Have you ever looked at a dictionary? I have (American Heritage® 2016):

        lie2 (lī)
        n.
        1. A false statement deliberately presented as being true; a falsehood.
        2. Something meant to deceive or mistakenly accepted as true: learned his parents had been swindlers and felt his whole childhood had been a lie.

        v.intr.
        1. To present false information with the intention of deceiving.
        2. To convey a false image or impression: Appearances often lie.

        There’s a massive difference between deliberate false statements — lies — and “misremembering” or being honestly mistaken. -rc

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  7. Neither. Bringing false accusations should be prosecuted, with an appropriate possible sentence. The sentence should not be dependent upon the offense falsely reported.

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  8. My gut says “Give them the penalty the falsely accused would have received”… BUT…!

    It is well-documented that women and minorities often receive harsher penalties than white males for similar crimes. That being the case, could we trust that — for example — if Brock Turner had been a victim of a false accusation, his accuser would have received the relative slap on the wrist that he received, rather than getting the book thrown at her with the maximum penalty that he was at risk of?

    If we are going to say that a false accuser should get what the accused would have got, then we must have absolutely no sentencing leeway or range of sentences; conviction on charge “X” must always receive precisely penalty “Y” — no more and no less — or we risk an adjudged false accuser receiving a harsher punishment than the accused would have received from a judge who harbors even unconscious bias. And, if that should happen, the convicted would have no reasonable way to appeal the sentence, since proving even CONSCIOUS bias is damnnably hard without some pretty egregious examples to hang a case on; unconscious bias, even more so.

    I’m pretty sure that adsolutely rigid sentencing rules that give judges zero leeway for extenuating circumstances would be unacceptable to the American people (At least, I HOPE they would; they would certainly be unacceptable to me!), but I don’t see any other way to ensure that the accuser got the sentence that the accused WOULD have, from any arbitrary judge.

    “…then we must have absolutely no sentencing leeway or range of sentences; conviction on charge “X” must always receive precisely penalty “Y” — no more and no less.”

    Of course there’s a range of penalties, and leeway for extenuating circumstances: even in this exact case, it’s clearly spelled out as 1-10 years. That’s a lot of leeway. -rc

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    • But my point is that if — to use my example — Brock Turner was liable for up to 14 years’ imprisonment (as he was), but was given six months (of which he served three), had he been falsely-accused, should the accuser have received the six months or the 14 years? How would we know that the sentence given the accuser had any relationship to what the accused would have received?

      Now, granted, we as a society might decide that a false accusation ALWAYS gets the maximum that the accused COULD have received but — given historical disparities in sentencing — could anyone honestly think that that would work out fairly, in the long run, with sentencing ranges being available?

      The only case where I might find that automatic-maximum acceptable (and even that’s only “MIGHT”!) is a case where police or prosecutors withheld exculpatory evidence, because they’re supposed to KNOW better!

      Essentially, I don’t see any way by which giving the accuser the accused’s potential sentence is going to be equitable.

      Ah, now I understand. No, it’s not about exact sentence parity because it would be absolutely impossible to know what the sentence would have been. It’s not that with extenuating circumstances in a trial of an actual rapist has to be mirrored to the false accuser, but rather that the penalty range would. In your example: six months to 14 years: that’s a huge leeway to be applied to the false accusers’ extenuating circumstances, like what the accuser’s motive was. -rc

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  9. You don’t want to go too hard. When there’s so much “he-said/she-said”, it’s going to dissuade real victims from coming forward out of fear that they’ll be the ones arrested if they aren’t believed. You can try and say “it needs solid evidence of falsification”, but I don’t think a genuine victim is going to be thinking that clearly when their abusive spouse shows them in the news how women are being sent to prison for 10 years because of their accusation, and now they have a new tool to control their victim. I think the current laws regarding false accusations should be sufficient. I think anything more than a “slap on the wrist” would cause more harm to society than it would prevent.

    Even in this specific scenario, do we know if the cameras had 100% coverage? What if there had been a man who had patted the kid on the head, and it just happened to be out of camera angle and, aside from overreacting, the mother had gotten the face wrong and identified the incorrect person? Is that worth 10 years because nothing was found to corroborate her story, or is it worth 6 months because she overreacted?

    It might be a slap on the wrist compared to the accusation she was making, but 6 months can be a hefty punishment for a parent of such a young child, and should certainly suffice to dissuade them from trying again, especially since any conviction on those terms are going to make any accusations she makes in the future more doubted.

    One thing is for sure, a lot more places have increased camera coverage to deal with false accusations, especially dash cams.

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  10. False accusers should absolutely get the penalty the accused would have received had the accusation be true. To try to ruin an innocent person’s life is just as serious as the accusation, and even more so because he was completely innocent. Plus that kind of punishment might actually be a deterrent. Certainly a $500 fine is not.

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  11. You ask “why shouldn’t she get what she was trying to push on a man that never actually went anywhere near her young daughter?” Your comments seem to imply (at least to me) that you believe she should face kidnapping charges. If that is not what you meant, please ignore the rest of this comment.

    I agree she should face significant penalties, but she should ONLY face the penalties for perjury not for kidnapping. She should not face kidnapping charges because what she did doesn’t meet the legal definition of kidnapping, as you quoted it. What she SHOULD face is perjury charges & the associated penalties. Coincidentally, in this case the penalties for perjury & for kidnapping happen to be the same. But if they hadn’t been the same, she should STILL only face charges for the crimes she actually committed, not those she falsely accused someone else of committing.

    Not quite right: I’m saying the penalty for proven purposeful false testimony that could have resulted in significant prison time should have that significant prison time be applied to perjury, not that (for example in this case) she should be charged with kidnapping. -rc

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  12. On the surface, I like the assertion that a (provably) false accusation should be subject to the same penalty as the accused crime. But let’s probe the boundaries of that. Would you think that is true even for a capital crime? At the other end, consider an offense with a relatively minor legal penalty but significant social repercussions — might it be true that false accusation of that offense deserves greater penalty than the offense would?

    I’m reminded of an article I once read, suggesting that victims of attempted rape should accuse their attackers of indecent exposure rather than attempted rape; the article asserted that the victim would be spared a difficult prosecution and the the attacker would be equally unpopular in jail and would suffer appropriate “indignities” as a result. I have no idea whether any of that makes sense, but it was an intriguing idea.

    While the thought of a capital crime came to me as I was writing, I didn’t dive very deep into the idea, but my initial reaction was yes. While it’s extremely unlikely to result in a death penalty, “20 to life” for falsely and maliciously accusing someone of willful murder doesn’t strike me as an outrage. -rc

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  13. Here, Here, Randy. If this principle were implemented more often, then maybe our society would begin to adjust itself toward the just and true. Just maybe, ya think? We hope the accusations against this man are Totally Expunged so that he never has to answer ‘Yes” to question of whether he has ever been arrested.

    That’s what his lawyer is trying to get for him — in part to ensure he can return to the U.S. again in the future. -rc

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  14. 2% of reports are false. This is a ‘solution’ desperately seeking a problem. The actual intent of this ‘solution’ is to use it as a threat to silence legitimate reports.

    Oh, you know my “actual intent” do you? Pray tell me about your mind-reading superpowers! It doesn’t matter the percentage: 2 percent is way too many cases — if that’s true, it’s much higher than I would have guessed. No, this is about justice when it happens AND it’s malicious: it’s a very serious crime, and the penalty should be more than a slap on the hand. -rc

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    • There were 10,554,985 arrests in 2017. If 2% of those were falsely accused, that means 211,100 innocent people went to jail in just that one year alone. Those people have public records that falsely claim they committed crimes ranging from simple theft to child rape. I think that’s the problem.

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  15. Isn’t there a commandment that weighs in on this topic?

    Her punishment should be biblical.

    Stoning? -rc

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  16. A parallel: Here in NJ, there is a scandal on the new governor’s election campaign team, where after his win and successful appointments to good jobs that a woman accused a co-campaigner of rape and demanded he be fired. Apparently she had went to the police and they declined to press charges, so she went through connection channels to ‘get justice’. Result: he was forced out while she’s still employed, and a reopening of the case again came back with recommendation of no prosecution (apparently the fluids found didn’t belong to him?).

    While a gray zone he-said/she-said, if it wasn’t taken to court AND WON (in the absence of overwhelming evidence), neither should be out of a job, and sensitivity applied such that they both can execute their jobs properly (or compensated if not possible).

    The press seems to have backed the woman’s position exclusively, even as the male claims innocence, which also needs correction….

    Problem statement: the press is not interested in being fair or impartial.

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  17. A question: did you cut and paste the citation “Article 5. Crimes Against Public Justice, §61-5-3, Penalties for perjury, subordination of perjury, and false swearing”? Just wondering what “subordination of perjury” and how it relates to “subornation” of perjury.

    More precisely, it was a copy/paste — couldn’t cut from the state’s web site. 🙂 I did a quick search and it seems other states use “subordination of perjury” too. -rc

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  18. For such a heinous lie, Ms. Adams deserves an appropriately severe penalty.

    Am I the only reader who sees her “cultural misunderstanding” excuse as a clue to a possible motive? To me it seems that, upon seeing a brown-skinned foreigner at “her” mall, Ms. Adams assumed he must be up to no good. Thank God there was a thorough and unbiased investigation — men have been convicted or killed based on these kinds of false reports. Unfortunately, America has a long and shameful tradition of falsely accusing people of color of made-up crimes.

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  19. “…The idea that an innocent person could be falsely accused and arrested, with lifelong effects, is horrifying….”

    That’s how Alfred Hitchcock got his start. The Lodger, 1927.

    That was actually his fifth film as director. It was based on a 1913 horror novel by Marie Adelaide Belloc Lowndes, itself based on the Jack the Ripper murders, and greatly influenced the suspense genre — and of course his career. First was Number 13 (1922), which was unfinished as the funding fell through just after filming started. Always Tell Your Wife (1923) was a comedy short co-directed with Seymour Hicks, and only one of the two reels can be found. Then The Pleasure Garden (1925, and fully restored in 2012), and 1927’s The Mountain Eagle was lost (no known prints). Prolific times. -rc

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  20. I would extend this. If a prosecutor is determined to deliberately withhold exculpatory evidence (or other misconduct), and the defendant was convicted, but later released because of prosecutor misconduct, the prosecutor should instantly receive the same sentence.

    (realistically, this should extend to all “officers of the court”.)

    This kind of prosecutor misconduct is “relatively” rare, but it destroys trust in the system. Even the Supreme Court ruled the prosecution must turn over exculpatory/all evidence, there are notorious cases of prosecutors who routinely ignore the law.

    I’m with you on the first paragraph, but not the parenthetical: defense attorneys are consider “officers of the court.” The guilt should be limited to those who acted with knowledge to conceal the evidence. -rc

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    • If the defense attorney knows of malpractice by the court or prosecutor, but does not bring it up in a timely manner, they should suffer consequences.

      And a good defense attorney’s job, by definition, is to do what they can to get their client off. Bit of a quandary. Of course, if they have knowledge of a real crime, I think they are obligated to report it.

      I don’t agree that is the defense’s job. The defense’s job is to ensure they get a fair trial — that evidence presented is valid, that testimony is by actual experts, that someone isn’t lying. I don’t think it’s their job to get them off by whatever means they can; they have to follow the rules too. Still, I’d think if they became aware of malfeasance in court, they would certainly bring it up immediately especially if it would help his or her client, and rightly so. -rc

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  21. The (maybe) unexpected consequence of prosecuting false reports is that the future reports will be questioned less.

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  22. One thing other commenters haven’t touched on is that most humans are irrational about something, to a greater or lesser degree. The ones who are irrational about major things get called crazy, but on some level we’re all nuts.

    If her kid being kidnapped is her nuts — or, as another commenter noted, possibly ‘brown people’ — she might not be mentally competent to judge actual threats pertaining to it.

    Humans are masters at self-rationalization. We do crazy stuff all the time, but we don’t want to admit we did something without a good reason, so we rationalize the moment of nuts after the fact, to the extent we often don’t even remember acting irrationally. Usually it’s pretty minor — we go to the fridge for a cold drink and come back with a sandwich but no drink, rationalize it as not really being thirsty, only to go get that drink a minute or so later.

    When it intersects other people, if they share the irrationality, they might not even notice it — noticing it might pierce their self-rationalization, after all. It’s only when it’s not shared that people usually notice the nuts, and often end up wondering how someone like that can function in society — wholly unaware of the irony of that thought.

    I was once targeted with pepper spray (thankfully the dispenser was cheap and she missed) because I inadvertently stepped into a situation she was nuts about: I, as a large man, ‘approached’ her car in a ‘menacing’ fashion. She ‘knew’ then that I had nefarious intent, and felt she had no choice but to defend herself.

    The reason I stepped towards her car (by about two feet, and mind you that her car was still well out of arms reach from me) was because someone was walking the other way on the sidewalk with an armload of packages, and I was getting out of their way. What the woman in the car ‘saw’ was wildly different from what I and the teenage girl with the packages saw. I know all of this because she called 911 with one hand while fumbling for the spray with the other, and the police told me afterwards.

    She might even have hit me with the spray despite the cheap dispenser were it not for my own personal nuts — mild PTSD and a connected hyper-awareness of potential incoming attacks. The crucial difference between my nuts and her nuts is I know my judgment is impaired that way, so I delay my reaction to verify an actual attack before reacting.

    So it’s entirely possible that the reason for the false report in the article and subsequent false reports that contradict the video records isn’t malice, but a different perception of reality. You see the same sort of variant perception of reality every time a cop talks about totality of circumstances rather than pointing to any one specific thing, when justifying an arrest — the woman in the article might well have done exactly the same thing, just with different experiences and expectations coloring her perceptions of reality.

    If that was the case, she needs treatment not prosecution. Putting people in prison as punishment for something they cannot help being comes perilously close to a bill of attainder, on top of the moral and ethical problems it creates.

    When I saw the length of this I thought it would be a diatribe, but indeed that was interesting. Yes, there is always a “not guilty by reason of insanity” (or, my preference, “guilty but insane”) defense in any crime, and I agree that should include this type of offense. -rc

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  23. Not to be too crude but no comments about hubby’s hand on wifey’s right breast…..or more correctly, IMHO, guarding his wife’s right boob?? Maybe I’m the only one who saw “One hand on MY gun and one hand on MY woman.”

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    • I thought that’s what it referred to in the text under the picture where it calls him her “handy husband”.

      Glad someone noticed that. 🙂 -rc

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      • Facepalm….I usually so appreciate Randy’s subtle use of language like that and I completely missed it. Time to take away my “word nerd” card.

        😎 -rc

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  24. My issue with your suggestion is on the chilling effect it would have on people reporting crimes they weren’t sure they could prove happened. Especially sexual assault but also many others including hate crimes. These crimes are already tremendously under reported for many reasons. If you add to that the possibility these victims could now be prosecuted with the same penalty the guilty would face because they couldn’t prove what happened …. I don’t think that’s the better path to travel.

    I fail to see how prosecuting those who are “proven to have lied to implicate an innocent person” — especially with “malice, which would need to be shown in court before they could be convicted” — can have a chilling effect whatever. This cannot possibly apply to those who “couldn’t prove what happened” — which is NEVER the job of the victim or witnesses, it’s the job of police and prosecutors. Those caveats are the safeguards against the problems you’re worried about. -rc

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  25. “[I]n his 30 years as a police officer in the city, ‘no actual child abductions have been reported or investigated.’ Yet such rumors persist online.”

    A lot of people claim that so-called stranger danger is the reason for needing sex offender databases. Yet this statement implies that there have been false reports of child abductions but no actual abductions. Although this comment is fairly tangential, it still shows that the hysteria is unnecessary or counterproductive.

    While there are of course some actual crimes against children, most hysteria is unnecessary or counterproductive…! -rc

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  26. What baffles me is that this charming young couple possessed of such character and judgement can walk around with lethal weapons, legally by all appearances.

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