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Smart with stupidness

By Kevin Baldeosingh

Stupidity may soon become a legal defence against crime and, as with Section 34, there are already certain persons in this place preparing to take advantage of it.

Last week, the Privy Council asked the Court of Appeal to rule on whether sentencing a mentally impaired person to death was cruel and unusual punishment. The case arose out of an appeal by Marlon Taitt, who in 2008 was found guilty of murdering URP foreman Anthony McCarthy. A British forensic psychiatrist who examined Taitt found him to be of "borderline low intellectual capacity": which, except for the borderline, is exactly the opinion I have of some radio talkshow hosts, most religious leaders, and all herbalists.

Mental illness, of course, has long been an accepted defence in law, because an insane person is not responsible for their actions. It is also a basic jurisprudential principle that punishment should be proportionate to offence, so I'm wondering if a clever lawyer might try to meld both precedents. After all, the insanity plea is usually used in cases of homicide, so it is theoretically possible that proportionally reduced mental capacity could be used as a defence in lesser crimes.

Thus, last Sunday, the Trinidad Guardian reported former CL Financial chairman Lawrence Duprey — who may soon be no longer former — as saying that he didn't have a damn cent. This struck many people as a peculiar claim. Was Duprey saying that all his cents were blessed? Or that he was so rich that he didn't even have small change? Or had the reporter misunderstood the word "cent" and Duprey was actually saying that he didn't stink to high heaven?

At any rate, since in the next breath he added that he was flying to the Middle East and Uganda to do charity work, which is not something penniless people usually do, everyone assumed that Duprey thought that everyone else was a damn fool. But it is possible that he wanted everybody to think that he was unbelievably stupid. Maybe his lawyers plan to argue that a man who doesn't understand that poor people don't live in luxury apartments in Miami is too financially dotish to be held responsible for thousands of people losing their life savings.

Other Clico executives could also utilise this law by arguing that, if Section 34 had been arranged from the time Herbert Volney was presented as a UNC candidate, then they would have been really stupid to flaunt that number by requesting it on a license plate for their daughter's car. Similarly, former Hindu Credit Union president Harry Harnarine would just have to show up in court and speak.

But this law, if it is accepted by the Court of Appeal, could also be used by plaintiffs. Just this week, for example, president of the Inter-Religious Organisation Harrypersad Maharaj was threatening to sue CNC3 for a report in which he stated his support for a statement made by UNC chairman Jack Warner. Warner had refused to attend the Divali Nagar's opening ceremony because Opposition Leader Keith Rowley had been invited. But Maharaj now says that his support wasn't for that part of Warner's statement, but for Warner's praising Indian people for their struggle.

So, according to Maharaj himself, he lacked the intelligence to realise that his declaration of support would have been interpreted by a reasonable person as agreement with the main point from Warner's letter to the Divali Nagar organisers. Indeed, even Warner said, "when you, Pundit Maharaj, can come here and say publicly that you support what I said last Saturday, you stand ten feet tall''. So, if the case does come to court, Maharaj's lawyers can argue that CNC3's reporters failed to ascertain that the IRO president had the mental capacity to know what he was saying and they were therefore irresponsible to report his remarks.

While it is a fact that societies with the highest levels of religiosity also have the highest levels of violence and corruption, this law would make religious leaders active proponents of criminality, simply by their traditional support of stupidity. Last Sunday, for example, a group of Seventh-Day Adventists spent an hour on radio arguing that the Bible was more reliable than science, because scientific theories were always changing whereas the Bible stayed the same. So, according to these church leaders who teach young people, changing your mind when presented with new evidence is a sign of stupidity, whereas steadfast belief in copies of copies of copies of 3,000-year-old documents is a mark of intelligence.

Such logic, if presented in a court, would surely provide incontrovertible evidence of low mental capacity. This also explains why politicians always seek the support of religious leaders, since a stupid population is easier to govern. And, if you think it unlikely that Parliament would ever approve such legislation, bear in mind that a law which protects stupid people would provide an iron-clad defence for politicians.

• kbaldeosingh@hotmail.com

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