A legal dispute in France has erupted following the refusal to prosecute a murderer on the grounds of insanity.
Sarah Halimi was a Orthodox Jew. She was 65 years old retired doctor and a former preschool director. In April 2017, she was beaten and thrown to her death from her flat in northeast Paris. The attack was has been widely considered to be antisemitic.
Kobili Traore was the man who brutally took her life. He was her neighbour and Malian Muslim. The vicious attack lasted from 20 minutes up to half an hour and culminated in him throwing her out of the window, resulting in her tragic death. He chanted verses of the Qur’an and shouted “Allahu Akbar”, meaning “God is greatest” in Arabic.
The court, however, will not be trying the man for murder on the grounds that he had experienced a “psychotic episode. The decision that was made by Cour de Cassation, France’s suprme court of appeal. The judges in the court ruled that the man had lost all ability to make rational decisions. The decision has recieved a large amount of backlash primiarly but not entirely from France’s Jewish community. The response was also mirrored outside the Jewish communtiy in France, but as
However the reason for this ruling was that the man had under the influence of cannabis. According to the court, his voluntary use of cannabis was irrelevant to his loss of control. Judges said that the cause of madness has no impact on the ruling as long as the insanity was proven. Confirmation came from independent psychiatric analysis.
The court decided that Kobili Traore shouldn’t be tried in court, and instead should remain in the secure hospital he had been keeped in since he comitted the crime.
Some believe that this decision could have dangerous consequences
The public’s anger is rooted in both emotion and reason. Thousands have protested in in and outside Paris against the decision.
Aude Weill Raynal, a lawyer, said to not ask her to explain the unexplainable. She stated that “taking drugs in most cases is an aggravating factor. But here, it is considered extenuating.”
The ruling may have created a dangerous precedent, where a murderer can be excused with the claim that they lacked discernment as a result of alcohol or drug abuse.
This is especially relevant due to the high rate of cannabis use amongst perpertrators of antisemitic crime. However cannabis use is additionally prevalent in those who guilty of terrorist attacks. This is the greatest and most obvious argument against the decision.
Similarly, being under the influence results in harsher punishment when someone is tried for a causing a traffic incident. Even when no incidenet has occured somone is guilty of making the decision to drive, or operate heavy machinery under the influence. We do not deem someone unable to make that decision.
In the majority of murder cases, the fact that the murderer has taken drugs or drunk alcohol does not prevent them from going to trial. Even when there is a temporary loss of control, or confusion. It is not uncommon for it to lead to a harsher sentence.
Expert opnion is the imperative deciding factor
Expert opinion is what makes the Traore case different. Two of the three psychiatrists who examined Traore concluded that his sense of smell was not only altered (as it would if he had smoked a joint) but completely eliminated.
Traore has brain damage from more than 10 years of substance abuse causing permanent damage. According to most experts, he suffered a severe psychotic attack that night. He feared he was the persuit of demons.
“The crime was the crime of a madman” was said in justificatory statement. They followed up by saying that they don’t judge the mad in France.
This leads to the second argument against the ruling. It concerns the role of experts before the courts. It’s a joke to regard psychiatry as a ‘science’ on which to base supposedly neutral decisions in court, said philosopher and former minister, Luc Ferry. “The psychiatrists disagreed between themselves”. Some argue that it shouldn’t be possible for the collective expert opinion to not be unanimous.
The root emotional cause of the anger is the belief that the court’s decision was predetermined. They feel that the investigation did not address the true nature of the attack from the beginning. This was both antisemitic, and if it wasn’t planned, it certainly stemmed naturally from Traore’s cultural and religious prejudices.
It is not enough to agree with an expert’s findings when you ask for one. It is important to consider all possible sides. This can only happen in a trial. He said that justice is not the job of experts.
A judge from Nancy, Jack Broda, has resigned over the Halimi ruling. He said that magistrates who were conducting the investigation gave too much importance to psychoiatry.
Attempting to change the law
Some believe that the French justice systems have a left-wing bias; they tend to favor the poor, black or Muslim population and minimize the crimes against the Jew. This is unspurisingly, a controversial and contested issue.
The Cour de Cassation affirmed the murder to be antisemitic, although many campaigners felt that it was a ploy to placate public anger towards the lack of a trial. Some question the legitimacy of an official antisemitic killing, which implies intent. However, it can also be the result of a man who is confused. It is difficult to determine intent.
A murderer in France can legally be declared insane, even if he took the drugs that destroyed him judgment voluntarily. This is the what the current law upholds. Some want to change the law in response to this judgement and some members of the French government are already attempting to do exactly that.
However, it is unfortunately too late for Sarah Halimi’s family.