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Legally Stunned – When the Legal System doesn’t Make Sense

Updated on January 30, 2012


Do you know why there is an allergen warning on Jars of peanuts that say, "WARNING: May contain traces of nuts."

Answer: It's there to prevent a lawsuit.

Ridiculous Law Suits

Sometimes the Law doesn’t seem to make sense to me. Example, how can a thief sue a Homeowner for getting bitten by the dog, while he was trying to break into his home and the thief wins the case?

This happened in America and the Judge told him, he should've posted a sign that said, "beware of dog". The Homeowner had to pay for the burglar's medical bills.

I’m sure we all remember that case in the UK, sometime ago where a Homeowner shot a thief and he (the homeowner) ended up going to prison for it. Then there’s the tobacco issue where some smokers are suing tobacco companies and winning cases for having cancer and other health problems.

Only recently -The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts has ruled that cigarette smokers who have suffered no apparent injuries to their health may bring a lawsuit to force tobacco makers to pay for medical monitoring to scan for cancer that may develop in the future.

'Healthy' Smokers Win Landmark Tobacco Ruling – Oct 09


My Hotdog Story

O.K now don’t laugh. This is just “minor”. I was with my friends in a Canteen somewhere and bought a Hotdog. As I lifted it to eat, the hotdog fell out and dropped on the floor. I calmly walked up to the canteen and told them my hot dog fell on the floor and politely asked for another one. Did they give it to me? Yes, with a smile and no extra charge.

Walking back to my seat, I thought to myself, it was nice of them to give me another one because it clearly was my fault. It wasn’t like there was an earthquake and the hotdog missed my mouth. My point – I’m used to living in a society where you can make ridiculous claims.

Security Men

In the UK, Security men are not allowed to touch or hold shoplifters. They may just walk up to them and say “we need to check your bags please” or they could maybe block their way and ask them to politely step aside or inside. If they are outside, they are asked politely to return the goods back to the shop. I was discussing this with some friends and said to them - very soon the Security Officer will say to the thief “Please sit down, the Police are on their way. Would you like a cup of coffee while you are waiting?”

Family Issues

This one upsets me the most. A parent smacks their child lightly. The child calls the police and reports it. Before you know it, the police, the social services are all involved and the kid ends up in Foster care. I hear these stories and it’s happened to someone I know.

Apparently the social services can put words in a kid’s mouth. E.g. During Interrogation "so your mum slapped you hard?" and the kid’s thinking and nearly agrees “a little bit hard” they reply. Social worker says “and you cried?". Even if the kid didn’t cry, she’d nod her head and most of these kids get moved from one foster home to another which gives them a bad foundation in life.

The person who I know, that it happened to – luckily for them, the child wasn’t getting on with the Foster parents and requested to return to her parents. The parents were nearly put on a Child abusers list, which would have affected their medical careers – all because it’s acceptable to call the police on one’s parents. I hear some kids divorce their parents, but I won't go there in this Hub.


Finally, I’ll leave you with a Joke, I read on a Coffee mug” a few days ago.

Police Officer pulls over Driver and says to him: “Sir, could you blow into this bag please.”

Driver: Puzzled, because he hadn’t done anything wrong, asks “why Officer”?

Police Officer: “My Chips are hot!”.



One Man's Notice for Thieves who Sue


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    • Lady_E profile image

      Elena 6 years ago from London, UK

      @Jlava73 - It really does make you wonder.

      Thanks for stopping. :-)

    • Jlava73 profile image

      Jennifer Vasconcelos 6 years ago from Cyberspace and My Own World

      Great Hub! Makes you wonder sometimes LOL.

    • Lady_E profile image

      Elena 6 years ago from London, UK


      Sorry - I just saw this comment now. What a pity that happened. Money and Power. I hope you and your daughter keep strong, stay in contact and when she is of age - you can both catch up on the years you have lost.

      Whatever happens, she is still your wonderful daughter. Not even money can take away that fact.

      Thanks for sharing your experience.

      Take care.

    • profile image

      kimberlyslyrics 6 years ago

      Lady, what a fantastic hub. I am a victim of being raped by the family court system and lost all contact with my daughter 12 years ago. She is 14. It all came down to money and my x had more than 10 families worth. I have to say this hub is brilliant, I am sending it to my mom and voted way up

      Don't know how to thank you


    • Lady_E profile image

      Elena 6 years ago from London, UK

      @Eileen So True. Affording a good lawyer makes a good difference.

      @JamaGenee - Judges have so much power over people's lives. I am happy to read about The West Memphis 3.

      I think when people are in legal situations/cases - they just need to pray for good luck. As you noted, they make illogical decisions. (well, some)

      Best Wishes.

    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 6 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      District attorneys will fight tooth and nail to avoid being proved wrong for bringing the case to trial in the first place. The poor man executed for arson when it wasn't arson at all is a case in point.

      Judges are another brick wall in attempts to free the innocent. The West Memphis 3 would still be in prison today if the presiding judge at their trials and several appeals had not FINALLY been replaced by another judge.

      Don't even get me started on the current crop of Supremes. Suffice that we need an even higher court to overturn their illogical decisions.

    • Eileen Hughes profile image

      Eileen Hughes 6 years ago from Northam Western Australia

      That is a great hub and so true. But what annoys me is the fact that lawyers and solicitors do not care if you are innocent or guilty.

      They just want to win for their client to get paid.

      Too bad for the innocent person that cannot afford a real good lawyer.

    • Lady_E profile image

      Elena 7 years ago from London, UK

      Hi Alladream

      He should be sacked for turning a blind eye. lol.... having said that sometimes they let people dig a hole for themselves and catch them just at the exit door.


    • Alladream74 profile image

      Victor Mavedzenge 7 years ago from Oakland, California

      It is a weird world we live in. I saw someone stuffing candy into their bag at Tesco (UK supermarket chain) and the security guard did not do anything! I am pretty sure he saw her but just chose to turn a blind eye

    • Lady_E profile image

      Elena 7 years ago from London, UK

      ** Cheers, Stars439. :)

      ** Depuy - Ok then, we'll cut them a tiny bit of slack. :) Thanks.

      Ps. Checked out your website. Nice and informative.

    • profile image

      DePuy Pinnacle Lawsuit 7 years ago

      This is a funny hub! Thanks for sharing. Some of our laws are indeed confusing and some can even sound ridiculous.

      However, most of the laws are to protect the common welfare of the masses. So I guess we can cut the Judiciary system some slack. Thanks again for this great hub!

    • stars439 profile image

      stars439 7 years ago from Louisiana, The Magnolia and Pelican State.

      Wonderful hub Lady E. GBY

    • Lady_E profile image

      Elena 7 years ago from London, UK

      It's a pity people can't sue anonymously....

      Lovely to read from you, W.W. :)

    • Wrath Warbone profile image

      Terry Chestnutt 7 years ago from Cleveland, Ohio

      That's a good one. In my town if you sue some one you get threatening phone calls. No thanks.

    • Lady_E profile image

      Elena 7 years ago from London, UK

      Hello Jail Talk

      Thanks so much for your comments and offer of support. I hope to follow you once I post this comment. :)

      Ps. Thanks for the email you sent too.

    • JAILTALK profile image

      JAILTALK 7 years ago from Oregon

      Great points. (I love the peanut one)I don't understand, if we had DNA proof, there would be no question as to the guilt. In a balanced system and being mathematically inclined, if x=crime, than -x=-crime. The only thing I do understand, is if the Judge has his own "vindettas" it is you undefended against the judge as everyone watches and raises eyebrows and nothing more.That is why I am starting my campaign so we can band together. E-mail me if you would like to share a story and be heard. Helping those who can't help themselves and changing unjust laws.

    • Lady_E profile image

      Elena 7 years ago from London, UK

      Lol Support Med. Glad you stopped by. Always a pleasure to see you. :)

    • Support Med. profile image

      Support Med. 7 years ago from Michigan

      Recently read part2 and came to read part1. 'Law and Legal' is interested wording and with all of these silly laws no wonder they are not the same. Voted/rated.

    • ladyt11 profile image

      ladyt11 7 years ago

      humorous and very interesting. Great Job!

    • Lady_E profile image

      Elena 7 years ago from London, UK

      Hi Amorea - Thanks for that info on the words: Law and Legal. I will definitely visit your blog on wordpress. Thanks for taking the time to visit.

      Best Wishes.

    • profile image

      amorea13 7 years ago

      Lady E - well that's twice today your articles have encouraged me to comment - like your writing and style and your caring approach - thank you - however - thought you might like to consider this: 'Law' and 'Legal' are NOT the same 'animals' at all though WE as citizens are led (yes led) to believe that they are and it is this which can cause us such 'confusion' in so many facets of our interaction with authority- it would take such a long time to explain but if you ever did want to know more I have a blog-site on wordpress which explains it all - well, nearly all! at (Don't Believe Them 3)

    • Lady_E profile image

      Elena 7 years ago from London, UK

      Thanks Bruno

      I appreciate you stopping by to share those insightful comments. :)

    • Bruno Sp profile image

      Bruno Sp 7 years ago

      Lady_E, where did you find so nice photo? To the point. Question: Why on the jar with white powder for bodybuilders (new BSN truemass) we may read: "Designed to address mood, mental focus and cognitive function"? Answer: because Americans have created so sophisticated law system (and the rest follow the pattern), that the information apprioprate for cocaine we can find on the box containing carbohydrates mainly.

    • Lady_E profile image

      Elena 7 years ago from London, UK

      Thanks so much for your comments ahorseback. I understand your point - sometimes you just have to be in that persons shoes to understand why they took a particular action.

    • ahorseback profile image

      ahorseback 7 years ago

      I am always in a state of amazement at the ironies of [in]justice, it's as if laws are there as a guideline and nothing more, I do believe though that in order to really understand the inequities you have to be a victim ,somehow, of a violent crime. The simplicity of this statement, "There is the law, and then there is justice , " the two seperate ....always. I love it. Nice hub.

    • profile image

      hubpageswriter 7 years ago

      The sign sure catches my eye. Good hub.:)

    • Lady_E profile image

      Elena 7 years ago from London, UK

      Lol Allan - that comment on Boxes to the US tickled me. People aren't taken any changes with the Americans.

      Thanks so much for your comments. :)

    • Allan Douglas profile image

      Allan Douglas 7 years ago from Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee

      I don't have statistics to prove it, but I'm convinced that the USA is the most litigeous society on the face of the Earth. I live in the USA; I can say that without starting an international incident. The things I read about decisions and awards made by "a jury of their peers" amaze me with the apparent lunacy of "responsible" citizens. I don't claim to know what drives this trend toward the thought that people do not need to be resonsible for their own decisions and actions, but it causes me great concern. I began looking at this when I (long ago) worked for a furniture company and noticed that boxes bound for US destinations bore warnings like "Do not stand on glass top table" and boxes of the same product bound for other countries did not.

      I could go on-and-on (and if you've read any of my hubs you know I frequently do) but I'll spare you that! Thanks for another thought provoking hub, Lady_E

    • Lady_E profile image

      Elena 7 years ago from London, UK

      ** Pollyannalana - If it happens again, sue the pants off them. lol. Seriously, a warning should be put on it.

      Best Wishes.

      ** Thanks Tiffany.

    • Tiffany Latte profile image

      TiffanyLatte 7 years ago from USA

      Nice hub Interesting sign.

    • Pollyannalana profile image

      Pollyannalana 7 years ago from US

      I wish green beans would put a warning that they sometimes throw in the stems! I have never swallowed one but it sure hurts the roof of the mouth.

    • Lady_E profile image

      Elena 8 years ago from London, UK

      Hi Csju89 - that is so unfair. As I wrote, the legal system sometimes doesn't make sense. Poor man.

      Thanks for dropping by and sharing that story.

    • Csjun89 profile image

      Csjun89 8 years ago

      I heard there was one case where a burglar fell into the victim's swimming pool and drowned, and the victim was hauled off!

    • Lady_E profile image

      Elena 8 years ago from London, UK

      Hi PlatinumOwl - lol. It makes one laugh, but with a tinge of sadness. It's a pity that the world has come to that. Thanks for stopping.

    • platinumOwl4 profile image

      platinumOwl4 8 years ago

      One man's notice to thieves is great. I observed one similar while passing through Oklahoma. It read, "Trespasser will be shot survivors will be prosecuted".

    • Lady_E profile image

      Elena 8 years ago from London, UK

      Good point magnoliazz - How would they make a living? It's a pity though, because they are toying with people's lives.

      Thanks for stopping.

    • magnoliazz profile image

      magnoliazz 8 years ago from Wisconsin

      An interesting hub!

      Common sense needs to make a come back.

      Of course, if it did, how would all those lawyers make a living?

    • Lady_E profile image

      Elena 8 years ago from London, UK

      ** Thanks Bennett. Regards.

      ** Hi Angel - Good luck with it. I'm sure you'll learn loads and enjoy it too. :)

    • 07Angel01 profile image

      Diane Marie 8 years ago from Broomall, PA

      I love your hubs Lady E. Thanks for the welcome! Needless to say, I am going to school to become a Paralegal; haha..... I look forward to reading more:)

    • bennett16brewer profile image

      bennett16brewer 8 years ago from New York

      very interesting post

    • Lady_E profile image

      Elena 8 years ago from London, UK

      lol Dru. Bimbo? I thought that was a UK slang. Didn't know you used that in US.

      I agree with your comments. Life is unfair, I feel sorry for those wrongfully convicted. People need to protect themselves before they get married - which is sad. I understand why some don't as they are totally in love and "Love is Blind".

      Thanks for stopping.

    • profile image

      druhepkins 8 years ago

      Nice Hub. This thing that really gets me is the amount of people we hear serving several years in jail, and later get released due to new evidence exonerating them with a useless apology. We’re talking 20 years plus sometimes. In a system that states you're INNOCENT until PROVEN guilty, why were they in jail to begin with lol?!? Every day, we throw more and more people in prison that we THINK did the crime and in the end we really don’t know. If there isn’t sufficient evidence, DNA association, body found, murder weapon, ect etc, we need to stop tossing people in jail anyway because we’re trying to console and give closure to the victim, or we feel the person did it, or what have you. People get framed, others are in a place at the wrong time, others can resemble the actual criminal etc etc. And then there are tons of other completely asinine things, like when an 20 year old bimbo marries a tycoon for a year and is suddenly entitled to half of his worth after a divorce. I could go on for days with this lol.

    • Lady_E profile image

      Elena 8 years ago from London, UK

      ** Thanks Susan. Regards.

      ** Cheers coffeesnob. I appreciate your comments.

    • profile image

      coffeesnob 8 years ago

      Our society kind of backwards on this and I think we can only walk backward for a little while - eventually we will fall. Good hub1 and So very true.

    • susanlang profile image

      susanlang 8 years ago

    • Lady_E profile image

      Elena 8 years ago from London, UK

      ** Thanks Acanderson - totally agree with you. Even in the last few weeks, I've heard of a man released from prison cos he was wrongly convicted of Murder of a Celebrity in London.

      ** Cheers Mike - I just don't understand the tobacco companies. In the supermaket near me - all you can see on Cigarette packets is "Smoking Kills". So, people know what they're getting themselves into. I share your thoughts - they shouldn't be allowed to advertise.

      Thanks for the other comments too.

      Happy Holidays. :)

      ** Cheers Rtalloni - Best wishes. :)

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 8 years ago from the short journey

      Keep the dialogue going!

    • Mike Lickteig profile image

      Mike Lickteig 8 years ago from Lawrence KS USA

      This was a great hub, thanks for posting. The stories about children (or neighbors, or anyone else) calling the Police when children are corrected in public with a mild spank are rampant and sad. SRS runs the homes these days, not parents. I am certainly not for child abuse, but as you suggest, often the circumstances are less than abusive. And, foster care as the solution is just--well, sad.

      Tobacco companies shouldn't be allowed to advertise, and I have mixed feelings about all the current ads on television for prescription drugs (ask your doctor if this drug is right for YOU!). These commercials peddling prescription drugs seem like a lawsuit waiting to happen... we'll see, I guess.

      Thanks again for your post, and happy holidays!

    • acanderson24 profile image

      acanderson24 8 years ago

      Some lawsuits are just outrageous...The tobacco "one" is really crazy. We live in the lawsuit era....Wrongful death sentences and wrongful incarcerations are being uncovered at a alarming rate in the U.S. Just makes you wonder how many innocent people have been incarcerated or put to death....

    • Lady_E profile image

      Elena 8 years ago from London, UK

      Hi Skye2day, my HP Angel.

      Lovely to hear from you and thanks for your beautiful, encouraging comments. I'm still blushing. lol.

      It's good to have you back, I'm sure I'm not the only one who has missed your presence. You are in my thoughts, as to what you emailed me. You have a Blessed home.

      Best Wishes xx.

    • Lady_E profile image

      Elena 8 years ago from London, UK

      ** Thanks for your Comments Philipo, you are right. :)

    • skye2day profile image

      skye2day 8 years ago from Rocky Mountains

      Hello LadyE How are you sweets. I loved this hub very darling yet informative. Way big thumbs up. The picture is fantastic. OMG I love it. So true. Thank you for being my loyal fan and visiting my hub and inspiring me as well. I pray you are blessed 100 fold. You touch many lives. I still have an idea, it is obvious my thought process takes a while but I will share one day soon. Your widget is beautiful. What gorgeous skin and the hair wild woman, I love it. Well hp angel cheers for 2day. I love ya, stay blessed. Your writing is powerful and sincere.

    • Philipo profile image

      Philipo 8 years ago from Nigeria

      Things happen differently in different places. All these are direct opposite of what obtains in my country, Nigeria. Thanks for sharing.

    • Lady_E profile image

      Elena 8 years ago from London, UK

      **Hello Duchess,

      Oh Dear! I can't believe the world has come to that - choosing friends that won't make a habit of suing you. Lovely to read from you. :)

      ** Thanks Damescribe, I agree with you. Next time a Judge is being interviewed for his Job, I think I should be on the interview Panel to make sure he is able promote Justice. :)

      ** Thanks Dohn, I understand you - "spare the rod and spoil the child". Nice to hear from you. :)

      ** Lol Andromida. You are right. In other Countries they definitely would ask me to pay for another Hotdog. Thanks for your comments. :)

    • andromida profile image

      syras mamun 8 years ago

      Some laws are really funny which make me think that we really live in a funny world.Yet there are many silly laws which can ruin the life of innocents like being listed as child abusing parents incidents.I think law makers need to reassess some law so as innocent people get the justice. Elena,surely you are lucky enough to get another hotdog;in my place it's not possible.thanks.

    • dohn121 profile image

      dohn121 8 years ago from Hudson Valley, New York

      No, I could start a hub just on some real bone-headed cases that were ruled the wrong way. I was beaten (but not abused, there is a difference) by my parents and I deserved everything single head slap! If I could go back in time, I'd probably put myself in a head-lock :D Thanks for a great hub, Lady_E.

    • Dame Scribe profile image

      Dame Scribe 8 years ago from Canada

      It's alarming to hear decisions will not get reconsidered when proof for otherwise is supplied. I agree that people in leadership positions should pass stringent mental health assessments. Great Hub. :)

    • profile image

      Duchess OBlunt 8 years ago

      It's a pretty sad state of affairs when you choose your friends because they DON'T make a habit of suing people, but in some cases that actually is a deciding factor on whether or not to invited them to dinner or a party.

      It's definitely gone to the point of ridiculous with some folks.

    • Lady_E profile image

      Elena 8 years ago from London, UK

      * Hi Pete, you have got a point there. Infact, I think the Tobacco companies should be banned from advertising.

      Thanks. I appreciate your comments.

      * Hi Laura, lovely to hear from you. Yes, those DV Hubs are a bit sad but have to be written to help people. I hope the ones you wrote, help a lot of people. Thanks for your comments. :)

      * Drcrischasse - thanks so much for stopping and for your comments.

      * Kartika - thanks for your comments. It's interesting to see the way different countries deal with crime/Justice.

    • kartika damon profile image

      kartika damon 8 years ago from Fairfield, Iowa

      Ralph, the death penalty has outraged me for years and this whole busniness of not allowing prisoners to get DNA testing when it is finally available and could prove them innocent is outrageous - I guess the justice system, once again, proves it is not so just after all.

      Lady E - thank your lucky stars the UK is a kinder more gentle nation in these cases you mention. :)

    • drcrischasse profile image

      Cristopher Chasse 8 years ago from Boston

      Wonderful and informative

    • Laura du Toit profile image

      Laura du Toit 8 years ago from South Africa

      Thanks Lady E

      It was great reading a hub with a bit of humor after all the more serious DV hubs this week!

      Thanks for sharing!

    • Pete Maida profile image

      Pete Maida 8 years ago

      There are many silly laws but I don't think the tobacco laws fit. These companies have known for a half of a century that they are peddling poison and they have used every trick in the book to get people hooked. The purposely sponsor music events aimed at teenagers and use very marketing tool to attract kids to smoking. They are a bane I'm in favor of any law that slaps them down.

    • Lady_E profile image

      Elena 8 years ago from London, UK

      Cheers Nancy. Thanks for your comments, explaining more of the situ; It is a scary situation. I have pasted your link in the Hub.


    • profile image

      Nancy's Niche 8 years ago

      Ralph, is right on target with Scalia’s attitude.

      A decision by our Supreme Court concluded,(by a 5-4 ruling) that, “The finality of a conviction is more important than making sure the right person was convicted.”

      This attitude concerning innocence should scare the hell out of everyone! In my opinion, the justice’s reasoning for their decision is a disgrace to the position they hold…

      Justice Antonin Scalia (using an Oregon prosecutor’s questionable data) felt that even 1% of false convictions were acceptable stating that he was satisfied with the judicial system. He also stated, “One cannot have a system of criminal punishment without accepting the possibility that someone will be punished mistakenly.” He wrote, “That is a truism, not a revelation.”

      Like our government, our Supreme Court Justices should have term limits. Scalia, is a perfect example of the “God Complex”, they seem to develop over a lifetime appointment.

    • Lady_E profile image

      Elena 8 years ago from London, UK

      What a sad story. Worst case scenario - not just put in prison but executed. I wonder how this could happen though. Didn't he have a good lawyer or couldn't his family and friends have done more to acquit him? I hope there are laws in place to prevent this type of thing from happening. It's a waste of innocent lives.

      Thanks for your comments.

    • Ralph Deeds profile image

      Ralph Deeds 8 years ago from Birmingham, Michigan

      At least this doesn't happen in the UK

      Dahlia Lithwick

      Innocent Until Executed

      We have no right to exoneration.

      Published Sep 3, 2009

      From the magazine issue dated Sep 14, 2009

      For years, death-penalty opponents and supporters have been working their way toward a moment in which each side would rethink things. They were seeking a case in which a clearly innocent defendant was wrongly put to death. In a 2005 Supreme Court case that actually had nothing to do with the execution of innocents, Justices David Souter and Antonin Scalia tangled over the possibility that such a creature even existed. Souter fretted that "the period starting in 1989 has seen repeated exonerations of convicts under death sentences, in numbers never imagined before the development of DNA tests." To which Scalia retorted: "The dissent makes much of the newfound capacity of DNA testing to establish innocence. But in every case of an executed defendant of which I am aware, that technology has confirmed guilt." Scalia went on to blast "sanctimonious" death-penalty opponents and a 1987 study on innocent exonerations whose "obsolescence began at the moment of publication," then concluded that there was not "a single case—not one—in which it is clear that a person was executed for a crime he did not commit."

      This suggested that if anyone found such a case, the Scalias of the world would rethink matters. As of today, the Innocence Project, a national organization dedicated to exonerating the wrongfully convicted through DNA testing, claims there have been 241 postconviction DNA exonerations, of which 17 were former death-row inmates spared execution. The gap between their facts and Scalia's widens every year. And now we may have found that case of an innocent put to death: Cameron Todd Willingham, executed by the state of Texas in 2004 for allegedly setting a 1991 house fire that killed his three young daughters.

      David Grann, who wrote a remarkable piece about the case in last week's New Yorker, sifted through the evidence against Willingham to reveal that the entire prosecution was a train wreck. And at every step in his appeal, Willingham's claims of innocence were met with the response that he'd already had more than enough due process for a baby killer.

      But you needn't take Grann's word for it. In 2004 Gerald Hurst, an acclaimed scientist and fire investigator, conducted an independent investigation of the evidence in the Willingham case and came away with little doubt that it was an accidental fire—likely caused by a space heater or bad wiring. Hurst found no evidence of arson, and wrote a report to try to stay the execution. According to documents obtained by the Innocence Project, it appears nobody at the state Board of Pardons and Paroles or the Texas governor's office even took note of Hurst's conclusions. Just before Willingham was executed, he told the Associated Press, "[T]he most distressing thing is the state of Texas will kill an innocent man and doesn't care they're making a mistake."

      Since Willingham's death, two other independent inquiries found no evidence of arson. In 2007 the state of Texas commissioned another renowned arson expert, Craig Beyler, to examine the Willingham evidence. Beyler's report, issued two weeks ago, concluded that investigators had no scientific basis for claiming the fire was arson.

      One might think that all this would give a boost to death-penalty opponents, who have long contended that conclusive proof of an innocent murdered by the state would fundamentally change the debate. But that was before the goalposts began to shift this summer. In June, by a 5–4 margin, the Supreme Court ruled that a prisoner did not have a constitutional right to demand DNA testing of evidence in police files, even at his own expense. "A criminal defendant proved guilty after a fair trial does not have the same liberty interests as a free man," wrote Chief Justice John Roberts. And two months later, Justices Scalia and Clarence Thomas went even further when the Supreme Court ordered a new hearing in Troy Davis's murder case, after seven of nine eyewitnesses recanted their testimony. Justice Scalia, dissenting from that order, wrote for himself and Thomas, "[T]his court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is 'actually' innocent."

      As a constitutional matter, Scalia's assertion is not wrong. The court has never found a constitutional right for the actually innocent to be free from execution. When the court flirted with the question in 1993, a majority ruled against the accused, but Chief Justice William Rehnquist left open the possibility that it may be unconstitutional to execute someone with a "truly persuasive demonstration" of innocence. Now, in Scalia's America, the Cameron Todd Willingham whose very existence was once in doubt is legally irrelevant. We may execute a man for an accidental house fire, while the Constitution itself stands silently by.

      Lithwick also writes for


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