A judge in eastern Ohio has ordered William Bailey, 43, to spend 29 days in jail and pay $400 in fines and court costs for mocking a 10 year old girl with cerebral palsy last September. The shameful display was caught on camera by the girl's grandmother. Hope Holcomb was getting off a school bus when Bailey and his son, who rides the same bus as Hope, mimicked the girl, who requires crutches to walk. The girl's parents say she's now afraid to get on the bus and go to school for fear of being made fun of again.
In light of these developments, several questions naturally arise. Chief among them are: What kind of 42 year old man mocks anyone with cerebral palsy, let a alone a 10 year old girl with the disorder? I'll leave that to the finest minds in the field of psychology, so for now let's ponder this:
Is it a crime to be an asshole?
Bailey's behavior is sickening, and no doubt he must be one of the most ignorant buffoons ever to drag his knuckles along the ground in the Buckeye State, but is what he did illegal? Bailey was accused of misdemeanor menacing, which under Ohio law carries a maximum sentence of 30 days and a $250 fine. Bailey received 29 days, and had to pay a fine plus court fees. While it's quite easy to view his actions and relish the fact that he will be locked up for the next month, we have to ask ourselves whether mere mockery is a punishable offense.
Typically, the First Amendment of the Constitution typically protects all speech except for that which is defamatory or incites others to imminent lawless action. Both of these exceptions have high thresholds in terms of burden of proof. Under Ohio law, "menacing" implies that harm was caused to a person or a family member of that person — in this case the girl and members of her family. Of course, just what constitutes "harm" is a legal gray area, which, had this case gone to trial, a jury would have to decide. Bailey plead no contest, meaning he neither admitted nor disputed the charge, likely in an effort to avoid a jury trial. Oftentimes, pleading no contest results in a lighter sentence than if one were to proceed to trial and endure a guilty verdict. That strategy seems to have failed here, as Bailey received the maximum penalty for the offense anyway. Then again, there is video evidence of Bailey's abject idiocy, so a trial might not have exactly swung things in his favor.
As much as I dislike defending the rights of thugs, as far as I can tell, mockery and mimicry are protected speech and expression, however gross it may be.
What do you think?