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  • Reverend James Squire

Unreasonable Reasonable Person Standard

Photo JoshuaWoroniecki

Just when we thought we heard it all regarding the “stop the steal” false statements that were coming from Trump’s camp, we hear from one of Trump’s attorneys and allies who made a statement that defines yet another example of bizarre behavior of his loyal fans. His attorney and super fan, Sidney Powell, is being sued by Dominion, owners of the ballot counting machines, for an outrageous sum of money because of the damage that she has caused as a result of lies that she told about the election and their machines which counted the ballots. Powell said, “Reasonable people wouldn’t believe my election fraud claims.”

What a great example of an unethical and illegal statement. Ms. Powell was attempting to get near enough to the Reasonable Person Standard to use that as her last ditch defense of her actions. The Reasonable Person Standard is one that “the amount of care and caution that an ordinary person would use in a given situation.” It is sometimes described as follows. If you put an average group of people together in a room and they are hearing a case, they would all come to the conclusion that an act was right or wrong.

This is getting to be a popular defense from the far right as Dominion has been in the driver’s seat suing one after the other of people who lied about how the votes in the last presidential election were counted. Fox (I won’t say Fox news.) had lawyers who said that “no reasonable person thinks tuning in to Tucker Carlson is expecting to hear real news. They are there for his opinions.” The other thing that Ms. Powell is attempting to do is to demonstrate that her words were a parody like Saturday Night Live and shouldn’t be taken seriously.

Sorry, but none of the above is going to fly because of one six letter ethical and legal word that is going to throw Ms. Powell into fear and trembling. That word is “intent.” When you think about it, intent can make an action right or wrong. You may intend one thing but the result may be something very different. Ethical and legal action, however, gives weight to that six letters word. The other term which plays a role is carelessness. Was the person careless in their deliberations.

The easiest way to see how intent makes a difference is to see it in its extreme. Murder involves thinking before the crime that results in death. Manslaughter is most often seen as accidental in nature and has, at times, carelessness as part of the criminal description. Under California Law, for example, carelessness may cause a death to occur. In some cases when manslaughter occurs, the defendant consciously disregards the risk involved, and that act results in the death of others. Intent and degree of carelessness will determine what degree of manslaughter occurred.

From an ethical and legal standpoint Ms. Powell and her attorneys may have made her case worse for there are two things that can convict her. One, that she made a false statement and (2) that she knew the statement was false when she made it. By her defense, she is admitting that she knew what she was doing was wrong but did it anyway.

I would anticipate that the first question from the prosecution’s statement would be “What did you intend to achieve by making false statements?” January 6 will demonstrate the carelessness resulting from her words and actions.

Ironically the Reasonable Person Standard will be what convicts her in the end. Justice, one of the two pillars of Ethics, will prevail.

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