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March 1, 2009

Seeking "review" of sentence imposed on mom who battered sex offender

This ABC News account of the state sentence given to a mom who battered a sex offender with a baseball bat has me thinking hard about what kind of sentence I might have given to the defendant in the case.  The ABC News story is headlined " Mother Who Beat Sex Offender: 'I'd Do It Again': Tacoma Woman Sentenced to Three Months in Jail for the Attack," and here are the details of the crime and punishment that got me to thinking:

Was Tammy Gibson protecting her young daughter or just beating up a neighbor, unprovoked?  Either way, she will now spend three months behind bars for taking a baseball bat to a sex offender last summer who was talking with her daughter.

Gibson said she has no remorse for the June 19 assault but pleaded no contest Friday to assault charges. She could have received as much as eight months in jail, but the judge sentenced her to three. "No, I'd do it again if not better," she told ABC News Seattle affiliate KOMO-TV. "I don't care if it hurts me, I don't regret it. It got him away from my kids and all the other kids in the neighborhood."

According to police documents, Level-3 sex offender William A. Baldwin had moved into his uncle's home in Tacoma in early June. Following his move, county deputies distributed flyers around the neighborhood to alert residents of his presence. On June 19, Gibson went to the house in the trailer park and asked for Baldwin.  When Baldwin stepped outside, she claimed she was going to kill him because Baldwin had molested her children. Gibson then proceeded to hit Baldwin repeatedly with her bat, the document said, leaving him with an injured arm. "I kept swingin' and swingin', and swingin'," Gibson told investigators.

Contrary to what she had said to Baldwin, Gibson later told investigators Baldwin had not molested her children. But she did say that she recognized Baldwin from the flyer as the man who had chatted up her then-10-year-old daughter during the previous summer.  Baldwin is the memorable height of 7 feet, 3 inches tall. "For him to be right there, in front of my house and talking to my child -- made me crazy," she told KOMO. "And I told him I thought he was a piece of crap and I smacked him," she added. "I just didn't stop hitting him. I just told him that 'if it were up to me, I'd kill ya."'... 

The daughter she was protecting was in tears during the sentencing on Friday. "He tried to give me fireworks and I wouldn't take it," the girl, Renee Maria Perez, said of Baldwin. Gibson's other daughter, Rachael Porter, added, "I think it's crap; that she was protecting her kids like she should have been. They locked her up for way too long."

Gibson said she hoped that the attention created by her case would lead to a change in the laws regarding released sex offenders. "I would hope that me doing this and going to jail would change something, change some kind of law, change something where people like him can't be standing around little kids you know what I mean?"  Gibson said in her interview with KOMO-TV. "It's not right, it's not fair to the kids at all."

Because the defendant here shows no remorse for her vigilantism and seem eager to champion the right of this kind of violent behavior, I am more than a bit concerned that a three-month jail term is not a truly effective or sensible sentence.  In my view, this case calls out for some kind of alternative sentencing/shaming scheme in which the defendant can be educated more fully about the reality of sex offending and existing sex offender laws and also have an opportunity to reflect on the risks to society if every individual citizen feels justified to act on their fears in violent ways.

I am very sympathetic to the concerns of parents who are eager to protect their kids from serious threats (this is why, for example, I am a vocal advocate for tougher drunk-driving sentences and a big supporter of the work of groups like MADD).  But there is every reason to think that modern sex offender laws (including national registration and notification requirements) already do a pretty good job empowering parents to deal with real risks in responsible law-abiding ways.  And, especially since I surely make my students crazy all the time in class, I am worried about a world in which persons feel justified violently attacking anyone who "makes them crazy" without first seeking to employ more socially valuable ways to express their concerns and fears.

UPDATE:  Scott over at Simple Justice has lots of deep thoughts about this case in this long post.

March 1, 2009 at 01:18 PM | Permalink


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It makes me a little crazy when reporters don't answer questions that seem obvious to me, like "what was this guy's original offense?", "what does 'level-3 sex offender mean in Washington?", "was the guy still on probation/parole?", and "if so, was he violated on his probation/parole for approaching a young child?"

I mean, obviously, the non-vigilante way to handle this is to report to the authorities that this guy, who is supposedly being closely monitored, is doing things that he presumably is not allowed to do, like chatting up little kids, and push the authorities to investigate/enforce some type of consequences. It would be interesting to know if such investigation/consequences happened here.

Posted by: anon | Mar 1, 2009 6:08:43 PM

Washington's definition of Level III sex offenders is:
These offenders pose a potential high risk to the community and are a threat to re-offend if provided the opportunity. Most have prior sex crime convictions as well as other criminal convictions. Their lifestyles and choices place them in this classification. Some have predatory characteristics and may seek out victims. They may have refused or failed to complete approved treatment programs.
And this particular guy is convicted of "Child Molestation-1".
The statute (RCW 9A.44.083) reads:
A person is guilty of child molestation in the first degree when the person has, or knowingly causes another person under the age of eighteen to have, sexual contact with another who is less than twelve years old and not married to the perpetrator and the perpetrator is at least thirty-six months older than the victim.

As to my own view, I sympathize with the mother, but don't we have much more civilized ways of doing things?

Posted by: rs | Mar 2, 2009 1:21:43 AM

Civilly-Commit her ... she is clearly disordered ;)

UK student/researcher/ex-offender

Posted by: Dr Nigel Leigh Oldfield | Mar 2, 2009 6:21:33 AM

If I remember correctly Michael Baldwin's conviction was in the 1998 which meant he was about 14 years old at the time. Who is the real danger?

Posted by: lawdoc | Mar 2, 2009 6:20:00 PM

Did these sex offenders "employ" God, ethics, and/or respect before attacking their victims? This sickness needs to stop. the fear must be redistributed back to the criminal as a deterant and to fear (God) eternal justice!

Posted by: Mandy | Mar 3, 2009 12:55:46 AM

The mother is arguably a certifiable moron and certainly a danger to society and her name should be on some registry specially created for people like her. People might like to know that they live near someone prone to exceptional violence who is prone to taking the law into her own hands.

One reader asks what Level III means. The answer is that it refers to a crude system of classification by alleged experts making intuitive, off-the-cuff judgments concerning the dangerousness of the offenders. It lacks all scientific basis. In many cases, perhaps most, Level III offenders ought to be classified as Level II offenders. Level I offenders are among the most abused members of society and face worse discrimination than people released from prison after serving time for murder, rape or robbery. Pickpockets, burglars and an assortment of other offenders are far more likely to be recidivists than Level I sex offenders and their crimes are at least as despicable.

Sidney Gendin, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus, Philosophy of Law
Eastern Michigan University

Posted by: Sidney Gendin | Mar 3, 2009 9:24:31 AM

Of course, Sidney, I am sure you'd be cool if you had little kids and lived near a sex offender, like, I don't know, Lawrence Singleton.

I get that people cannot do what this woman did, and she should spend some time in jail, but people rightly fear sex offenders and feel powerless.

Posted by: federalist | Mar 5, 2009 5:52:47 PM

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