Too brainy to go to jail?

Recent history is full of people who avoid feeling the full force of the law because they are either too famous, too rich or a combination of both. But now, in the UK at least, it seems you can possibly avoid being sent to jail if you are too brainy. I’ll get to the ‘brainy’ case in a while but first I need to justify my opening remarks.


Too famous …

Take the story of American football star, turned actor OJ Simpson. The “Juice” as he was know (OJ, orange juice) was cleared of two murder counts in a well-publicised trail. However, in a subsequent civil case the jury found he was responsible for the death of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman. Maybe the original jury just couldn’t bring themselves to convict a man who had become a national institution. Was OJ too famous?


Oscar Pistorius


More recently there was a similar case in South Africa when disabled gold medal-winning track star Oscar Pistorius stood trial for the shooting of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. National hero Pistorius was initially found guilty of culpable homicide but, on appeal, this was upgraded to murder. Must have been a tough call given he was held in high regard by so many.


Too rich …

in Thailand, of course, we have the case where the heir to a considerable fortune is being sought for questioning in connection with the death of a traffic policeman. It’s not the role of this publication to decide if the man in question was involved or not. That’s for the court – should he ever see the inside of one. Also we have Bangkok hi-so girl who was on her mobile when the car she was driving accidentally forced a van off a bridge, killing the nine occupants. She received a two year suspended jail term and community service. Was the sentence a tad on the light side? I leave that to readers to work out. At least she was brought before a court.


Ethan Couch


While researching this article I came across the case of a lad named Ethan Couch. Not heard of him? Me neither, but apparently he is from a wealthy family in Texas. When aged 16 Couch killed four while driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs. He was found guilty but was handed simple probation.

The judge said that because Couch had been given everything he had ever wanted in life, the young man didn’t understand that he couldn’t do whatever he wished. The defence even had a doctor give testimony and refer to Couch’s “condition” as “affluenza”, a play on the words affluent and influenza. Suffering from affluenza? I feel so sorry for you (not!). The doctor, unsurprisingly, has taken a lot of stick over that invented word ever since.


Too brainy …

So where does the too brainy element come in? I’m thinking of the recent case of a young lady in England named Lavinia Woodward. This lady is a student at Oxford University who found herself in front of a judge charged with stabbing her boyfriend during a drug-fuelled row.

It should be made clear that the unnamed boyfriend survived the attack. At the time of writing Miss Woodward’s sentencing has been delayed while the judge considers the case further. The stabbing is not in dispute. What is in doubt, however, is whether the student should spend time in jail for it.

Usually it would be something of a slam-dunk, people who stab others get locked up. No further discussion needed. However the 24-year-old is, as the judge put it, an “extraordinary talent” who aspires to be a heart surgeon. Having a criminal record would be a bolt on the copybook that might stand in the way of her medical aspirations so the judge is considering the possibility of handing out a punishment that will not block her path to being a surgeon.


Lavinia Woodward


I don’t envy the judge. If he gives Woodward the sentence ordinary Joes like you or I would be handed he might deprive the UK of a heart surgeon capable of doing a whole lot of good.


Not an easy call at all.

Half of me says her talents should be regarded as irrelevant – one can’t go around stabbing your friends without consequences. The other half imagines how I would feel if a loved one were to thrive and prosper as a result of her exercising her medical skills on someone dear to me. I find myself hopping from one foot to the next on this.

Jail her or let her have her chance to be heart surgeon? It’s not the sort of call a judge finds himself having to make every day. I wish judge Ian Pringle QC luck. Me? I really can’t decide. What would you do if it were your call? Find a good barstool in downtown Pattaya and discuss it with your mates. I’d love to be a fly on the wall to hear the verdicts.


By Dave Buckley