Wednesday, February 8, 2023
A Priest, A Cellphone Camera, and Two Dominatrices Walk Onto an Altar . . . .
We are taking a bit of a detour this week into criminal law. My discussion on Monday of the case of government (and classified) documents in the possession of our current and former Presidents served a pedagogical purpose, illustrating the importance of distinguishing cases. Today, we have a straight-up contract issue involving a mental incapacity defense to a breach of a parole agreement. Also, the facts are of the sad, but you can't make this stuff up variety.
Travis Clark was a Catholic priest in Louisiana until 2020 when he decided to film himself having sex with two dominatrices on the altar of his church. As Vanessa Serna reports here for The Daily Mail, the altar was stage lit and decked out with sex toys. A passerby noticed lights on in the building after hours and peered in. That something you just can't unsee. The police were summoned. Mr. Clark pleaded guilty to an obscenity charge and was fined and given three years' probation. His accomplices (accomplimatrices?) pleaded guilty to lesser charges.
I pause here to note that it's pretty bad for a priest to film himself having sex with two dominatrices on an altar. However, were he a police officer, he never would have been convicted because he would have enjoyed qualified immunity. "How was I supposed to know that I couldn't have sex on an altar with two dominatrices?" He undoubtedly would have averred. "Show me a case or a statute that specifically addresses this issue. Absent such a case or statute, we have no clearly-established law that addresses the conduct at issue!"
Mr. Clark returned to the news recently because he was jailed for violating parole. The story is here behind a paywall. I am relying on an account I heard on Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me. Mr. Clark was granted a suspended sentence in exchange for his promise that he would not seek to benefit in any way from his crime. Recently, Mr. Clark gave a television interview. According to Wait, Wait, he did not understand himself to have done so in violation of his parole agreement because he took no money for the interview. His sole aim was to respond to all of the negative publicity that he faced and to attempt to persuade viewers that he was a person worth of forgiveness.
It's a worthy cause, and I am sympathetic to the view that people, including Mr. Clark, are worthy of forgiveness from their fellow human beings, notwithstanding their crimes. The real question turns on the clarity of his parole agreement, about which very little information is available. The court might have been justified in seeing the interview as self-serving. According to Wait, Wait, Mr. Clark's attorney attempted to argue that Mr. Clark should not be held to the terms of his parole agreement, because he is autistic and could not understand it.
This sounds like a mental incapacity defense that would excuse Mr. Clark from breach of his agreement. It's a pretty weak one. Saying that someone is autistic says nothing about their ability to understand the nature or consequences of a contract or about their ability to behave rationally in relation to their contractual obligations. The court questioned Mr. Clark and ascertained that he understood his contractual obligations. The court sentenced Mr. Clark to six months in jail.
I think the "I didn't know that was wrong" defense to improper sexual behavior was immortalized by George Costanza in a Seinfeld episode. "Because if i had known that was wrong, i certainly never would have done it!" I can't decide whether qualified immunity arguments strike me as Talmudic or Jesuitical.
Posted by: Sidney DeLong | Feb 17, 2023 5:15:32 PM