11A059 Catfight by Jim Davies, 2/28/2011    

Two teenage girls grew to hate each other, and in Tampa, FL they got involved in a street fight - after which one of them died. How much is the other to blame?

It's the kind of question that might face a free-market justice industry, because the root of the hatred (and so, the fight) was jealousy over a certain teenage boy, with whom each of the girls was separately infatuated (I'll not say, "in love", because each knew that the boy was two-timing her with the other, and resented it. Either could have walked away, reasonably concluding that he wasn't worth her attention.) But that could happen, in any society.

Their names were Rachel and Sarah, and for many months their jealousy festered and lurid text messages were exchanged, using language with which I did not realize young ladies were familiar. The object of their misguided affection kept aloof from the rivalry, separately enjoying the favors of each. Then one fateful evening in 2008 Sarah had a friend drive her over to Rachel's for a showdown, and texted Rachel to expect trouble. Rachel did, arming herself with a kitchen knife.

Sarah arrived, bounded out of the car and made straight for Rachel with fists flailing. Rachel was holding the knife visibly, as a deterrent; but it did not deter. After receiving three blows to the head, Rachel used it and stabbed Sarah. One of the stabs punctured her heart, and Sarah died later that night in hospital.

So what happened, exactly? - was this self defense? or murder? Rachel could have barricaded herself in the house and avoided the fight. She could have called 911 at once and told the cops she'd acted to defend herself; but instead she hurled the knife away and made no such claim until later. One could conclude that she accepted Sarah's threat and lay in wait for her, intending to meet force with deadly force and do away with her rival.

Her victim was without doubt aggressing, so to me the self-defense claim is reasonable. Assuming Sarah's family filed suit against Rachel for damages, in an impartial, free-market court in a ZGS, I'd expect that claim to carry a lot of weight. Sarah went looking for trouble, and got more than she expected. Perhaps the court would attach weight also to Rachel's failure to avoid the fight, carrying to it a deadly weapon, and find her liable for some damages. If I was one of the judges, I'm not sure I'd do that, for each girl was intending harm to the other and it's not clear that Rachel was the primary aggressor; but even if so, I'd not pick an amount so large as to deprive her of life's prime.

But we don't have such courts today. Instead, an aggressive government prosecutor called it "murder 2" and got a conviction (for which I blame the jury; even in today's twisted system, this was manslaughter at most) and because the Florida government mandates 20 years to life for that crime. Sentenced last September, Rachel is now in a government cage for twenty seven years. Sarah's life is over - nothing can change that - but now, thanks to government, Rachel's is also all-but ruined, while @ $30,000 a year Florida's taxpayers will suffer the theft of over $800,000 to keep her caged while Sarah's family gets zero compensation.

This is ludicrous, yet the case does not even involve government as a party to the dispute; it's merely pretending to adjudicate wrongs between real people. That it should deliver such a miserably inadequate service adds urgency to the need to end its existence.

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