Gathering life-saving data to prevent unnecessary deaths caused by wrongful charges
So, you need to feel safer. And you think your family deserves to feel safe too, or else you want to talk about something safer on the horizon. Rewardingly, death prevention is a beneficial subject for us all to talk about. This new program initiative from team CLU broadens everyone's horizon.
What is a death sentence to you? Most people think of capital punishment. But we’ve all heard stories about victims of bullying and abuse who ultimately take their own lives.
When an innocent person is harassed, maligned, exploited or persecuted until they feel death is their only escape, is this a type of death sentence? A social death sentence?
You be the judge.
Case studies - When charges kill
When wrongful financial charges are coupled with a limited ability to question or resolve those charges, could they cause people to commit suicide? Recent events suggest so.
Alexander Kearns was a 20-year-old man from Plainfield, Illinois who was found dead on June 12th, 2020, after Robinhood investment company led him to believe he owed hundreds of thousands of dollars.
He had been using the company to trade stocks when he mistakenly received an email indicating he had a negative balance of -$730,000. He died distraught, after repeated attempts to get in contact with Robinhood. His death is being treated as a suicide, according to his family.
A similar case in Woodstock, IL saw a 51-year-old father of four take his own life in jail after he received allegedly wrongful child support charges that he could no longer afford. The court order was based on a fixed amount, rather than a percentage, which exceeded his actual earnings.
After the judge allegedly refused to take all the information into account, Thomas Doheny was jailed for being held in contempt of the courts. Amid the overwhelming financial distress, he committed suicide in his cell.
Were these deaths preventable?
Both Alexander Kearns and Thomas Doheney left a tragic lesson to be learned — false financial charges can be fatal.
Their cases have another thing in common; they were closed-access. In other words, charges were brought against them without question and with seemingly no opportunity to change their course.
Closed-access cases cause a dangerous level of despair. In Alexander’s case, he was a victim of the age of automation. Despite frantic attempts, he was unable to reach a human being to question his charges or get more information.
It isn’t just corporations that field access to information with impenetrable operator systems — the legal sector is infamously opaque. For those with reduced capacity to use or access the internet, this issue has only grown with the increased digitization of workflows and court hearings during the pandemic. One example of Backwards Bureaucracy in this last year is the distribution of blank Proof of Motion forms. As of January 1, 2020, all Motions and their corresponding Proofs of Service forms had to be filed electronically, rather than signing and stamping taking place at the Clerk's Circuit office. Forms have since been scanned backwards and sent out blank. The party who received the back of the paper has no physical proof that they filed anything and the judge rules against them for wasting the court’s time.
Another example of a closed-access case is when someone is unable to afford or access sufficient representation, causing power imbalance in the courtroom.
Whatever the details may be, when someone is denied the ability to understand, question or refute wrongful charges brought against them, they are stripped of their agency and dignity. They are alienated from their right to redress, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. If Alexander Kearns and Thomas Doheney had open access to the charges brought against them, perhaps they would still be here today. If informed suicide prevention strategies were in place, they might still be here.
Their deaths were tragic not only because they resulted from false circumstances, but because they were preventable. And until effective prevention programs are put in place, history will only repeat itself.
Saving lives through open access
The data from cases such as these are critically important, both in mapping out the problem and solving it.
The SDSP Repository will freely collect information on cases like these and freely share it. It advocates for fluid, "open access," to legal financial charges.
Open access cases should be:
Transparent; Information is readily available and openly shared with involved parties
Free from barriers; for example, the necessity for internet access, opaque automated call systems, and complex digital workflows
Just; Parties should be able to bring forward information, with proper, equal representation and due consideration
Fair; Innocence until proven guilty
Integrated; Suicide prevention programs, strategies and providers could enable high-risk cases to be rapidly identified and prevented.
Clean policy jobs; We know from other states like California, Missouri, and Tennessee that there's a need to include scientific experts regarding life-saving methods, natural facts, human progress, and systemic ultra-safety into often combustible political/governmental assemblies.