Attorney General Mike DeWine has stepped into the middle of the Steubenville rape case.  He then stuck his foot firmly in his mouth.

The Attorney General’s Office is handling the investigation of a terrible sexual assault on a juvenile last August.  The victim allegedly was assaulted multiple times after she passed out a party.  Two juveniles are charged with rape.  The New York Times did an excellent story, titled “Rape Case Unfolds Online and Divides Steubenville.”   Later, a group of hackers – likely connected with “Anonymous”—hacked sites connected to the case.  Because the crime occurred at a several parties, Anonymous claims that many people did not intervene but, instead, took photos or videos.  They obtained and are making public evidence, including photos, tweets and videos.

For those just getting up to speed on this story – a story that may have gone a bit below the radar screen after Sandy Hook – the best summary is by Amanda Marcotte on the Slate XX Blog.

One of the videos released this week shows a teen joking about the assault.  One report describes the video as follows:  “The teen is seen in the video sitting among a roomful of young people.  In twelve minutes of video, he laughs about the woman being urinated upon, refers to her anatomy, and says she is ‘deader than Obi Wan Kenobi when Darth Vader cuts his head off.’”

(Note: we aren’t going to link to any of the videos; they make us sick.)

Here is where DeWine messes up.  He suggested that the witnesses like the teen in the video did nothing wrong.  DeWine told reporters that “Ohio law makes it illegal to aid or abet a crime, but observers of a crime aren’t always legally obliged to intervene. ‘It’s horrible. It’s insensitive.  It’s hard to understand, but it may not be a crime,’ he said.”

DeWine is wrong.

Ohio Law, Revised Code § 2921.22, provides that “no person, knowing that a felony has been or is being committed, shall knowingly fail to report such information to law enforcement authorities.”  Violation of this law is a Fourth Degree Misdemeanor.

This law was adopted in 1974.  The law requires people to inform authorities of felonies.  The law does not require someone to attempt to stop the crime or apprehend the offender. The law exempts a number of privileged relationships, such as attorney and client, doctor and patient, and clergyman and parishioner, as well as not requiring someone to report on a family member.

DeWine’s suggestion that someone who witnesses a felony doesn’t have to intervene is incorrect.  As the State’s top law enforcement officer, he should know that the immediate reporting of crimes is necessary to crime prevention.  The law clearly applies to this type of situation and requires “intervention” by calling the police.  The 1974 Committee who drafted the law noted that the “section covers, for example, the situation where bystanders ignore a murder victim’s pleas for help because they do not want to ‘become involved.’”

(Deep in the Weeds Note: we don’t want to get hung up on DeWine’s use of the word “intervene.”  Some might attempt to defend DeWine by suggesting that he only meant that the witnesses did not have to physically stop the rape.  But calling 911 fits within the definition of intervene: “to come in or between by way of hindrance or modification; . . . to interfere with the outcome or course  . . .”  More importantly, DeWine shows his lack of knowledge about this law by suggesting that unless a bystander is aiding and abetting the criminal, there is no criminal liability.)

We just don’t understand DeWine’s approach to law enforcement these days.  DeWine advocates the “horrible idea” of arming teachers to protect schools.  Presumably, he is OK with these civilians “intervening” with deadly force in the face of a perceived threat.  But DeWine doesn’t know about or want to enforce a law that requires people who are witnessing a rape of a young girl to just pick up the phone.

  • Disgusting. That DeWine would even suggest that those witnesses “Did nothing wrong” is part of the reason these boys thought they had any right to do what they did to that girl. It is an attitude of indifference that leads to this violent behavior, in this case and the far too many that follow. Instead, officials should first properly investigate, then bring appropriate charges against the many adults and teenagers involved, including likely several coaches, and then take steps to heal the community and ensure something like this never happens again.

  • Darla Jean Wilkes

    The Sheriff, Chief ofPolice, and local prosecutor* would DO NOTHING, and have let the MAGGOTS walk.

    *Her maggot was one of the ‘players’.

  • h mantella

    statute is one thing, but how do the judges in ohio interpret it? i can guess. dewine is probably right.

  • amyvav

    I live near Steubenville, and there are so many aspects to this that it’s hard to prioritize, but, in keeping with the general political theme of Plunderbund, I wanted to point out that the Steubenville school district is the one from which the governor broadcast his State of the State message last year. It also keeps popping up as a bright spot of effectiveness in an otherwise depressed area. I certainly don’t dispute that. It is a fine district with many wonderful teachers, staff members, and students (including athletes), but I’m sure that the folks in Columbus would like to downplay this. Hopefully not to the point of dereliction of their duties.

  • SlapFat

    The freaks that raped that girl should be locked up for years, and I don’t really care if they’re teenagers or not. There’s a huge difference between adolescent stupidity and morbid criminal behavior. This isn’t an issue where you discuss the semantics and technicalities of the bystanders, either. You want to stand there and watch while someone is raped? Then you can do the time in prison with the rapists.

    Absolutely disgusting. DeWine should resign over the remark he made.

  • Touche’

  • Leonidas

    The courts have NOT interpreted the statute as DeWine suggests.

    The statute was addressed in State v. Wardlow, 20 Ohio App. 3d 1 (1985). In that case, the court upheld a conviction under the statute. The case involved the defendant’s thirteen-year-old daughter who was the victim of a rape by the defendant’s boyfriend. After learning of the offenses, the defendant did not report the crime but, instead, simply told her daughter to not “go upstairs” with the boyfriend when the defendant was not home.

    The court explained that the essence of the offense is knowingly failing to report a serious crime. The court said that the statute “gives a person of ordinary intelligence fair notice that the conduct of failing to report a serious crime about which a person has knowledge is forbidden by statute.”

  • Holy Cow! DeWine is quick off the mark on wrongness. Even if weren’t the law, failing to report a rape (or an assault or a murder or any felony) is a moral failing. The people who knew about this and did nothing about it, not even calling 911, deserve at the very least the calumny of their peers and their townspeople. DeWine doesn’t seem to even recognize that, and along with his obvious ignorance of Ohio Law, he should, at the very least, be condemned by the legislature and recalled by the citizenry. Anyone want to take a bet on the possibility of either of those things happening?

  • WordSmith

    After living in the Cleveland area for several years, I’d classify Steubenville as incredibly conservative, and certainly in regards to Catholicism and the focus of the university there via my own college in Pepper Pike. As for Mike DeWine – shifty (weasely) is the best I can come up – oh, wait – ineffective is how I always saw him.

  • pixiedust8

    God, that’s some disturbing parenting. I hope that girl got some serious counseling.

  • dmoore2222

    More republican stupidity. No surprise.

  • Gloria Pramik

    Attorney General Mike DeWine, REALLY?

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