Today’s blog is a reminder. It is a reminder to those of us, in and out of the trenches of criminal justice about reality. We often proclaim that facing a criminal allegation, so long as the accused does not end up spending too many years in jail,is “no harm, no foul”. We figure that simply being accused is no big deal.
That is, until it happens to us.
Let’s look at the case of former Children’s Hospital Boston pediatrician Dr. Melvin D. Levine.
Dr. Levine was a former chief of ambulatory pediatrics at the hospital.
Dr. Levine was a Rhodes scholar and a best-selling author who had appeared on “The Oprah Winfrey Show”.
Dr. Levine was then accused of molesting “thousands of his pediatric patients”. Never criminally charged…simply accused in a civil law suit.
Dr. Levine was shortly thereafter found dead in the woods near his home in North Carolina. According to authorities, he had shot himself in the forehead with a 12-gauge shotgun.
Before you take the suicide as some kind of admission of guilt, be aware that he not only left behind a suicide note, but also a journal that he had kept. To the end, Dr. Levine insisted that he was innocent.
On February 16th, for example, Dr. Levine wrote, “I continue to maintain that I did nothing that was wrong or immoral in my patient care throughout more than 40 years of practicing pediatric…I am an innocent victim.”
Perhaps you figure that there must have been a load of evidence against him and so this is why Dr. Levine took his own life. Perhaps he knew he was going to end up in jail for one or two lifetimes.
Yes, one would expect that the good doctor, amid so many accusations, particularly if there were “meat” in them, would have been criminally charged. I can tell you as a lawyer who has handled a number of civil matters, that the general rule is that you wait until there is a criminal verdict in your favor before bringing the civil action. Therefore, there is reason to believe that not only was there no prosecution, but, for some reason, there was unlikely to be any.
Ok…then perhaps Dr. Levine had something to hide and so did not dare going to any court where his sordid past might be revealed.
Well, not so much. The fact is that this was not the first time someone had accused him of such conduct. Again there was no criminal action and, in fact, the civil jury found in Dr. Levine’s favor.
Dr. Levine’s journal reveals a clear plan to commit suicide. “The tale is about to conclude,” the documents say, “Mine has been a script impossible to sustain.”
The sentiment is something I have heard from many clients…especially accused of sex crimes against children. After all, the clients are aware that most people will ask, “why would children lie about such things?” Of course, those of us in the system, or those who have kids, know that kids do lie at times. How does someone prove a negative in the face of such accusations?
“Well, Sam”, you remind me, ” sometimes people over-react. Perhaps he was just an impulsive guy who could not take the heat.”
Maybe, but , then, there is that entry from February 14 which reads, “I am still alive if not well today, Monday, Valentine’s Day. I left my office on Friday, fully intending to terminate my existence that afternoon. Then I realized my 72-hour suicide rule (to avoid impulsive self-immolation).”
It would also appear that Dr. Levine had intended to “fight back”. He and his lawyer had planned a press conference to address the allegations. However, said press conference never took place. Instead, as Dr. Levine wrote, “I decided it might be especially apt to end my life just before that grandstand event.”
Far from admitting any kind of guilt, the suicide note to Dr. Levine’s wife reflects a similar mindset. ” I am so sorry. There were no alternatives”, it reads. ” We are innocent victims, yet we are helpless. . . . I didn’t want you to try to prevent what absolutely had to happen. Fortunately, we possess endless terrific shared memories you can savor.”
Who knows? Maybe there would have been criminal charges this time. We do know that the lawsuit will continue on. However, during my many years of experience in the criminal justice trenches, I can tell you that I have seen a number of people take the final exit rather than face such allegations. Not so long ago, a potential client decided he would rather face an oncoming train than face potential arrest.
What is this supposed to mean to you?
We all might want to remember that, even if it is not us, people facing such allegations are facing down the barrel of Hell. Innocent or guilty. It does not matter. We all know that suspicion will follow and an accused sex offender (or someone accused of crime in general) is often assumed to be guilty, regardless of what we say we presume.
If you are in the position of the accused, get an experienced attorney to help guide you through it. If you are lucky enough to have never been in those shoes (yet)…maybe you want to think twice before you assume guilt or figure that…so long as the accused is on the street…it is “no harm, no foul”.
Merely facing and fighting the allegations, civil or criminal, in itself is plenty of harm.
It might not be a bad idea for law enforcement types to remember that amidst the criminal justice game.
If you do have a criminal case and would like to discuss it with me, please free to call me to set up a free initial consultation at 617–492-3000.
To view the original story, please go to: http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2011/03/08/doctors_journal_denies_allegations/?p1=Local_Links