Scott Pilutik

I am an attorney and consultant living and working in Manhattan, focusing primarily on church/state constitutional law. I'm a recognized expert on the Church of Scientology organization. I also have strong interests in intellectual property law where it intersects with emerging media, and free speech.

I support the efforts of the Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the National Lawyers Guild, the ACLU, Creative Commons, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. I am a member of the New York County Lawyers Association and the New York State Bar Association. I also enjoy (watching) hockey and (doing) photograhy.

Online I can be found on Facebook, Twitter. My resume can be viewed here. I can be reached by phone at 212.645.6241 or by e-mail at pilutik[at]gmail.com.

Resurrection Clause = Prosecutorial Misconduct?

I rarely dive into sensationalist crime but this story about a mother, Ria Ramkissoon, accused of starving her son to death at the suggestion and behest of her fellow cult members (because he failed begin his dinner with an “amen”) is interesting because of the unusual plea agreement into which she entered.

Members of the 1 Mind Ministries (could there be a more obviously cultic name?) apparently believed that the dead child, named Javon, would be resurrected:

After he died, Antoinette laid Javon’s body on a couch, and the others knelt and prayed while Ramkissoon danced around the body, Assistant State’s Attorney Julie Drake said. The group carried his remains in a green suitcase when they later moved to Philadelphia.

The mother, facing a 20 year sentence, pled guilty in exchange for her cooperation in testifying against other cult members, and (here’s where it gets interesting) on the condition that she be permitted to withdraw the plea if her dead son had a “Jesus-like resurrection” (as distinguished from a reincarnation into an animal or object).

The deal offered to Ramkissoon by prosecutors seems fair enough, or at least within the bounds of reason–one might quibble that, as a mother, she bears the same if not more culpability as the cult leaders the prosecutors are apparently gunning for; and someone else might quibble that, as a cult victim, she bears no responsibility whatsoever.

But what interests me more is the so-called “resurrection clause”. Obviously Ramkissoon’s son is no threat to rise from the dead and moot his mother’s guilty plea, so why was this even offered? I think it’s important to determine the degree to which this offering from prosecutors played into her decision to plead guilty; and whether she would not have pled guilty had she not been so offered. If so, can it be said that her plea was coerced? Generally speaking (laws differ state to state, and I’ve not looked at Maryland’s statute), a guilty plea must be entered into voluntarily and knowingly, and the suspect must understand the element of the crime to which he/she has pled. It seems to me that Ramkissoon’s plea deal, by its ridiculous nature, might demonstrates her lack of understanding.