Thearticle ‘Cross-Cultural Law: the Case of an American Gypsy” looksat how laws in diverse societies deal with the same issuedifferently. Usually, when laws are made to fulfill a particularpurpose, they have inadvertent effects on other communities orgroups. For example, in the United States, the use of anotherperson’s social security number was illegalized to aid in dealingwith syndicate groups. However, the law has had unintended impacts onGypsies. These are nomadic people in the American societies who tendto borrow American identities from each other for cultural reasons toobtain services from government agencies or corporate organizations(Sutherland 218).
Thearticle is based on a case where a teenage Gypsy male used theidentity of another member of his family to obtain credit. Theteenager used the credit to buy a car, but the car dealershipquestioned the authenticity of the social security number. Althoughhe returned the car, he was charged in court. After searching theapartment where the boy stayed, the police found a list of socialsecurity numbers, and thus concluded that there was a suspected caseof a criminal syndicate ring. In the case “the United States ofAmerica v. S.N.” the defendant was accused of “using a socialsecurity number that was not his own with intent to deceive”(Sutherland 219). He was charged under the “statute 42 U.S.C408(g) (2), a person who, with intent to deceive, falsely representshis or her number to obtain something of value or for any otherpurpose, is a felon” (Sutherland 219). Although the intentions maybe innocent, the statute does not provide a requirement that thereshould be a proof of wrongful purpose. Thus, the defense lawyerargued that the law does not address the intentions of using falsecredentials. For example, the law can be applied against Gypsy whosepurpose of using false credentials is to conceal their identity,which should not be punished as a felony. Therefore, the law isinconsistent with the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution and SupremeCourt decisions that requires proof of criminal intentions in crimesassociated with the acquisition of properties (Sutherland 219).
Nonetheless,both the prosecutor and the defense lawyers had a difficult timeverifying the real identity of the accused and understanding Gypsyculture. Consequently, the defense attorney sought the services ofan anthropologist to help in understanding Gypsy traditions andprovide information that would assist in the case. To offerassistance, the anthropologist needed to have a contact with theaccused person. It was essential in understanding his socialbackground and social ties. After visiting the teenager, based on hisunderstanding of Gypsies societies, it was necessary to suggest someof the particular requirement he would require while in jail such associal interactions and diet (Sutherland 220).
Thetrial mainly involved arguments related to constitutional provisionsthat protected ethnic communities that are unfairly targeted by thelaw. The contribution of the anthropologist centered on the culturalreasons why Gypsies use false credentials. The practice is widespreadin Gypsy communities around the world, and had no criminal intent. Itis mainly motivated by discrimination and violence against them. Toassist the court in making a fair decision, the anthropologisthighlighted some of the incidences that could force these individualsto use false identities. Therefore, the role of the anthropologist inthe case was an expert witness to help the court in understanding thecultural differences involved. Despite this, the court was notconvinced about the cultural motivations of the accused and thereforehe was sentenced to a six months jail term. This is a law which isintended to deal with criminal syndicates using false identities tocommit crimes but has unintended impacts on Gypsy societies who usethe same practice for cultural reasons (Sutherland 220).
Sutherland,Anne. CrossCultural Law The Case of an America Gypsy