"And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God"
-- Micah 6:8

"The duty of the prosecutor is to seek justice, not merely to convict."
-- American Bar Association Standard 3-1.2(c)

"There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia."
--Pope Benedict XVI, June 2004

Thursday, May 24, 2012

When "Life" Does Not Always Mean "Life"

Among other reasons why "life imprisonment" is not a sure way to "render offenders harmless" is that there is no way to control for a future legislature modifying life imprisonment.

Case in point:  Louisiana is considering a law to permit parole in certain life imprisonment situations. While ostensibly targeted at non-violent lifers, the stated rationale, "The cost of incarceration is killing us" could just as easily apply to long-term incarceration of violent offenders.

"Life imprisonment" is always subject to the whim of executive pardon or future legislative modification.  Thus, even if it could safeguard society (including other inmates and prison staff), it is not a sure way to render offenders harmless.

H/T: Crime and Consequences.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Rendering Offenders Harmless Failure, Part 35

From the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#2267)
Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm - without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself - the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity "are very rare, if not practically non-existent."
Meanwhile, back in 2012 Mississippi, United States of America:
A gang fight in a prison for illegal immigrants quickly escalated into a riot involving as many as 300 inmates, some lashing out with sticks or homemade knives as the uprising spread through the sprawling prison, a sheriff said.
A guard was beaten to death and at least 20 other people were injured. The riot began Sunday afternoon and lasted into the night, with inmates dragging mattresses and wood to an outdoor recreation yard to set ablaze, Adams County Sheriff Chuck Mayfield said.
Whatever it may be that the Catechism has in mind, incarceration certainly ain't the thing that is able to render offenders incapable of harm.

Still waiting for an explanation from the Catholic abolitionists as to what these wondrous means are which they allege make use of the death penalty in the US contrary to the Catechism.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Sun Rises Today, Politics at General Assembly.

Hmmm, interesting dust-up over at the Virginia House of Delegates, which just denied a judgeship to a deputy prosecutor in Richmond.

Story goes like this:  Dems and liberals propose an open homosexual with an aggressively activist past for a judgeship for which literally dozens of non-controversial candidates abound.  Conservatives decline invitation to annoint the guy. 

Dems and libs profess outrage and shock that conservatives would deny, for political and policy reasons, the candidate they pushed for political and policy reasons.

That's it in a nutshell.  Judicial candidates get axed all the time for political reasons.  

Nothing to see here.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Life Imprisonment Fails to Render Offender Harmless, Part 34

From Long Beach, California:
A man already on death row for killing two Marymount College students in a San Pedro supermarket parking lot was sentenced to death again today for killing a fellow jail inmate while awaiting trial in the double slaying.... Jurors recommended Feb. 6 that Coen sentence [Raymond] Butler to death for the March 26, 1995, jailhouse stabbing death of Tyrone Flemming....
Butler was already on death row for the March 25, 1994, shooting deaths of Takuma Ito, a Japanese citizen, and Go Matsuura, a U.S. citizen who grew up primarily in Japan -- a crime that made headlines in both countries.
Once executed, triple-murderer Butler will be rendered harmless.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Legal Drama

I watched a movie last night that shared the fate of many historically-based movies, i.e., it did not do well in the theaters. "The Conspirator" tells the story of the trial by military tribunal of Mary Surratt, a Catholic woman from Maryland who was educated by the Sisters of Charity at the St. Mary's parish school in Alexandria, Va.   

Arrested without charge, she was accused of aiding the conspiracy that assassinated Lincoln and rapidly tried in a military court despite her civilian status. During this trial she was deprived of the right to testify on her own behalf and was afforded no right to an appeal.  As the Daily Beast review summarized it:
The nation had never executed a woman, and until Surratt heads to the gallows, Aiken [the protagonist Union army veteran-turned-defense-attorney] thought he could save her. But the heavily bearded Civil War generals who acted as judge and jury never had any intention of sparing her. And even though Aiken succeeds in getting her a writ of habeas corpus, insuring a new trial by her peers, President Andrew Johnson, Lincoln’s successor, overturns it, and she dies along with the other conspirators.
“What is happening to Mary Surratt is an abomination. You have predetermined her fate,” Aiken tells Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (Kevin Kline). “Fine words for rallying a nation,” Stanton replies, “not for governing and keeping a nation together. Someone must be held accountable.”
While the frequent disregard for the rule of law and the Constitution practiced by federal authorities during the War Between the States is fairly well known, this particular example of essentially post-war extra-Constitutional tyranny is not so well known.  Ex-parte Miligan later ruled, too late for Mrs. Surratt, that these kind of military trials for civilians are unconstitutional when civilian courts are open, as they were in D.C. in 1865.
The film, and the incident it describes, immediately reminded me of another great war-related legal drama, "Breaker Morant."  This movie depicts the generally true story of Harry "Breaker" Morant, an Anglo-Australian drover, horseman, poet, soldier and convicted war criminal whose skill with horses earned him the nickname "The Breaker." The bulk of his published work appeard in The Bulletin magazine.

While serving in the Boer War in South Africa, Morant likely summarily executed several Boer prisoners in retaliation for the killing of one of his comrades in the elite Bushveldt Carbineers, an irregular unit tasked with countering the guerilla tactics being used by the Boers.

The movie, one of the best courtroom dramas in my opinion, recounts the machinations of the British command to ensure that Morant and his comrades in the Bushveldt Carabineers were executed in order to conceal the fact that the British commander in South Africa, Lord Kitchener, had himself issued a "take no prisoners" order, and to appease the Germans with whom the English were hoping to reach a peace settlement.

The case is still very much in the Australian consciousness, especially in light of a recent discovery that appears to prove that British commander did in fact issue a "take no prisoners" order, which would undermine the entire basis of the Morant prosecution;  the English, unsurprisingly, are unmoved by the new evidence:
Both "Breaker Morant" and "The Conspirator" feature despised defendants being tried in the chaos of wartime, by governments who had little interest in providing fair trials, but great self-interests in convicting the accused for supposed greater policy or political reasons.  In both situations, the defense is waged by inexperienced counsel, who come to appreciate if not the innocence of their clients, the injustice of their military trials.  

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Texas Justice

Responding to claims that there is a wave of prosecutorial misconduct in Texas,
this prosecutor makes the point that while we seek perfection, a misconduct "rate" of 1/10th of one percent is not an epidemic.
even under the most pessimistic of assumptions, Texas appellate courts reversed a conviction because of a prosecutor's error only 19 times in four years, or less than once out of every 3,600 criminal appeals. (During that same four-year stretch, Texas prosecutors processed more than 4.3 million criminal cases!) Every unnecessary reversal is regrettable, but prosecutors' low error rate is something that most government employees can only dream of.
Not only are verified acts of prosecutorial misconduct rare, but even those that are confirmed by the courts are often misleading because the term is frequently used to describe situations that involve neither. In other words, the legal concept of prosecutorial misconduct may not involve a prosecutor, and it may not involve purposeful misconduct — at least not in the common understanding of that word.
That sounds about right.  Given the volume of cases, the occasional  Mike Nifong is the exceedingly rare exception in a system that convicts the guilty while it guards the rights of accused with multiple layers of protection.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

A Tale of Two Lives

Cases like this underscore that the death penalty is not needed merely as a tool of social control when incarceration alone won't work;  it's needed sometimes simply to redress the heinousness of the crime, and will be the only penalty sufficient to address the social and moral evil of the offense:

In Oklahoma, a decorated D-Day paratrooper was murdered, and his 85 year-old wife murdered after being sexually assualted:
An Oklahoma man suspected in a brutal home invasion -- already facing a murder charge for allegedly killing an elderly woman -- could face additional charges after the death last week of her husband, a D-Day veteran.
Bob Strait, a 90-year-old Tulsa resident, died on Friday, and a medical examiner is determining his cause of death, News On 6 reports.
He was injured March 13 when, police say, Tyrone Woodfork, 20, entered the house and attacked, allegedly beating and sexually assaulted Strait's 85-year-old wife, Nancy Strait, who died two days later. The couple had been married for 65 years.
Woodfork was arrested a day after the incident when he was spotted driving around in Strait’s vehicle, a Tulsa Police Department spokesman told FoxNews.com.
Bob Strait was a World War II paratrooper who took part in the D-Day invasion as part of the 101st Airborne Division, where he was awarded a Bronze Star, News On 6 reports.
Yet some would perversely suggest that justice requires that such an offender NOT be executed.

Consider the difference between Bob Strait, who, when he was about 22 years old, earned a Bronze Star for parachuting into Nazi-occupied France in a bloody invasion, and Tyrone Woodfork, who, if convicted, has earned his fame at age 20 by sexual assault, murder, and robbery.