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View Diary: Troy Davis, a defender's perspective (99 comments)

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  •  Me too (3+ / 0-)

    Thank you for this diary.

    I once worked in the field of defending death row inmates.  In the 1980s I was a well-known anti-death penalty advocate in one of the most execution-friendly states in the US.

    When making the case against capital punishment, my argument focused (and still does, 30 years later) on the risk of error and unfairness rather than any moral "we can't play God" objection.  Many believe it's immoral on its face, as I certainly do, but morality is a difficult value to assess when designing penalties in a justice system.  There is so much emotion (and various religious views)  involved and I find it difficult to persuade people on such grounds.

    My argument against capital punishment is that there is no way it can be implemented equitably because 1) the justice system is managed by human beings, who by definition are imperfect and subject to error and 2) the judicial system is discriminatory by definition:  those with more money get better representation generally speaking (no matter how able the public defender, he/she is typically no match for an expensive criminal defense attorney with unlimited resources).  Depending on one's defense, people who kill other people could be convicted of anything from involuntary manslaughter to first degree murder, only the latter of which qualifies for capital punishment.

    Ergo: 1) if there is a possibility of error or inequality, it is unacceptable to employ an irreversible punishment; and 2) If you kill one person convicted of murder, shouldn't you kill everyone convicted of murder?

    Yes, state-sanctioned murder is horrific on pure moral grounds, but public opinion may be swayed by more objective factors.

    •  thank you for the comment (0+ / 0-)

      The inequities go even farther and deeper. For instance, there is a large city south west of me in which it is standard operating practice to charge almost every murder as a capital case. This is merely a plea bargaining device, not because every murder there rises to the level of atrocity that justifies (in law) a death penalty. A defendant facing a potential death penalty will eagerly accept a stiff sentence of imprisonment. Therefore, no one has to bother with a trial or sentencing hearing, and the machine rolls happily along.

      A real problem occurs when an innocent enters the system. Does he or she roll the dice, knowing how easy it is to get a capital sentence in this city? One of my former clients did. He was driving a car when a passenger in the back, feeling threatened by a passenger in the front, pulled a gun and shot him. My client, the driver, had no idea this was about to happen. The facts were not contested, except that the prosecutor claimed that my client knew the shooting was going to occur.

      The shooter was offered a 30 year sentence, which he quickly accepted. My client was offered 50, but he refused, saying "I didn't know he was going to shoot, why should I get more time than him?" It took ONE DAY to try my client and sentence him to death.

      I left that particular defense office before the case was resolved. My former client, after more than 20 years, was able to work out an agreement which actually resulted in his being freed. And he left behind enough condemned inmates from that city, that jurisdiction, to fill their own unit on death row (if it were divided into locales).

      Work and pray, live on hay, You'll get pie in the sky when you die." The Preacher and the Slave, by Joe Hill, 1911

      by Joe Hills Ghost on Sat Sep 24, 2011 at 05:58:06 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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