Various thoughts on current events with an emphasis on politics, legal issues, books, movies and whatever is on my mind. Emails can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org; please put "blog comments" in the subject line.
And Also: Obama took part in a discussion on CNN last night where he was asked questions by Anderson Cooper while some audience involvement was included. Impressive job. Times like this make me proud this guy is my President.
Twenty-eight people were executed last year, part of a continual drop since 2009 (52), the high point in recent decades being 1999 (98). The "high" there -- won't check but that is a drop in the bucket given the murder convictions and the size of death row (2984). Since the website cites his execution, this last data point might factor in Oscar Ray Bolin Jr.'s execution last night. There were two generic orders rejected last minute appeals posted on the Supreme Court website last night.
There is some attention to executions, especially when there is some problem with them, but doesn't seem to be that much really. Still, the attention is more than the usual everyday criminal sentencing and so forth of the normal type of criminal case. As some such as the author of Sentencing Law and Policy Blog (supports the death penalty for very serious offenses; sees abolitionist as extremist) and others note, it is concerning that so much attention is given to a few cases. Taking of life should be given special attention, but it is a matter of degree.
The tiny number of cases (not so tiny in comparison to countries what have none) is for someone against the death penalty appreciated on some level and it does lead me to be somewhat tired of those so aggrieved about the penalty being blocked. Of course, the efforts to block it feed into the small numbers, but even the death row number provided is telling. For a country of over 300 million with more murders than we surely should have, even in death penalty belt states, only a small subset result in death sentences. And, overall, again court opinions do factor in some (but they are influenced by practice), only a subset are death eligible. The people, including to the degree they are involved in appointing judges somehow, have a large role here. It is not just something pushed on to them by the courts.
This can work against the abolitionist (a term that at times seems to be used to mean "extremist" -- the usage in the slave context is telling) given perhaps a reasonable person would see only a small collection of the worst are executed. To me, it makes me wonder what a few less people executed will hurt, plus makes me concerned about the what seems like an arbitrary selection of that few in the first place. Add all the other problems raised plus a general belief that the state should not be involved in killing like this. Finally, this execution -- like something like a third last year (a couple, surely "volunteers," took less than five years) -- took over twenty years. The guy was only in his early fifties here, but again, what is the point? Retribution for killing three people here, some would say. Which is not inhumane or something, I'd admit.
I disagree with the justice of it as a system, but understand the desire to continue what amounts to a twisted sort of flawed lottery (in honor of the short story) of death. A few say executions are required to help obtain confessions, but how do they get them in places without one or where the crime is not death eligible? An effect coerced confession (if not in the illegitimate sense) leaves a bit to be desired too. Various real extreme crimes or special cases like murders in prison can be cited, but again, places without the death penalty somehow deal with them. Plus, such cases can still involve the usual concerns that pop up in death penalty matters.
Well, bad policy or not, it's constitutional, right? I seriously doubt it. The Constitution has a few provisions dealing with the proper procedure in taking of life, one involving grand juries that isn't even applicable to the states. But, this doesn't mean the current process is "due" or that the system doesn't violate some other constitutional provision, such as being unequal. The conceit continues that the death penalty is clearly constitutional by the text of the Constitution though (see final footnote), the argument is easily refuted. Justices Breyer and Ginsburg are the latest who questioned the constitutionally though once going on record, seems to have stepped back and let multiple executions go without comment (Breyer briefly dissented once and might have without comment another time).
This rubs me the wrong way -- Breyer particularly is all about informing the public and even a brief discussion about how he didn't have the votes so would silently concur given how the process works would have been helpful. What really annoyed me -- as I have noted in the past -- are that there were repeated times when multiple justices dissented from not staying an execution and they didn't SAY A WORD ON WHY. That's just offensive. If you think someone is going to be executed wrongly and you are saying that on the record as a Supreme Court justice, there is to me an obligation to say why. At times, justices pat themselves on the back for showing their work -- writing why they decided a certain way. A mild annoyance last night when the execution was delayed for hours for some reason last night, just to have the Supreme Court reject final stays without comment.
Anyway, I'm not you know crushed this guy is dead, but as a whole, don't think the death penalty is worth it. There are a lot of problems out there, including in the criminal justice system, to worry about. But, "life" still is more important than "liberty," so a large amount of the concern is still warranted. Unlike the proverbial dumb blonde, we can do two things at once.