Monday, December 17, 2007

The state of New Jersey today has officially banned the death penalty. This is welcome news to eight of New Jersey's most vile criminals who were on death row when the Governor issued the ban. Among those is Jesse Timmendequas, a sex offender who murdered 7-year-old Megan Kanka in 1994. The case inspired Megan's Law, which requires law enforcement agencies to notify the public about convicted sex offenders living in their communities.

The Justice system felt Timmendequas deserved to die for his crime. Thanks to the latest efforts by lawmakers, that will not happen. Timmendequas will now spend the rest of his life as a ward of the state. He gets to read books, exercise, watch TV (probably with cable) and eat three hot meals a day while the New Jersey taxpayers pick up the tab for someone who should be executed. I'm sure there are many who think this is good news, not me. But that's a problem the people of New Jersey will have to deal with.

Soon, the US Supreme Court will hear arguments about lethal injection and whether this constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. This seems laughable at best, but the fact that this has made it all the way to SCOTUS is no laughing matter. How anyone could think that a technique (IV injection) that is used to save lives would constitute cruel and unusual punishment is beyond me. But this is typical from the bleeding hearts who think criminals deserve more pity than their victims. Whatever.

I will be watching SCOTUS with interest. This is the same court that allows elective abortions of human fetuses. I'd like to point out that there is considerable evidence that a human fetus is capable of feeling pain as early as NINE weeks gestation and it is generally accepted that a 13 week fetus most certainly has this ability, yet the Supreme Court feels it is acceptable to inflict pain on these people during the process of killing them. I feel they should weigh this as they hear the arguments on IV injection. If injecting a lethal substance constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, then I'd like to hear how they balance that with a second or third trimester abortion OR a partial birth abortion. It should be interesting.

3 comments:

The Loop Garoo Kid said...

Sorry it took me a while Doctor. I had a couple of hearings this week and spent today traveling.

I am against the death penalty for several reasons. Sometimes, as we have seen all too often of late, juries get it wrong b/c of the evidence that was presented or w/held. It seems not a month goes by w/o someone being released from prison b/c of DNA evidence. This is a tiny minority of people convicted of crimes, nevertheless, w/ the death penalty, there are no do overs.

Secondly, either killing people--outside of certain proscribed situations--is wrong or it isn't. I will not go into the abortion issue w/ you at this juncture except to say that one issue is at what point is a fetus a person and even that question will have different answers depending on the situation.

Thirdly, the death penalty is incredibly expensive. The costs of the initial prosecution are far outweighed by the costs of the appeals in prosecutorial, judicial, and defense resources. Remember that in nearly all cases the public also pays for the defense costs. I submit that it is less expensive to house a convict in prison for life that it is to pay for the appellate process.

In addition, I believe that almost no one is beyond redemption, even if that redemption were to occur in a cell during a life sentence w/o possibility of parole.

For a good study on what prison is like, read Phillip Halloran's "Going Up The River."

Prison, particularly the Supermaxes are not day spas. Prisoners are isolated, confined to their cells, a get an hour of solitary exercise in an inclosed yard, sometimes once a week.

The food is bland; the reading material restricted; as is the TV.

I do not practice in field of criminal law. From time to time, I do visit clients who are on the wrong side of the bars. When I was very much younger, I visited the Colorado state maximum security facility in Canon City to interview a inmate. The despair of that facility was physically oppressing. The closest thing to the experience was reading J.R. R. Tolkien's descriptions of Mordor. When I walked out the gate and got into my car, it felt liberating. And I was only there for a hour.

Nevertheless, the last time I read a statistic on the matter, I am in the minority and a majority of Americans favor the death penalty. So, somewhat paradoxically, I believe that if we are to have a death penalty, we should stop trying to make it painless and humane. If we are to punish people whose inhumanity allowed them to take the like of another, then we should do it in a manner that allows people to know and fear justice. There should be public catharsis.

In China, they have the stadium treatment. The criminal is marched into a public stadium in view of the public w/ a placard around his neck listing his crimes. He is made to kneel, then shot in the back of the head. His family has to pay for the bullet.

But even this may be too quick. Would public hangings be better? Not the hood over the head and drop through the trapdoor but no hood and hoisted slowly, face turning purple, losing control of bladder and bowel.

How about drawing and quartering like what happens to Mel Gibson at the end of "Braveheart?"

Again, I am against capital punishment but if we are going to have it, in for a penny, in for a pound. It should not be private and resemble a dental procedure.

I doubt if the NFL would go for an execution as a half time show for the Super Bowl, but I suggest the following b/c I hate to see more and more of my tax dollars go toward building prisons. I would much rather see them go to building bridges or schools or rec centers.

So my proposal is pay-per-view executions. There could be a preliminary documentary about the underlying crime, the victim(s), the trial, and the appeal; then go live for the main event. You could have a slight tape delay to allow any unsuitable last words to be bleeped out, and then the executioners song.

The revenues from advertising and the PPV could be used to compensate the victims' families and defray the costs of the judicial and prison systems.

Regards.

John Washburn said...

Loop, that's an interesting comment. You make a good argument from a financial sense agains the death penalty, and it's certainly worth considering. I thank you for your input regarding the law and for your satirical flavor adding to the discussion.

As for me, I support punishing crime harshly. I also believe in the democratic process. I think the issue of the death penalty (and the issue of abortion for that matter) should be decided at the polls by the individual states. I disagree with New Jersey, but the people of that state made a democratic choice and I support that. If it were voted on in my state, I would vote to uphold the death penalty. If my wishes were defeated, I would support the will of the people.

In short, it's not a matter for the courts to decide. It's a matter for the people to decide. It's not cruel and unusual. Why not let us vote on these things? We could put to rest several things, like abortion, gay marriage, mandatory minimum sentences for child predators, etc. Seems like a simple solution to me.

The Loop Garoo Kid said...

Doctor,

Your suggestion, which on its face seems simple and logical, can be fraught w/ pitfalls as evidenced by what occurs in Colorado, the state where I have resided for the past 36 years.

In Colorado, there is a process for bringing ballot initiatives whereby the populace are allowed to vote on anything. Sometimes the initiative involves amending the constitution which is why until recently, when a clean up provision was passed, there was a state constitutional amendment banning the 1976 Winter Olympics from being held in Colorado.

The passage of TABOR, the tax Payers Bill of Rights, has also had its unintended consequences hamstringing the legislature, particularly when coupled w/ another mandate which requires increases in spending on education.

One man (or woman), one vote is a laudable concept but is unwieldy if the voting public is allowed to micro manage state government. Instead, I continue to opt for representative government and if the elected representative fails in his office, vote the rascal out.

When I ponder the death penalty, I am uncertain in my own mind whether when describing the second alternative, I was being satirical. I have read various positions, the most recent of which suggested the death penalty is a deterrent, but I think that if we, as a society are going to embrace that remedy, then it should be public.

Regards and Happy Holidays.