Sunday, April 13, 2008
Death Penalty, Innocence Project & Old Confessions all Rolled in to One.
In recent years we have seen more and more states holding back on the execution of inmates. More and more often groups such as the Innocence Project are proving, through various methods, that innocent people are on Death Row. There are more discussions than ever before on the reasons behind execution and more debate about whether or not we should continue with the practice. No matter how you personally feel about the issue there are many materials out there for you to read and information that will give you much food for thought.
This week, for the first time, the U.S. Supreme Court will be hearing a case that involves the execution for an inmate accused of a crime other than murder. It is an awful and messy case that involves a child. There are other states that are also advancing their death penalty laws to include similar circumstances. Although no one has been executed, since 1964, for anything other than murder. Newsweek has an excellent article that details, not only this case Kennedy v. Louisiana, but also the way that perception has been changing about execution in this country. They ask, "Is this a burgeoning new trend for the execution of rapists or the last gasps of capital punishment?" Part of what they must look at, in the Constitution, is the "cruel and unusual punishment" versus the "evolving standards of decency". An excellent and informative article. It is often quite difficult to understand all the parts that the Supreme Court must evaluate when they hear cases and this article spells it out quite well about this very huge issue.
Another very important thing that one must look at when considering Death Row or those serving life sentences are those who are wrongly convicted and the numbers keep rising. If you ever have the interest, or desire, to read Barry Schecks book "Actual Innocence" you will be amazed at the conduct by some lawyers, or maybe not, how witness identification can be so wrong. In my mind there can be nothing more heinous than to spend a major portion of your life in prison for something you REALLY did not do. How drastically that must change a persons life. No matter what compensation you may receive later it can not make up for the way that your life will be altered forever. The book is amazing. I read it when it first came out and used to let some of my seniors use it, when I taught about the constitution and the death penalty, for those that wanted to stand on the side against. They would often debate the issue.
Soon, another wrongfully convicted man, who has spent 26 years in prison may get to walk out as a free man. He has spent those years in prison, even though another man confessed, due to a technicality in the law in his state. How pathetic and sad is that? There will be no way for him to get those years back or the peace of mind that he has lost by being incarcerated for that many years.
The actual guilty party confessed, in writing, and gave it to his own lawyers to be opened upon his death. He died in prison for an unrelated crime. The catch was, even though he told them, lawyers can only tell someone about this only if it will prevent serious bodily harm, death or criminal fraud. In this case, the other man was already dead. He was confessing about a murder that had already occurred and there was nothing that anyone could do about it. They had to sit on this for 26 years! This is another amazing story. A sad and pathetic story that tells how the justice system in this country needs to be scrutinized and given an overhaul. I am not saying that we need to change every bit piece by piece, but we need to look at loop holes like this and fix it, so something like this doesn't happen to someone else. How do we even know that it hasn't. Just because this story has come to light does not mean that there are not more men like Alton Logan who have lost the prime years of their lives in a place as humiliating and degrading as prison.