Saturday, February 10, 2007


Posted by olvlzl.
Some ideas are so common that they are only mentioned in passing as an obvious truth or they go without saying altogether. One of these conventionalized truths is that someone who opposes the death penalty is disqualified from the discussion of it. "Of course x is opposed to the death penalty," is often treated as the last that needs to be heard of x on the subject. It often goes unsaid but its assumption has fundamentally distorted the discussion of the imposition of capital punishment.

I belive that this attitude was consciously adopted by politicians and prosecuting attorneys becuase it effectively eliminates oppontents of the death penalty from being heard. It is inconvenient for them to have this vehicle for career advancement alwys coming into quesion by people with a moral or eithical opposition to it. And, let's say it, in most places for politicians and prosecutors, an association with the death penalty is a career builder. Having opponents excluded from the discussion removes a potential factor that could lessen the value of their past work.

It is also adopted by the media for reasons of profit. Our media love the death penalty. It adds drama to their coverage of trials, it becomes a most easily reported story within itself. Even anticipation of the failure to impose it can provide an occasion for a show of dramtic outrage in the reliable clack of cable conservatives. And it is as much of a boon for the entertainment division of our media conglomerates as it is for their loss leader, the "news". I don't for a second believe that any of these people actually cares if someone is put to death or not. The issue is entirely one of utility for them. They hardly want to risk dissipating dramatic tension with rational discussion of the issue.

In the courts, themselves, the exclusion of death penatly opponents from juries is an obvious injustice. The population contains large numbers of people who oppose the death penalty. To exclude them from the jury pool on that basis is to stack the jury. It excludes a large segment of the population, perhaps even entire religons. The reason given, that death penalty opponents will not be impartial is exactly the reason used to exclude black people and others from juries. And in allowing the exclusion the allegedly impartial judicial system promotes the increased liklihood of a given outcome. It unquestionably guarantees a less than representative jury pool even in the guilt phase of the trial. A prosecutor doesn't have a right to a jury biased in favor of a given outcome.

Most death penalty opponents come to that position after careful consideration of it. To exclude opponents of the death penalty from juries could result inless careful, less thoughtful juries. There should have to be a compelling, overriding public interest stated with factual support to allow this kind of exclusion. But I don't believe that has ever been done. It is possible that the prosecution could benefit from more thoughtful juries as well as the defense.

Maybe it is that judges love the death penalty too. In the Rumpole stories it is said that judges used to order muffins in their club after imposing death. Who can doubt that some of our Supreme Court members would be quite capable of that. Scalia, apparently one of those who got the giggles in the discussion of whether condemned prisoners in Florida have equal rights to about-to-be-put-down pets, said that there is no right to a painless death at the hands of the state. Muffins at his club would be less depraved than that, certainly among the foulest things said by someone sitting on that bench in its history. I regret that no one could have asked him if that would include death by dismemberment. No doubt his answer would have allowed the hilarity to continue.