Sunday, March 27, 2005

Warwick Castle and a rant

We did Warwick Castle today, with a brief swing through Stratford upon Avon which was of no consequence. While Helen appears to be feeling better, Mary is feeling worse. So once again I took the in-laws. Friday marked the beginning of the tourist season, so ticket prices were up (but worth it... 10.95 pounds for me as a student, 13.95 regular admission). There must have been 2,000 people there, among which I heard several American accents. Aside from the enormity of the castle, the gardens, conservatory, dungeons, and various exhibits were great. The pleasant weather was a bonus, though I must admit that I am growing more and more tired as each night I fail to get enough sleep, what with an ill family and all.

On to other things... BK has blogged about the death penalty and I figured I'd weigh in with my two pence worth. I believe in the validity of the death penalty and that it is endorsed in some form in the New Testament in Romans 13. I think the two main purposes of the death penalty are 1) justice for the victims/victim's loved ones and 2) to serve as a deterrent for those considering murder. A good argument for the death penalty in some cases can be made using the recent case of Brian Nichols, the Atlanta courtroom shooter. He is obviously guilty but, in addition, he was facing life in prison for raping and kidnapping his former girlfriend. If he is found guilty of these crimes and then is not executed for killing four people then he will not be punished for the murders (though we know exactly how he performed them). He is already a lifer. He'll simply get more "life sentences" added on. Will that be justice to the victims' spouses and children?

Now that I have laid this out, I think our current system for capital punishment is broken (and here come two more reasons)... 1) the lag between the punishment and the crime keeps the notions of justice and deterrence far removed and 2) the two-tiered justice system where capital punishment is most often used. It is a well-known fact that poor people don't get the same quality of criminal defense that the rich do (a la O.J.). Many of the accused are poor and ignorant and don't have the first clue how to avoid the death penalty. Add to this the fact that their government-appointed defense is so inept that it misses glaring errors in the case. I don't think that this applies to most of those sentenced in capital murder cases, but enough to raise serious questions (for example-- the story which BK quotes). I think it is appropriate for all state governments to call a moratorium on the death penalty until some things can be looked at and changed.

First, at the least each state should set up a panel of independent judges to review all death row cases. There are not that many on death row in any one state, so this is less burdensome that it might appear... we're talking teens or hundreds here. Many states already have safeguards like these to a certain degree, but probably not enough. The astonishing number of death row inmates who have been exonerated by DNA evidence (which was not available when they were convicted) over the past few years demonstrates the problem. How many innocent people have we executed in recent years? I fear the answer is not zero. Ultimately, the use of better investigative techniques such a DNA examination also lends more credence to the notion of finding the guilty party and thus ultimately strengthens the validity of the punishing the correct person.

Second, if the USA is to be the only major world power which still uses the death penalty then we have an obligation to demonstrate to the world that it can be done in accordance with our founding principles. What this means is that we must be willing to pay the high financial bill that needs to be incurred to adequately defend everyone accused of capital crimes. We must offer good defense lawyers incentives for defending the poor. The problem is that many of the poorest states also have the death penalty and they are the states that can least afford to pay. But no one said that justice is cheap. States such as Alabama can't have their the luxury (bad description) of the death penalty without the obligation of a fair judicial process.

Third, the entire process must be streamlined. I have no idea how to do this, but when a man waits 25 years to die for mudering someone, it is doubtful that the victim's family feels much justice has taken place or that any other potential murderers are encouraged to think twice. The Chinese government can accuse, arrest, and kill an accused criminal within a week... this is obviously wrong. But is it unrealistic to expect the punishment to be meaded out in 5 years or less? It is under current expenditures.

Until steps such as these are taken, I can't endorse the death penalty in the U.S.. But, if other countries are willing to have these and similar measures, I think that they should have the death penalty. And my opinion on this has been the same for over a year now... England hasn't made me soft or anything, My experience watching the evening news in the UK is that a murder will usually get a criminal 7-10 years in jail. That is a mockery of the notion of justice, too.


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