Thursday, September 22, 2005

Matters of Procedure vs. Political Hacks

Cries for a study on capital punishment in North Carolina have been driven by an occasional acquittal, pardon, some decisions retry cases or exonerations. Not to resort to legal "nitpicking" but at least one of these cases where doubts of guilt existed still resembles “OJ type innocence” (hardly proven or actual). Come to think of it, no one-armed men were seen running from the crime scene and the victim didn't "murder himself". If the "legal landscape" had been unchanged by all of these events, reasonable persons might wonder if we should expect more of the same. Fortunately, and as a matter of procedure and ongoing review by persons more intimately (professionally) interested and involved in the process, this is not so.

Many of those who advocate for more study chose not to acknowledge that the current appellate process culled these cases where questions about guilt might exist from the “capital stringer” before they were executed (or even scheduled for execution). Equally ignored by moratorium or study sponsors are newly enacted laws requiring all prosecutors to disclose more evidence prior to trial or during the discovery process. Some of the requirements related to disclosure merely documented the existing procedures practiced by DA’s. To be sure, it’s clear that all lawyers (prosecutors and defense) involved in capital trials will now have to abide the same predefined (by law) levels of discovery.

There is no rush to execute those who are condemned and innocent persons are not being executed in our state. It’s arguable that many persons who advocate for an outright moratorium on executions confuse occasional wrongful convictions with wrongful executions. The wrongful execution rate is zero.

Many of those who have requested the proposed study on capital punishment have clients to represent or an agenda that includes abolition of the death penalty. A “fake death penalty” (or policy of moratoria) serves them just as well as (or better than) outright abolition. There’s no arguing with persons who insist on referring to unpublished or incomplete UNC studies that include questionable interpretations of possible racial bias when it comes to sentencing proven murderers. There are others who find it politically convenient to attack the judicial system or delay executions of murderers that truly deserve their sentence. Instead investing careful thought into how the courts work or providing thoughtful suggestions on how the courts might respond more fairly towards minorities, these persons waste little time demanding that the capital process be (temporarily?) shut down.

It’s not new news that a contentious issue such as capital punishment is likely to draw persons who really have no desires to see what some persons call “justice”. The creation of another legislative study commission could create a venue for these persons to grandstand for their causes or engage in self promotion and further erode public confidence in the system. What would moratorium or study sponsors say if the participants in proposed study commissions were required to be “death qualified” in many of the same ways that juries are?

Instead of allowing political hacks and special interests to manipulate the justice system, we should encourage thoughtful review of each criminal case (individually) using the courts as they are intended. Requiring “just another study” would amount to a “one-time review” of the system. Isn’t this redundant because the appellate process already provides multiple levels of mandatory review as a matter of procedure in each and every capital case? Put another way, doesn’t each and every capital case trigger a review of the issues of fairness in the system? What can’t moratorium (or study) sponsors study (on their own?) while executions of the guilty continue? Why should North Carolinians be forced to fund and endure the personal learning curves of moratorium advocates while proven predators escape justice?