Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Capital Punishment

We're on an episode by episode diet of a couple of Netflix's British TV offerings at present.
They are set in different time periods, and in Britain: The Grand set in or around 1920, in Manchester, north of England; and Inspector George Gently set in the mid 1960s in the north-eastern counties of Durham and Northumberland. In episodes of both series, instances of capital punishment have been portrayed, in quick but detailed scenes. Hanging. No gaggle of observers present, as often seen in American movies when the electric chair or gas chamber scenes are part of plots. Basic, fast : hangman, witness and priest. Bag over convict's head, noose round neck - lever pulled down - done and dusted! In a relevant scene from The Grand it was a teenaged female hanged, in the Gently series several murderers convicted before 1965 were hanged in various 90 minute episodes.

The sight of those fictional hangings came as a surprise - gave my sensibilities quite a jolt! For most of my life, in the UK, the death penalty had become a thing of the past. The last hanging in Britain happened in 1965, so since capital punishment was no more an option, I had given little time to considering the pros and cons. Arriving in Oklahoma, though, I was shocked to discover that, here, the death penalty is still "a thing" - in the 21st century! Not only that, but the fact that, in the course of administering said penalty via lethal injection, more than once things have gone wrong due to incompetence, or other excuse.

There are plans for the death penalty to be abolished in the USA, in states still allowing it.
With reference to the Democratic Platform 2016:
In 2012, Democrats wrote that "the death penalty must not be arbitrary." The 2016 platform goes further. We will abolish the death penalty, which has proven to be a cruel and unusual form of punishment. It has no place in the United States of America.
That's not Hillary Clinton's position.
Another empty promise? We shall see.

An interesting piece on the history of the death penalty is at the PBS website HERE. Goodness me! Some of those ancient methods of carrying out the ultimate punishment are worse than anything seen in the most horrific of horror movies: burning, boiling, drawing and quartering, drowning, crucifixion, burial alive, beating to death, and impalement. "The Romans had a curious punishment for parricides (murder of a parent): the condemned was submersed in water in a sack, which also contained a dog, a rooster, a viper and an ape. The most notorious death execution in BC was about 399 BC when the Greek philosopher Socrates was required to drink poison for heresy and corruption of youth."

William the Conqueror seems to have been the only historical "good cop" in a universe of "very bad cops". He opposed taking life except in war, and ordered no person to be hanged or executed for any offense. However, he allowed criminals to be mutilated for their crimes. (I thought there'd have to have been a snag!)

My own feelings on the death penalty: a lifetime's hard labour (and I do mean hard) would be a more appropriate punishment for horrendous crimes. These days death offers (mostly) a quick and easy way out. In cases where further evidence surfaces, proving the convicted person to have been innocent, though unfairly punished for a time, he or she would still be alive, and perhaps eligible for compensation.

“You look at the crime and you look at the criminal. If it's a dope dealer who guns down an undercover narcotics officer, then he gets the gas. If it's a drifter who rapes a three-year-old girl, drowns her by holding her little head in a mudhole, then throws her body off a bridge, then you take his life and thank god he's gone. If it's an escaped convict who breaks into a farmhouse late at night and beats and tortures an elderly couple before burning them with their house, then you strap him in a chair, hook up a few wires, pray for his soul, and pull the switch. And if it's two dopeheads who gang-rape a ten-year-old girl and kick her with pointed-toe cowboy boots until her jaws break, then you happily, merrily, thankfully, gleefully lock them in a gas chamber and listen to them squeal. It's very simple. Their crimes were barbaric. Death is too good for them, much too good.”
― John Grisham, in A Time to Kill.


mike said...

No easy punishment solution when it comes to horrific crimes. I'm against the death penalty, but I could make an exception or two for some of the brutal, inhumane, psycho murderers. We in the USA (and I'm sure elsewhere) have wolf-pack lawyers and district attorneys that set-up, withhold evidence and facts, and often with a system that the penurious clients are provided shoddy and-or overworked defense attorneys.

It costs more to convict with the death penalty, due to all of the legal appeals and hearings. A quick online search reveals that it's far cheaper to give a life sentence, which costs plenty in itself.

The death penalty became more tainted when the Innocence Project came about two decades ago:
This ancillary organization has provided the criminal justice system with analysis and results that so often refute the foundation of the system, usually by examining evidence that was never tested and uncovering wrong-doing within the system. The organization is a testament to the disease of our legal system.

I'm not partial to juries, either. California has been exploring a new system of professional jurists, trained-educated to evaluate legal cases as full-time professions. I don't think lawyers are keen on that, as they tend to prefer selecting the jury pool from common citizens, which are more easily cherry-picked for the lawyer's advantage.

Obama has granted clemency to 673 prisoners, some serving life sentences. He and DOJ are hoping to release a total of 1,500 prisoners by the end of Obama's term.

I always thought that death by staking-tying the guilty to an African ant hill was horrendous...made me get the heebie-jeebies. That punishment was in several movies from my black-and-white movie days as a youth, usually viewed on a hot, midwest, summer night and perfect for nightmares...LOL.

Twilight said...

mike ~ Thanks for your thoughts, and additional important pointers, on this.
I agree that there often appears to be way too much wiggle room within the legal system here, loop-holes for crafty lawyers to exploit, making eventual findings to have been, at times, suspect. If a death penalty (sadly) had to form part of a nation's laws, a scrupulously fair legal system should be in place - and that hardly ever seems to happen.

I'm not sure the idea of professional jurists is a good one. Isn't the accused supposed to be tried "by a jury of his/her peers"? Maybe that's just in British law.
Pro-jurors wouldn't be peers of an accused. I can see value in having, maybe, one professional juror on a panel, as advisor. I'd totally ban the cherry-picking of jurors by lawyers if I were in charge...(LOL!) A jury of peers would not be open to be picked-over, not in my book!

Yikes! That's another horrendous death penalty (by ants)!

mike (again) said...

No mention of "peers" in the US Constitution, Sixth Amendment: "...the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed..."

Two quick articles for professional juries:

One against:

mike (again) said...

BTW - I have a knack for being judge, jury, and need for a trial in my house...LOL.

Twilight said...

mike (again) ~ Thanks for the links. The last one best suited my own thoughts.

Wiki confirms that in the UK there's no picking and choosing of jurors (voir dire).

The United Kingdom consists of three separate legal jurisdictions, but there are some features common to all of them. In particular there is seldom anything like the US voir dire system; jurors are usually just accepted without question. Controversially, in England there has been some screening in sensitive security cases, but the Scottish courts have firmly set themselves against any form of jury vetting.

I think the jury of peers idea arose from the Magna Carta when it was deemed that whenever a nobleman got caught in a crime and was tried, the jury should be of his own ilk - i.e.noblemen. (Looking after their own, as it were!) But it's a good plan, in general, in modern times I reckon.

Twilight said...

mike (again) ~ LOL! Your motto: "Off with their heads!"

mike (again) said...

Have you been summoned for jury duty in OK? It's an arduous experience, with each state having different rules. In CA and TX, the potential juror is on-call for one week and invariably will be called to report for duty in the jury pool for at least one day. If called to report to a judge's courtroom, it can last days, whether selected or not.

The last time I was called, several years ago in TX, I actually made it to a judge's courtroom, along with 49 others. It was a case where a fellow in his own home refused to let the police in. The police broke the front door down while the fellow locked himself in the bathroom and flushed "something" down the toilet, just as the police were forcing themselves into the bathroom.

We potential jurists were asked whether we would have any qualms deciding a case against this fellow without was flushed...and based solely on the police's description that a drug was flushed down the toilet. I had a problem with this scenario! The fellow probably was flushing drugs down the toilet, but hey, no evidence. The toilet didn't clog, so I assume it was a small amount intended for personal use.

Further, we jurists were asked whether we thought drugs should be legalized. I and two others raised our hands and each of us was asked to explain our rationale. I said that I believed personal-use drug cases should be handled through mental-physical health services, not the criminal justice system. I was excused immediately...LOL.

I didn't like this outcome, as it indicated I had been excluded on bias. I would have antagonized the prosecuting attorney, and benefited the defense. I like the British juror, selected without questions and as-is.

Twilight said...

mike (again) ~ No, I haven't been summoned here, but anyjazz has, a few years ago.
He turned up, but wasn't chosen/needed. Back in the UK, I was never summoned, even if summoned, though, I had an "out" being a civil servant and working in a law-related department.

Interesting story you told there! A quinky-dink occurred this evening. We'd put three junk store DVDs in our multiple DVD player a week or so ago. We'd watched two of them on previous nights, went to the third tonight, and I'd completely forgotten what it was, as I'd picked 'em up fairly willy-nilly, 3 for $1 or some such price on our last trip. Turned out the film was "Runaway Jury" ! LOL! Very quinky indeed! The theme was exactly that we've been discussing! As it happened we'd seen the movie before, long ago, but memories were hazy.

R J Adams said...

Frankly, from the knowledge I gleaned of the U.S. legal system I'm just glad I was never arrested for anything. That evil witch Nancy Grace gave me the shudders. The death penalty is merely a reflection of our own underlying barbarism - hence our immediate reaction to kill in revenge when a particularly foul murder is committed, or when the victim is someone we know. Life sentences for such crimes should be life without parole, except under exceptional circumstances. If evidence later comes to light clearing that person of blame at least he/she is alive to be released and compensated. That's my tuppence worth, anyway. ;-)

Twilight said...

RJ Adams ~ Agreed! The legal system here is on a par with the political/electoral system: A thin veil of legitimacy covering all manner of "pay to play" type skullduggery. :-/