“Justice Breyer final (and actual) concern is with the death penalty itself. As I have elsewhere explained, it is clear that the Eighth Amendment does not prohibit the death penalty. The only thing “cruel and unusual” in this case was petitioner’s brutal murder of three innocent victims.”
—Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, rebutting the arguments of Justice Breyer, a long-time opponent of capital punishment regarding the denial of certiorari in a death-penalty case, Reynolds v. Florida.
Justice Breyer’s statement reiterated themes he has echoed before in death penalty cases:
- “Lengthy delays—made inevitable by the Constitution’s procedural protections for defendants facing execution—deepen the cruelty of the death penalty and undermine its penological rationale”;
- Jurors (in this or other cases in which the Court has recently denied review) might not have had sufficient information to “have made a ‘community-based judgment’ that a death sentence was ‘proper retribution’”; and
- The constitutionality of the death penalty should be reconsidered.
Justice Thomas’s entire statement in rebuttal, ending in the section quoted above, is excellent… Continue reading
1 “A Murder in the Park.” The 2014 documentary about how the Northwestern University “Innocence Project” freed a guilty murderer hours before his execution and framed an innocent man who was eventually exonerated is now available on Netflix. I wrote about the case, which had the unanticipated consequence of causing Illinois to ban the death penalty, in 2014. Then I concentrated on how badly the whole mess reflected on the justice system. As I watched the documentary last night, however, what struck me was the self-satisfied smugness and certitude of the journalism students who participated in selective investigation, advocacy instead of objective reporting, manipulation of witnesses, cause driven conclusions and more. The documentary shows us why journalism has become whatever it can be called now–certainly not journalism. Northwestern has one of the elite journalism schools in the nation, and David Protess, then the professor who ran “The Innocence Project,” was teaching students that corrupt journalism was honorable. Protess at the time was perhaps the most praised journalism teacher in the nation. It seems that he was less the exception than the rule.
2. Real discipline would be nice for a change. The Office of Special Counsel (OSC) informed the Trump yesterday that White House counselor Kellyanne Conway violated the Hatch Act twice. The findings were referred to President Trump “for appropriate disciplinary action.” The White House promptly denied the charges, so we should assume that Kelly won’t be disciplined at all.
The Hatch Act allows federal employees to express their views about candidates and political issues as private citizens, but forbids them from using their official government positions try to influence elections. Of course Conway violated the Act. On Fox and CNN, she made it clear that voters in Alabama should reject Democrat Doug Jones. The White House ludicrously claims that Conway did not advocate for or against the election of any particular candidate. Nah…she just told Fox viewers last November,
“Doug Jones in Alabama, folks, don’t be fooled. He will be a vote against tax cuts. He is weak on crime, weak on borders. He is strong on raising your taxes. He is terrible for property owners.”
On CNN, she said in part,
1 Good-bye Charlie! To get things off to a happy start this Sunday, let’s ponder the news that Charles Manson’s death is imminent. Good. What’s worth pondering is why our society allowed him to live at our expense since 1969. If the justice system has to maintain some ultimate punishment for the worst of the worst crimes if only to stake out the position that some conduct forfeits the right to exist in a civilized nation—and it does—then Manson should have shuffled off this mortal coil, or rather had it shuffled off for him.
Mark this down as one more area where California has arrived at the wrong answer to an ethics problem.
2. “Knock-knock!” Who’s there? “Child molester!” Child molester who? “Child molester? What child molester? We don’t see any child molesters…” According to internal documents, the Jehovah’s Witnesses has instructed congregation leaders, called elders, to keep child abuse secret from law enforcement as a matter of policy since at least 1989.
The religious group’s headquarters, known as the Watchtower, sent a letter in 1997 to local elders across the U.S instructing them to send to a written report about anyone currently or formerly serving in a position of responsibility known to be have sexually abused a child. A California appeals court last week upheld an order for the Witnesses to pay $4,000 for each day it does not turn over the documents to the court, and the tab currently stands at $2 million. The ruling stems from a case in San Diego, where a man sued the Jehovah’s Witnesses for failing to warn congregants that a child predator was in among them.
Osbaldo Padron was sexually abused as a child by an adult member of his congregation named Gonzalo Campos. Campos confessed to sexually abusing seven children, but although leaders at the Watchtower knew this, they continued to promote him to higher positions of responsibility and took no action to protect tne children he came in contact with.
Nice. I guess I’m not going to be polite and chat with those people who knock on my door with copies of the church’s newsletter—you know, “The Watchtower”?—any more.
Is it possible that everyone in the church’s leadership missed the Catholic Church’s scandal in this area? Nobody saw “Spotlight”? Nobody there has a drop of decency or integrity?
Fascinating. Perhaps after he loses his Senate race, maybe Roy Moore will consider a new gig at the Watchtower. Continue reading
That’s the judge lying down. At least he wasn’t wearing his robe…
Arkansas circuit judge Wendell Griffen granted a temporary restraining order last week halting the Arkansas Department of Corrections from executing seven condemned prisoners within eleven days as it had planned, as Griffen barred the use of one of the ingredients in the lethal drug “cocktail.” A federal judge followed up quickly with anothee order likewise barring Arkansas from proceeding to execute anyone with a lethal injection. Mission accomplished, Judge Griffen decided to reward himself by attending an anti-death penalty rally in which he participated with elan, playing a condemned prisoner lying prone on a lawn chair as if it was a gurney.
What fun! And what an idiot! No ethics alarms went off, despite the fact that he was flagrantly displaying his bias against the death penalty immediately after interfering with the state’s law enforcement based on a fair and objective interpretation of the law.
State officials were outraged, and argued that Griffen’s conduct proved that he was not capable of impartiality in capital cases. Ya think?
Yesterday the Arkansas Supreme Court pulled Griffen from all pending death penalty and lethal injection protocol cases. It also referred him to the state’s Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission to determine whether he violated the Code of Judicial Conduct.
Good. Continue reading
Above: Glenn Ford Today. L-Ford in 1983 R-The apologetic prosecutor
Now THIS is a #1 Level apology on the Ethics Alarms Apology Scale.
It’s more than an apology, really: it approaches self-flagellation. The tragic aspect of the confession and apology of former prosecutor A.M. “Marty” Stroud III, is that no one can really apologize for what he did, not after 30 years. For Stroud was the lead prosecutor in the December 1984 first-degree murder trial of Glenn Ford, who was convicted and sentenced to death for murdering Isadore Rozeman. Ford was innocent, and was finally released a year ago. His is a classic, horror story of justice derailed. Continue reading
What does this picture have in common with the Alstory Simon case and the Illinois criminal justice system? Read on…
All Americans owe a debt to the many non-profit organizations across the country dedicated to freeing innocent prisoners, some of them sentenced to die, who were wrongly prosecuted and convicted as a result of breakdowns in the justice system or prosecutorial corruption. Their work has served as an invaluable fail-safe, it has focused attention on needed reforms, and it has rescued innocent lives before they were completely destroyed. As a reminder of the corruptive power of good intentions, however, the recent release of a convicted murderer put in prison by one of these organizations serves as an ethics cautionary tale. Apparently one such “innocence project” believed that it was worth sending an innocent man to prison for a murder he did not commit in order to save the man originally convicted of the crime from execution.
In 1998,* Illinois death row inmate Anthony Porter, convicted in the 1982 murders of Marilyn Green and Jerry Hillard, was apparently proven innocent 48 hours before his scheduled execution. A Northwestern University professor and his students working with the Medill Innocence Project had obtained a videotaped confession by a man named Alstory Simon, admitting that he, not Porter, was the real killer. Porter was ultimately released, in 1999.
The governor of Illinois at the time, George Ryan, a longtime supporter of the death penalty, claimed that he was so shocked by the near fatal miscarriage of justice that he halted all executions less than a year after Porter’s exoneration. Eventually he commuted the sentences of every prisoner on death row, saying the state’s capital punishment system could not be trusted. The Simon confession leading to Porter’s exoneration drove the shift in public opinion that caused the Illinois death penalty’s demise in 2011.
Happy ending? Not exactly. In 2005, witnesses who implicated Simon announced that they had fabricated their stories in exchange for money and a promise by the Northwestern professor, David Protess, that he would work to free two incarcerated relatives of one of the witnesses. Then Alstory Simon recanted his confession, saying that he had been persuaded by a faked videotape of witnesses implicating him in the crime, and promises of a short prison sentence and a movie deal if he confessed to a crime he didn’t commit. Last week, an Illinois judge ordered Simon released from prison after prosecutors agreed that he was probably not guilty. He had spent almost 15 years in prison. Continue reading
No danger of an innocent being unjustly executed here, Richard…Now what?
Most Ethics Dunces named on Ethics Alarms are being chided for one, possibly anomalous, instance of ethics cluelessness, but not Richard Cohen. He is a lifetime, career-long ethics dunce. It is noteworthy when he writes something that doesn’t reek of ethics confusion.
Today he is blogging about the death penalty. There are coherent, powerful arguments that have been and can be made against the death penalty, but Cohen doesn’t bother with any of them, which, as a reflex old-school liberal, he should at least know by heart. No, he attacks the decision of Eric Holder to approve his Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s request to seek the death penalty for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving Boston Marathon bomber as “political cowardice using one invalid argument after another, and by the way, curse you, Richard Cohen, for forcing me to defend Attorney General Holder.
Here are Cohen’s “arguments”:
- The death penalty is a horrible crime on par with Tsarnaev and his brother intentionally killing and maiming innocent spectators of the Boston Marathon. Such an absurd statement carries a high burden of proof, which Cohen doesn’t even attempt to meet.
- “[The death penalty] is the sine qua non of lack of thought, a medieval tick of the political right, a murder in the name of murder that does absolutely no good, unless it is to validate the killers’ belief in killing.” Ironically, Cohen’s post is the sine qua non of lack of thought. Since the death penalty has been around continuously since well before Medieval times, calling it a medieval tick is about as fair and accurate as calling religion, warfare, and property laws medieval tics. Of course it does good: the fact that a vicious anti-social murderer is permanently removed from society and no longer uses up resources, space and oxygen that can be better employed in the furtherance of humanity is an absolute good, and that those contemplating similarly heinous acts are on notice that the same fate awaits them is also good. Continue reading