« Effective coverage of crack retroactivity debate | Main | Has President Bush been soft on capital murderers? »

November 12, 2007

Obama, the death penalty and presidential politics

This new post at TalkLeft, which spotlights this new AP article headlined "Obama Cites Death Penalty Reforms," has me thinking again about how capital punishment issues could become significant during the primary and general election seasons.  First, a snippet from the AP article:

Barack Obama can honestly claim to have made a difference on a matter of life and death.  While an Illinois state senator, Obama was key in getting the state's notorious death penalty laws changed, including a requirement that in most cases police interrogations involving capital crimes must be recorded.

The changes enacted in 2003 reformed a system that had sent 13 people to death row, only to have them released because they were later determine to be innocent or had been convicted using improper methods. "Without Barack's energy, imagination and commitment I do not believe the very substantial and meaningful reforms that became law in Illinois would have taken place," said author Scott Turow, a member of the state commission that recommended many of the changes.

Obama often cites his role in Illinois death penalty debate as evidence that he can resolve thorny issues through compromise. "We brought police officers and civil rights advocates together to reform a death penalty system that had sent 13 innocent men to death row," he declare in a recent presidential debate. Enactment of the 2003 law was a huge political achievement in a state that had been deeply divided over problems with capital punishment. Obama was at the center of the emotional debate.

Legislators and lobbyists who worked with him describe a lawmaker who was personally involved, refused to abandon some needed changes but also demanded compromises from both law enforcement and death penalty critics.

A proposal to require that police record interrogations of murder suspects was opposed by police, prosecutors and the Democratic governor and considered so touchy it was separated from other legislation. It also was the issue that garnered Obama's special interest. "I thought the prosecutors and law enforcement would kill it," said Peter Baroni, who was then a Republican aide to the Illinois Senate's judiciary committee. "He (Obama) was the one who kept people at the table." In the end, police organizations supported the recording mandate, and the measure passed the Senate unanimously.

Second, a little personal analysis: if Obama plays this issue right, it could be a real plus in setting up the broader theme that he can be a principled and effective "good government" moderate.  As I have suggested before, neither the Clinton record nor the Romney record on the death penalty make them look very good.  Moreover, the death penalty is likely to be in the news a lot with the Baze case before the Supreme Court.

Indeed, if Obama was really clever, he might even consider proposing federal legislation calling for the development of new and improved national execution protocol.  Though such a proposal, Obama could say that it is important to have a humane and thoughtful review of these issues, and yet he could also assert that this is really a policy/practice issue that ought to be addressed by legislators and not judges.  Along the way, he could beat up the bush Administration for talking tough and yet agreeing to unexplained stays for the federal prisoners scheduled to be executed.

Some related posts:

November 12, 2007 at 03:21 PM | Permalink

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d83451574769e200e54f8158d38833

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Obama, the death penalty and presidential politics:

Comments

Obama is not someone who can be taken seriously on criminal justice matters. Any national politician who yammers about the "just us system" or who calls a six-on-one stomping of an unconscious student a "schoolyard fight" is simply unserious.

And the idea that Barack Obama can get to the right of George Bush (who isn't running) on capital punishment is laughable.

If, by some miracle, Barack Obama beats Hillary for the Dem nomination (Hillary is definitely blessed to have Obama as her main opponent.), it is highly unlikely that he will make crime a major issue in the election. It's doubtful that swing voters will be all that thrilled with a guy who took up the cause of a violent thug like Mychal Bell--lots of swing voters have kids, and not many would be thrilled to send their kids to school with the likes of Bell. Everyone knows most national Dems, in their heart of hearts, don't feel that criminals are responsible for their crimes--I don't see why Dems would want to call attention to this fact by talking tough on crime.

Posted by: federalist | Nov 12, 2007 4:16:30 PM

And why should crime be a major issue, anyway?

I think we are all against it. Sentencing and criminal procedure are far too technical to be election-year issues, anyway.

Posted by: S.cotus | Nov 12, 2007 4:57:14 PM

federalist, I think is more about compassion and giving people second chances, rather than store them in human waste fields.

People that commit a mistake and dont have to go to jail shouldn't be sent. Our Justice system should be based in rehabilitation, not on punishment, and in providing more business for the prison industrial complex, which happily donates money to any candidate with a new crime bill.

Posted by: EJ | Nov 12, 2007 5:21:49 PM

What a sea change from past elections, where "kill 'em all, let God sort 'em out" was the battle cry. If you were running for president, you had better have been from a state where capital punishment was a) legal, and b) used.

Now we have innocence projects, debates about lethal injection, and moratoria. It is amazing to think that someone who promoted an innocence project can be talked about as "saving lives," not "soft on crime." Wow!

Sure, people will probably still want a crime-fighting prez at the end of the day, but these memes have been released into our consciousness and who knows what the next few decades (change is glacial) will bring?

Posted by: Annes_3@excite.com | Nov 14, 2007 9:55:19 AM

OUR US CONGRESSIONAL LEADERS OF THE FREE WORLD CONTINUE TO DENY AMERICA'S MIDDLE CLASS AND WORKING POOR AMERICANS PROPER LEGAL REPRESENTATION EVEN THOUGH WRONGFUL EXECUTIONS & FALSE INCARCERATIONS CONTINUE ALL ACROSS AMERICA ?????????????????

SENATOR OBAMA, THIS JUDICIAL INJUSTICE HAS BECOME AN AMERICAN ART FORM, AND NO LONGER CAN BE KEPT HIDDEN OR SECRET FROM THE AMERICAN PEOPLE EVEN IF CERTAIN (501c3) U$ RELIGIOU$ LEADER$ HAVE BEEN $ILENCED ??

LETS ALL HOPE OUR MEDIA FRIENDS CONTINUE TO SHOW AN INTEREST IN REPORTING ON THIS AMERICAN HORROR FACING THESE (TENS OF THOUSANDS) FORGOTTEN AND TRAPPED POORER AMERICANS, AND HOW THIS PRESIDENTIAL CONTENDER HANDLES THIS VERY SERIOUS ISSUE FACING AMERICA'S LATINO AND BLACK AMERICAN COMMUNITIES ????

WITH 80% OF THE BLACK AMERICAN VOTERS SAYING THEY SUPPORT SENATOR OBAMA IN THIS PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION, IT IS ONLY FAIR FOR EVERYONE TO KNOW PRIOR BEING ELECTED OUR NEXT PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES HOW THIS DEMOCRATIC SENATOR TRULY FEELS ABOUT THIS AMERICAN JUDICIAL INJUSTICE CONTINUING TO INFLICT GRAVE HARM ON THE BLACK & LATINO AMERICAN FAMILIES AND THEIR COMMUNITIES NATIONWIDE ??????

*** WHEN GOD'S FACE BECAME VERY RED ***
THE US SUPREME COURT GAVE ENEMY COMBATANTS FEDERAL APPEAL HC RIGHTS LAWYERS AND PROPER ACCESS TO US FEDERAL COURTS,AND POORER AMERICANS (MANY EVEN ON DEATH ROW) ARE DENIED PROPER FEDERAL APPEAL LEGAL REPRESENTATION TO OUR US FEDERAL COURTS OF APPEAL, AND ROTTING IN AMERICAN PRISONS NATIONWIDE ?????????

**** INNOCENT AMERICANS ARE DENIED REAL HC RIGHTS WITH THEIR FEDERAL APPEALS !
THE AMERICAN PEOPLE ARE $LOWLY FINDING OUT HOW EA$Y IT I$ FOR MIDDLE CLA$$ AND WORKING POOR AMERICAN$ TO FALL VICTIM TO OUR U$ MONETARY JUDICIAL $Y$TEM.

****WHEN THE US INNOCENT WERE ABANDONED BY THE GUILTY ****
The prison experts have reported that there are 100,000 innocent Americans currently being falsely imprisoned along with the 2,300,000 total US prison population nationwide.

Since our US Congress has never afforded poor prison inmates federal appeal legal counsel for their federal retrials,they have effectively closed the doors on these tens of thousands of innocent citizens ever being capable of possibly exonerating themselves to regain their freedom through being granted new retrials.

This same exact unjust situation was happening in our Southern States when poor and mostly uneducated Black Americans were being falsely imprisoned for endless decades without the needed educational skills to properly submit their own written federal trial appeals.

This devious and deceptive judicial process of making our poor and innocent prison inmates formulate and write their own federal appeal legal cases for possible retrials on their state criminal cases,is still in effect today even though everyone in our US judicial system knows that without proper legal representation, these tens of thousands of innocent prison inmates will be denied their rightful opportunities of ever being granted new trials from our federal appeal judges!!

Sadly, the true US *legal* Federal Appeal situation that occurs when any of our uneducated American prison inmates are forced to attempt to submit their own written Federal Appeals (from our prisons nationwide) without the assistance of proper legal counsel, is that they all are in reality being denied their legitimate rights for Habeas Corpus and will win any future Supreme Court Case concerning this injustice!

For our judicial system and our US Congressional Leaders Of The Free World to continue to pretend that this is a real and fair opportunity for our American Middle Class and Working Poor Citizens, only delays the very needed future change of Federal Financing of all these Federal appeals becoming a normal formula of Our American judicial system.

It was not so very long ago that Public Defenders became a Reality in this country.Prior that legal reality taking place, their were also some who thought giving anyone charged with a crime a free lawyer was a waste of taxpayers $$.

This FACADE and HORROR of our Federal Appeal proce$$ is not worthy of the Greatest Country In The World!

***GREAT SOCIETIES THAT DO NOT PROTECT EVEN THEIR INNOCENT, BECOME THE GUILTY!

A MUST READ ABOUT AMERICAN INJUSTICE:
1) YAHOO AND 2) GOOGLE
MANNY GONZALES THE KID THAT EVERYONE FORGOT IN THE CA PRISON SYSTEM.
** A JUDICIAL RIDE OF ONES LIFE !

lawyersforpooramericans@yahoo.com
(424-247-2013)

Posted by: DOUGLAS FIELD | Oct 1, 2008 1:05:23 PM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB