August 18, 2009
"Supreme Court's Davis Ruling Raises New Death-Penalty Questions"
The title of this post is the headline of this very effectice piece on the Supreme Court's Davis decision from Time. The start and end of the piece capture a lot of the dynamic and challenging issues and questions that flow from the Supreme Court's work yesterday:
Under normal circumstances, it takes a case of national importance to rile the Supreme Court during its summer recess. But in the words of an old axiom of capital punishment, "death is different." And so, on a sleepy mid-August Monday, Aug. 17, the court — over a strong dissent — dusted off an antique tool, unused for nearly half a century, to force a new hearing into the slow-rolling fate of a Georgia death-row prisoner named Troy Davis. In the process, the court has opened up new questions about the death penalty: most crucially, how far the courts must go to ensure that an innocent man — as a wide array of politicians, former prosecutors and judges contend Davis is — is not executed....
Among the questions: Is the district judge advising the Supreme Court on how to handle the Davis case, or is the matter now formally in the district court again? Do the three silent Justices, who signed neither opinion — Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Anthony Kennedy and Samuel Alito — have a shared view of this unusual action? (Newly sworn-in Justice Sonia Sotomayor did not participate in the case.) Is this step a prelude to an official determination that the Constitution forbids the execution of an innocent prisoner, a seemingly obvious assumption that has never been formally declared? If so, what new filters of trial procedure and judicial review will have to be installed to reach that level of certainty and perfection? In his dissent, Scalia wrote, "This court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is 'actually' innocent."
The court's August eruption highlights once again the fundamental screwiness of America's death penalty. In the marble halls of our rational humanity, we demand absolute clarity and justice. As one of the many judges who has reviewed Davis' case puts it, "I do not believe that any member of a civilized society could disagree that executing an innocent person would be an atrocious violation of our Constitution and the principles upon which it is based." But most murders don't happen in the precincts of the rational or the just. They happen on the late-night mean streets, where truth is often a figment, and memory is as slippery as the greasy pavement.
Related Davis ruling posts:
- SCOTUS orders innocence hearing in Troy Davis case
- How many justices decided death and innocence (and original habeas) are different in Davis?
August 18, 2009 at 08:24 AM | Permalink
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Doesn't that last, noir sentence actually point at the heart of the issue?
We really can't, most of the time, have any real confidence that we're making the right judgment about who should or should not be killed without either ignoring reality or deluding ourselves about it. And regardless of the percentages and no matter how many protections we build in, if we kill enough people, we'll make mistakes, get it wrong some of the time.
For some of us, that's a sufficient basis by itself to oppose the death penalty in all cases, regardless of what other arguments for or against we may accept. For others, while the occasional death of an innocent or undeserving person may be a shame, it is an acceptable price to ensure that some who are guilty and deserving will be executed.
And oughtn't we, as a society and if we're serious about this, admit that truth and then either abandon the quest to execute or acknowledge that sure enough, by whatever measure, is good enough?
Posted by: Jeff Gamso | Aug 18, 2009 8:46:32 AM
This is the first sentence of the LA times article today on this order
"In a surprising move that could indicate a more liberal stance toward death penalty appeals"
I'm going to hold my breath until Roberts or Alito (since w/o S.S., at least one of them must have voted with Kennedy) cast such a liberal vote in public.
Posted by: . | Aug 18, 2009 11:13:48 AM
hello this is my first post
Posted by: sss | Aug 18, 2009 1:41:16 PM
Sooner or later we will have to confront the reality that post-conviction review of death sentences is fundamentally flawed. The state court judge, who is elected, is overworked and understaffed. None of the judges in NC have clerks and judges who have never tried a capital case are expected to review very complicated legal questions. Then, usually, judges defer to the attorney general to draft the Order denying relief to the defendant, which is then "reviewed" by a federal judge at habeas under a standard of deference to the state court decision.
Posted by: bruce cunningham | Aug 18, 2009 2:05:03 PM
I agree with what Jeff says. And I agree with what Bruce says too. The fundamental problem is that as a society we have shifted the totem of legitimacy away from outcomes and onto procedures. The result has been that any attack on the legitimacy of the system because of what appears to be an unjust outcome has been responded to by piling on more and more procedure. But rather than saving the system all it's done is show how fantastical it really it. An infinite amount of procedures is not going to produce an infinite amount of justice or an infinite amount of legitimacy; it's going to produce an unworkable morass. And unless you consider such a morass legitimate or just, then more procedures actually serve to undermine legitimacy rather than promote it.
Who shall guard the guardians is an infinite regression if you take it seriously. It seems, however, there is a majority on the Supreme Court who do indeed want to go to infinity and beyond.
Posted by: Daniel | Aug 18, 2009 4:14:14 PM
After fifty some years... we are winning.
Executing prisoners is a crime.
We should stop.
The American people are getting the message.
Tim Flanagan is a professor and writer
Posted by: Tim Flanagan | Aug 18, 2009 5:27:50 PM
Thank you for writing and adding the story of Troy Davis, and the hope for his life to be not taken. I have signed many online Petitions in order to support this young man in efforts to keep him alive. There are many reasons for this, one is that I am a student in Legal/Law School, and also a Minister with a future goal of working with Jail and Prison Inmates in the Ministry/Chaplain Career Field. I also believe that all states should make the right decision of to abolish the death penalty, and with regards to any inmate vs crime and convictions to give them Life with out Parole - as an alternative postive approach that I feel would be a positive impact on both the victims and their families life and also the inmate and his/her family and their life. The Holy Bible tells us plainly in the Ten Commandments in the book of Exodus: Thou shalt not kill. *If someone is convicted of killing - that in turn does not give "us" nor "anyone" the right to in turn then "kill" ourselves. By abolishing the death penalty - it gives people the time to heal, forgive, have mercy, and understand that God is our only true judge and the creator of all things, and "we" should not take matters such as "killing" someone for any reason into our own hands. I have the only reason of why a person could actually have this reason, and that would be my dear friends and readers - in Self-Defense only - or if it meant to save innocent life(s). Please give a lighter heart and make the world a "better" place, and let's not shed any blood that has not been already shed. Whatever is done has been done, we the people should not be "revengeval" people in our lifes or actions. We the people have no justification in having a motive to have revenge to kill someone - that has been convicted of killing. We as people should set examples of being moral people, with good values, and not put ourselves down to that level and lowering ourselves to commit a crime of murder, and then in turn, turn right around and murder ourselves - when it is "planned" they have been given "dates", and "times", and it is unlawful in any matter or aspect to have the death penalty - it is un-Constitutional, and our goals should be focused on the study of the human mind-brain and it's defects, and to research into these inmates lifes and find out what has made someone equal just as we "all are created equal" do what they have done, study it, and try and to correct it, and give these people the Rehabilitation and Counseling, and Medication that is available in todays world - it would be a good opportunity to set up a good Mental Health System - and this could set a good example of putting HEALTH CARE into effect for everyone, and in hopes that we as people, and we as human beings can get good HEALTH CARE, and MENTAL HEALTH CARE so that we as people and humans don't get this sick, or have any kind of sickness, and if we do or have a sickness, we can help it with modern day medicines, doctors, and health care to help protect us from sickness. Because no matter what anyone finds a person to be after committing a crime - or murder - THAT PERSON IS SICK! There is something wrong with that person, and we need to find out what it is, do science research and put our time and money wisely, and help people with their problems, forgive these people, know that they have a problem-sickness and something is wrong with people that act and have abnormal behavior - just as needing health care for those of us whom get sick, or need the care of doctors/dentist/mental health/eye doctors/specialist, nurses, L.P.N.'s/C.N.A. - we can not treat any one with "killing them" - this is not the answer - open up the doors to health care for all, and you will have people that can become more productive in life, and this World will be a better place.
In Honor of Leslie Van Houten.
Sister Jennifer Bland
*firstname.lastname@example.org (All comments welcome)
Posted by: Jennifer Bland | Aug 19, 2009 7:21:14 AM
Most disturbing in the order of the Supreme Court is the dissent of Scalia and Thomas who appear to have no problem with the execution of an innocent man.
Posted by: Michael R. Levine | Aug 19, 2009 12:58:21 PM
SO WHERE ARE OUR U.S. RELIGIOUS LEADERS HIDING ??
~ THE LOUD LAUGH OF SATAN WAS HEARD IN THE PEOPLES HALLS OF U.S. CONGRESS AND AMERICAN RELIGIOUS LEADERS HAVE TURNED THEIR HEADS,CLOSED THEIR EYES AND SHUT THEIR EARS IN FEAR ~
THIS OLD WORLD ORDER OF ABUSE AND NEGLECT OF OUR POORER AMERICANS NEEDS ENLIGHTENED POLITICAL MINDS AND HEARTS TO VIEW GOD DIFFERENTLY THEN $$$…. NO MATTER WHAT THEIR POLITICAL PARTY AFFILIATION ???
WHEN WILL OUR WEALTHY ELITE AMERICANS ABATE THEIR ASSAULT ON POORER AMERICANS WITH THEIR MONETARY CONTROL OF OUR IVORY TOWER U.S. CONGRESSIONAL LEADERS OF THE NEW WORLD ORDER ???
THERE ARE NOT MANY MORE DISTRACTIONS LEFT WHICH ARE AVAILABLE FOR OUR WEALTHY ELITE AMERICANS TO HIDE BEHIND IN NOT TAKING PROPER CARE OF ALL OUR AMERICANS IN A HUMANE FASHION !!!
RALPH NADER ATTEMPTED TO EDUCATE AMERICAN VOTERS ABOUT U.S. CORPORATE POWER IN AMERICA AND HOW THEY CONTROL OUR CONGRESSIONAL PEOPLE THROUGH THEIR POCKET BOOK (POLITICAL DONATIONS). * WITHOUT THE DOUGH $$$ THESE U.S. CONGRESSIONAL LEADERS OF THE FREE WORLD DO NOT GET RE~ELECTED TO CONGRESS.*TO STAY IN POLITICAL OFFICE IN AMERICA,ONE HAS TO BARTER YOUR VOTES IN CONGRESS AND REPRESENT POWER INTERESTS IN RETURN FOR THE BUCK$.
POORER AMERICANS HAVE NEVER HAD THE $$$ LOBBY TO INFLUENCE THIS CORRUPT POLITICAL CONCEPT (of horse trading political votes for political contributions) TO ACHIEVE PROPER HEALTH ~CARE OR LEGAL REPRESENTATION FOR ALL OUR MIDDLE ~ CLASS AND WORKING POOR AMERICANS.
AMERICAN IVORY TOWER U.S.CONGRESSIONAL LEADERS OF THE FREE WORLD HAVE PASSED FEDERAL LEGISLATION IN WASHINGTON DC TO SPEND 50 BILLION AMERICAN TAX $$$ ON THE INTERNATIONAL FIGHT AGAINST AIDS OVER THE NEXT FIVE YEARS WHILE THEIR OWN AMERICAN CITIZENS ARE BEING TOLD BY THIS SAME U.S.CONGRESS THAT NATIONAL HEALTH CARE AND PROPER LEGAL REPRESENTATION FOR MIDDLE CLASS AND WORKING POOR CITIZENS IS UNAFFORDABLE.
*** WEALTHY ELITE AMERICANS (WHO ARE ONLY 1% OF OUR USA POPULATION) SADLY ALSO CONTROL HOW OUR U.S.CONGRESS SPENDS THEIR BUDGET TRILLION$ AND HAVE OBVIOUSLY FOUND MORE WORTHY INTERNATIONAL CITIZENS THEN OUR OWN DESPERATE AND NEEDY POOR TO ASSIST !!!
~Poorer Americans Nationwide only get 400 million $$$ per year for legal representation allocated them by CONGRESS~
Middle Class and Working Poor Americans are unable to afford proper legal representation in their Civil, Criminal and Family Courts of law all across America causing tremendous hardships nationwide,but these great minds and callous hearts in our American Congress have found others Worldwide more needy then their own citizens who are being falsely incarcerated,wrongfuly executed,losing their homes or apartments,losing child custody or visitation with their children etc� Not being afforded proper legal representation by our U.S. Congress has created a total breakdown of the American judicial system for our poorer Americans because the our U.S. Courts punish all of us little people if we are not assisted with proprer legal counsel.
*It is a known fact that our average Middle Class and Working Poor Americans without proper legal representation in all of our American Courts of law lose their legal cases to the better financed who are able to afford lawyers.
Lawyers For Poor Americans is now actively in the hunt for International Countries and Leaders Worldwide to help raise 5 Billion Dollar$ for our slighted poorer Americans who have had their own American Congress turn their backs on their desperate needs in not affording them proper legal representation.
Troy Davis and Mumia Abu ~ Jamal are 2 perfect examples of American citizens who never had proper legal representation or defense investigations afforded them by our U.S. Congressional Leaders Of The Free World in their initial criminal trials in (Georgia and Pennsylvania) who might very well have to pay the ultimate price of possibly being completely innocent and falsely executed in the near future. These two poorer Americans are among tens of thousands of legal cases nationwide that never were afforded proper legal representation or proper defense investigations at their initial trials……**We the public really have no idea if these men are innocent or guilty until they both are given fair legal representation at their new future trials.
Improper murder trials and needless deaths due to the lack of healthcare take place in Third World Countries all the time. *** Why should average Middle~Class and Working Poor Americans in the Wealthiest Country Of The World be treated as if they are living a Third World Life Style ??
This is the first of many www International pleas by Lawyers For Poor Americans for other leaders and countries to help raise the needed monie$ to correct these blatant injustices that have been inflicted on poorer Americans for the last few decades. Lawyers For Poor Americans has many other written articles that can be viewed with any www search engine by our name or our telephone number.
Lawyers For Poor Americans is a www lobby group of volunteers that sing out about the decades old neglect,abuse and injustices being inflicted on our poorer Americans that have become Crimes Against Humanity issues for the International World Court to investigate.
Posted by: LAWYERS FOR POOR AMERICANS | Sep 9, 2009 4:29:49 PM