« SCOTUS summary reversal of Sixth Circuit capital ineffective assistance ruling | Main | "Sex With Informant Voids Prostitution Case" »

November 9, 2009

Virginia clears final big legal hurdle for executing DC sniper on Tuesday

As detailed in this new Washington Post piece, today the Supreme Court "denied John Allen Muhammad's request to stay his execution, clearing the way for Virginia to put to death the man who terrorized the Washington region as the Beltway Sniper."  Here's more: 

Justices John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor objected to the court's haste, saying it "highlights once again the perversity of executing inmates before their appeals process have been fully concluded."  Stevens, writing for the three, said Virginia had short-circuited the process by scheduling Muhammad's execution for Tuesday night, earlier than the court would normally have reviewed his petition for the court to take his case.

I am not sure what I find most remarkable about this case: the fact that Virginia has been successful in getting Muhammad to the door of the death chamber "only" six years after he was sentenced to death for his horrific crimes is almost as remarkable as the fact that the capital review process is usually so cumbersome that we call a six-year appeal process hasty in a seemingly open-and-shut capital case.

November 9, 2009 at 02:22 PM | Permalink

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d83451574769e20120a667b964970b

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Virginia clears final big legal hurdle for executing DC sniper on Tuesday:

Comments

Unfortunately, the hurdles erected by past Supreme Court decisions make it extremely difficult to execute a death sentence promptly, even in overwhelmingly meritorious cases like this one.

To the extent the death penalty has a deterrent effect (which I strongly doubt), that effect must surely be undermined by such a long passage of time. Most of the dim-witted nut-cases who commit death-eligible murders would probably not be able to perceive the cause-and-effect connection when so many years have gone by.

Posted by: Marc Shepherd | Nov 9, 2009 2:31:08 PM

Putting aside the Supreme Court, the state criminal process would probably take a few years to complete. I would reckon especially for a heinous crime like this that would be carefully handled, three years would be a pretty conservative estimate.

Would the deterrent effect drop somewhere around the five year mark or something? And, isn't the deterrent effect supposed to take place at the time of the crime itself?

Do dim-witted nutcases keep track of these things?

Posted by: Joe | Nov 9, 2009 2:45:44 PM

"six years" "open and shut"

On March 9, 2004, a Virginia judge agreed with the jury's recommendation and sentenced John Allen Muhammad to death.

Six year would be in 2010.

but ...

The case was complicated by the interstate nature of the murders alone, which delayed things further. On June 1, 2006, he had his Maryland sentencing. Other states also had an interest in his case given it seems he killed people there as well.

I don't know, but does not this affect the VA appeals somehow? It all seems pretty complicated. And, it is not like there aren't many other cases for the courts there to handle as well.

Some cases, for instance, can take decades. But, a simple case will take a few years of appeals. Why would a complex multi-homicide not take some years more?

The factual slam-dunk nature of the case does not erase the multiple complex legal matters. I might be missing something though.

Posted by: Joe | Nov 9, 2009 2:57:03 PM

The dissenters in the U.S. Supreme Court were commenting on six years and x days v. six years and y days, that would be some comity with the cert process, not on the hastiness of the process as a whole.

Normally, SCOTUS issues short stays to keep lower courts from manipulating a deadline schedule that the high court wants to use for its own internal process.

Posted by: ohwilleke | Nov 9, 2009 3:09:21 PM

In my opinion it's remarkable to talk perversity and not to dissent from the court's decision.

Joachim

Posted by: Joachim | Nov 9, 2009 3:39:54 PM

Would the deterrent effect drop somewhere around the five year mark or something? And, isn't the deterrent effect supposed to take place at the time of the crime itself?

Do dim-witted nutcases keep track of these things?

If you wish to deter behavior, you need to demonstrate that there is a clear connection between that behavior and its terrible consequences. Today, approximately 1% of murders result in an execution, and the average is something like 10 years after the murder. Most of those who commit death-eligible murders are, let us face it, not the brightest bulbs on the tree and are not avid followers of public affairs.

So if you believe in the deterrence argument, then you're arguing that the perpetrators are able to make the connection that if they commit a deadly act, there's a 1% chance that they'll be executed a decade later. Surely you can appreciate that if there were, say, a 50% chance that they'd be executed in six months, a lot more of them would be able to make that connection.

I am not suggesting that we ought to punish 50% of murders by death within six months, only pointing out the absurdity of the deterrence argument within the context of the silly system we now have.

Posted by: Marc Shepherd | Nov 9, 2009 5:05:10 PM

Marc,

you wrote:"...only pointing out the absurdity of the deterrence argument within the context of the silly system we now have."

So you want to fix the system? If yes, how?

Joachim

Posted by: Joachim | Nov 9, 2009 5:25:33 PM

Prof. Berman: Please use all your powers and skills of research to get the total cost of trying and executing this murderer.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Nov 9, 2009 9:07:57 PM

Prof. Berman will be even more amazed when the time of the lawyer hierarchy has come, after an atomic attack on our shore. They will be rounded up, tried for an hour and shot immediately thereafter.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Nov 9, 2009 9:14:54 PM

"within six months"

Thanks ... any reasonable appeals process would take longer than that, even in the mind of most conservatives.

In fact, the time it takes to try someone is likely to be more than six months from the offense in many cases.

And, many conservatives would be fine if only a small subset of people are chosen by the juries to be executed.

So, deterrence under your reasoning will be a hard argument to make. I'm unsure if its proponents need to meet such a high test, but given my proclivities in this area, I'm game.

Posted by: Joe | Nov 14, 2009 12:39:46 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