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July 23, 2009

Lots of effective coverage of new lifer report from The Sentencing Project

I am pleased to see that the important new report released by The Sentencing Project yesterday, No Exit: The Expanding Use of Life Sentences in America, is garnering significant attention from both the national media and local outlets. Here is a sampling of some of the coverage:

July 23, 2009 at 08:43 AM | Permalink


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123D. The rent-seeking criminal cult attorney perpetuates his control and continued employment with civil rights suits, habeas challenges, and frivolous torts.

Posted by: Redundancy Clause | Jul 23, 2009 2:01:01 PM

As Marc Shepherd and anonymous suggested, although they did not say so directly, this criticism of LWOP exposes the bait and switch tactic of the death penalty abolitionist movement. We were assured that, if we were to put aside the death penalty, we would be just as safe as if we had kept it, because the DP-eligible killers would be locked away forever with LWOP.
In significant part, on the strength of this assurance, the abolitionist movement had recent successes in New Mexico and New Jersey. We now see that is was just a ruse. They have absolutely no intention of accepting LWOP, and the PR machine against it is already at work, as we see.

This should surprise no one. The abolitionist movement is not exactly addicted to the truth. A few years ago it loudly trumpted the story of Roger Keith Coleman, who, it said, was an innocent man put to death in Virginia. (See Justice Scalia's concurrence in Kansas v. Marsh). When DNA testing proved that the abolitionist claim was a hoax, the entire matter was dropped down the memory hole.

The abolitionist movement also dismisses, on the new-found basis of agnosticism on the subject, a spate of recent studies from neutral academics, all finding that the DP has a deterrent effect. This they label "inconclusive," a term they never applied to older and less sophisticated studies whose results they liked better.

Of course the major claim that we're just as safe with LWOP as with the DP is false to begin with. This is shown by the cases of Kenneth McDuff and Clarence Ray Allen, a man sentenced to LWOP but who arranged and orchestrated the murders of three additional people from his "ultra-secure" LWOP prison cell. That case is detailed in a unanimous Ninth Circuit opinion affirming the (then too late) death sentence pronounced on Allen. The opinion was written by Judge Kim Wardlaw, a Clinton appointee and rumored short-lister for an Obama Supreme Court.

The real engine of the attack on LWOP is exactly the one that lay behind the attack on the DP. The people in this movement simply do not believe our country has the moral authority to say "no" and actually mean it. If they succeed in the campaign against LWOP, life sentences with parole will be next.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jul 23, 2009 8:33:13 PM

LWOP. Also a license to kill. Immunizes all crimes after the first murder.

Bill, you kiddin'? Any punishment, including simple verbal criticism will be next, for the vile criminal lover, internal traitor to our country. (Red Clause, you forgot those last two descriptors of your horrible profession in utter failure).

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jul 23, 2009 11:52:52 PM

Bill - I was waiting to see you come out with this one. While you are not wrong that most abolitionists would probably oppose LWOP just as much as the death penalty, you still miss (or avoid)the point.
1. LIFE imprisonment will always be a reality for the worst of killers who are judged by professions, on review, to be too much of a risk to society.
2. The "without parole" tag is unnecessary to safeguard the public. Notwithstanding that there will always be some risk of human error, other countries manage to make these assessments and to manage the effective parole of those released, or continued humane incarceration. The USA should not consider that it is less able to do so.
3. At present, far too great a range of crimes are eligible for LWOP. If the death penalty were no longer the ultimate punishment, then there would or should be a natural scaling back of that range - something that could be enforced by the legislature if necessary.
4. You still don't seem to get it - Americans are becoming somewhat shocked at the staggering increase in incarceration over the past decade or two. That scale is such that few are completely untouched by it - with family, friends, acquaintances, work colleagues etc being represented amongst the number imprisoned. Shocked and uncomfortable I would say - and not before time. Others just object to their taxes being used in that manner at the expense of health care, education and other public works ... or their pockets.
That uncomfortable feeling is all the greater when the extent of racial and geographical bias etc is highlighted and explained.

As for your deterrent effect:
Recent headline in Texas:
The Texas Department of Public Safety say that there were 1373 murders in 2008.
Population of Texas: 24,326,974
No. of executions: 18 (2008)
Recent headline in the UK:
The number of murders and manslaughters has dropped to a 20-year low of 648, the annual crime figures for England and Wales show.
Population of England & Wales: 53,390,300
No. of executions: 0 (the last person executed in the UK was in 1964, though the death penalty was finally abolished much later)

Posted by: peter | Jul 24, 2009 12:05:40 PM

That's right, Bill: the anti-death-penalty movement is just a stalking horse for an attempt to abolish all criminal penalties entirely. Congratulations on exposing the vast liberal consipracy to create an anarchic world of rampant crime.

It is entirely possible to believe both (1) that the death penalty is wrong, and (2) that LWOP sentences are used too frequently. People who believe both these things do not necessarily believe that all criminals should be given a slap on the wrist and sent on their merry way.

You say: "The people in this movement simply do not believe our country has the moral authority to say 'no' and actually mean it." You have said this before. Proof, please. Please give us examples of people in the anti-death-penalty movement saying that society does not have the moral authority to impose harsh punishments on criminals, no matter how heinous the crime. If that belief is the true impetus behind the anti-DP movement, as you claim, you should be able to find plenty of examples.

Posted by: CN | Jul 24, 2009 1:58:48 PM

CN --

You demand proof while sailing right past any even attempted rebuttal of the specific cases I mentioned: Roger Keith Coleman, Clarence Ray Allen, and Kenneth McDuff.

Sorry, doesn't work that way. It's not a one-way street in which only pro-DP folks are required to provide evidence.

As it happens, though, the answer to your last point is so obvious that I can't pass it up: It is precisely BECAUSE they hold the politically untenable (and erroneous) belief that the USA lacks the moral authority to impose serious punishment that the anti-DP forces avoid saying so out loud. The fact that they're wrong doesn't mean that they're stupid.

The cleverness of not saying what they really think shows up in a couple of closely related ways. First, there's the famous "moratorium" movement, which, on questioning, turns out to be a moratorium with no ending date -- meaning that's it's not, and was never intended to be, a moratorium at all. But the abolitionists know that a "moratorium" has a better chance of selling than their true position, so the "moratorium" is what gets pushed.

Second, there's the current fad, namely, to argue that the DP costs too much. Of course it makes no difference whatever to the abolitionists whether it costs fifty million bucks per execution or ten cents. This "cost" business is a complete smokescreen for the true motivating force. It might be a shrewd tactic, and it might be good PR, but it assuredly is NOT a frank statement of where they're really coming from.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jul 25, 2009 4:25:30 AM

Bill, the cases you mentioned don't have anything to do with proving or disproving your conspiracy theory about the secret motives of death penalty opponents.

And you are acting like a conspiracy theorist, I hope you realize. Like a true conspiracy theorist, you refuse to offer any proof to back up your conspiracy theory. You claim "it's not a one-way street." Wow. So you want proof that death penalty opponents mean what they say? Well, how about their own words, combined with the lack of contradictory evidence.

Posted by: CN | Jul 27, 2009 12:40:37 PM

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