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January 9, 2011

An obvious and ultimate case for the federal death penalty

The title of this post is my sentencing reaction to the tragic events that unfolded yesterday in Arizona when a young angry man went on a shooting rampage at the political event of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.  This CBS report on the victims of the incident details that the "six people who died in Saturday's assassination attempt of an Arizona Congresswoman ranged from a highly-esteemed Federal judge to a child born on September 11, 2001" and that a total of 19 people were wounded at the shooting in Tucson.

Early reports suggest that the shooter had some mental issues, but it does not appear that he would/will qualify as legally insane.  And, no matter what the back-story of the offender, this kind of offense would appear to be exactly the kind of horrific violent senseless crime that calls for pursuing the ultimate punishment that a nation has.  In the United States, it has long been clear that the people want the death penalty as an ultimate punishment, and I expect that this will be the way in which US Attorney General Eric Holder plans to seek justice.

UPDATE AND CLARIFICATIONAs detailed in this DOJ press release, "the United States Attorney for the District of Arizona, Dennis K. Burke, announced today that his office filed a federal complaint against Jared Lee Loughner [who] is suspected of shooting U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, Chief Judge John Roll, Giffords' staff member Gabriel Zimmerman and approximately 16 others Saturday in Tucson, Ariz. The federal complaint alleges five counts against Loughner." The counts in the complaint are detailed in the DOJ press release.

I wish to clarify that the purpose of my initial post was to indicate that the kind of crimes for which Loughner is accused are the sort that ought, in my view, clearly be the basis for a federal death penalty prosecution.  I did not mean to rush to judgment and assert at this early stage that Loughner can/should/must be sentenced to death and executed.  Rather, my intented point was that the kinds of crimes allegedly committed by Loughner and the kinds of crimes that justify, in my mind, the U.S. Department of Justice to pursue a federal prosecution that includes the threat of the ultimate federal punishment authorized by law.

January 9, 2011 at 11:48 AM | Permalink


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How is this going to work? I guess since it is reported (last I checked) the congresswoman was the target, the whole event can be seen as a federal crime in some sense. But, it also is true that it can be seen as more a mass murder under Arizona law. Clearly, that would also be prime death penalty fodder.

From the other direction, deranged (and that is the usual response many have, particularly those who don't want to make this into a political thing) is what this guy comes off as. When I think death penalty, some deranged guy is not what I think as prime material. Some terrorist who kills people would be different. Or, a recent case involving a torture-like murder of a family.

That clearly is not going to convince some here who might even sneer at it. But, though I understand how the "offense" is death penalty prime material, I don't know if the perpetrator is. Legally insane or not, he very well might be of the sort a few jurors would see as deranged enough not to warrant the death penalty.

That's all conjecture. But, I think you might be right as to what Holder will do though I think state of Arizona even on that level might be the place to do it.

Posted by: Joe | Jan 9, 2011 12:41:37 PM

"[O]ur cases ha[ve] firmly established that sentencing juries must be able to give meaningful consideration and effect to all mitigating evidence that might provide a basis for refusing to impose the death penalty on a particular individual, notwithstanding the severity of his crime or his potential to commit similar offenses in the future." Abdul-Kabir v. Quarterman, 550 U.S. 233, 247 (2007).

Posted by: Josh Lee | Jan 9, 2011 12:43:37 PM

Another issue that comes to mind ... I wonder if he was aware that he shot [murdered] a federal judge. And, if he did not, would it matter?

Posted by: Joe | Jan 9, 2011 12:57:24 PM

FBI Director Robert Mueller is holding a press conference right now in Arizona. Formal charges will "quite probably" be filed against Jared Loughner this afternoon, Mueller said, for the killing of Judge Roll and the assault on Rep. Giffords and her staffers.


Given the recusals in the case of the threats against the 7th circuit judges, it seems pretty likely that a whole lot of judges, at least in the local district, would have to recuse. On that note, does giving statements about it (by Chief Judge of 9th circuit, Chief Justice etc) have any bearing on recusal?

Posted by: . | Jan 9, 2011 1:18:12 PM

Doug - your sense of the obvious is way, way off the mark. You leap from the appalling act of killing to a sentence of death, passing GO and all stops in between, with no meaningful consideration of what drove this person to commit such an act. How does the death sentence (in this case as we know it):
a) deter others?
b) add to the safety of the public?
c) square with the notion of the "worst of the worst"

1. An act of insanity cannot be deterred
2. The person concerned is already in secure custody
3. The "worst of the worst" is surely one who sanely plans to kill, and probably does so repeatedly or with sadistic means.

You react, and encourage others to react, to the shock and horror of the event, in unnecessary and ill-judged haste. You may be right about the process that will now occur, but it is ludicrous to suggest that Justice can be sought or served by it. Justice is surely more than the assuagement of public outrage?

The County Sheriff seems to have a better grip of the what you should really be talking about:
"Clarence W. Dupnik, the Pima County sheriff, seemed to capture the mood of the day at an evening news conference when he said it was time for the country to “do a little soul-searching.”
“It’s not unusual for all public officials to get threats constantly, myself included,” Sheriff Dupnik said. “That’s the sad thing about what’s going on in America: pretty soon we’re not going to be able to find reasonable, decent people willing to subject themselves to serve in public office.” "

That's a bigger and more substantial discussion that needs airing, than whether Arizona or the Federal Government should seek to execute a mentally disturbed young man, hours after the tragedy.

Posted by: peter | Jan 9, 2011 1:35:08 PM

who did say death penalty is a deterrent????????

Posted by: claudio giusti, italia | Jan 9, 2011 1:58:18 PM

How deranged can he be? The shooter understands his 5th Amendment protection, as well as when and how to invoke it. Wouldn't that be evidence of at least some rational thought?

Posted by: Stanley Feldman | Jan 9, 2011 2:16:11 PM

I believe the last federal judge to be murdered was Robert Vance of the 11th Circuit in 1989. Walter Moody was sentenced to several life terms in federal court for Vance's murder and Robert E. Robinson, a civil rights attorney. He sent mail bombs to them and to the 11th circuit. He was sentenced to death in Alabama state court in 1997 and remains on death row.

Posted by: DaveP | Jan 9, 2011 2:21:02 PM

Not so obvious to all.

More apparent to some is the strong inclination to resort to violence to solve problems in the U.S. - most dramatically demonstrated by the use of executions to respond to violent crime.

Posted by: Scott Taylor | Jan 9, 2011 4:16:28 PM

The Safeway Massacre. Thank the Supreme Court Again for the Murderous Rampage of a Paranoid Schizophrenic

Now this mass murderer qualifies for involuntary admission to a psychiatric hospital. Of course, first, there has to be a hearing employing 3 lawyers, one to prosecute, one to defend his freedom to the death, of others, naturally, and one to sit in the middle to make the decision. This judge, the lawyer in the middle, is totally unqualified to make any such clinical decision. Yet, this know nothing lawyer will loose the most vicious mentally people on the public, in pure evil.Paranoid schizophrenics murder around 2000 people a year, often with little or no provocation. Every single one of those murders is the responsibility of the rent seeking, lawyer sinecure creating, irresponsible Supreme Court.

Organized medicine has also failed to do enough to enact legislation overturning the horrid Supreme Court decision that took over psychiatry in 1976 to generate lawyer jobs (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/O%27Connor_v._Donaldson). That decision had no justification since there was no abuse by clinicians signing two commitment certificates. And, if there were abuse, the doctors would suffer an endless series of investigations and punishments.

In the case of the paranoid schizophrenic who killed dozens of people at Virginia Tech University, there had been dozens of complaints about his psychotic statements, and threatening behavior for over two years. Yet, the lawyer protected pure evil from even reporting him to his family so they might get him back into treatment. There appears to have been a similar large number of opportunities to get this mass murderer into treatment against his will. All were stymied by the rent seeking Supreme Court decision. It took over the decision making process from clinicians and handed it over to know nothing lawyers. These lawyers are not just incompetent. They were stripped of ordinary common sense by their law school education.

On the positive side, the public helped itself by taking a shot at him, and by tackling him. One worries that those heroes will be prosecuted by the lawyer. Many others have been because the lawyer does not want the public to solve its crime problems without paying lawyers their fees.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jan 9, 2011 5:37:36 PM

As to the death sentence, he needs it more than a busy contract killer. He has less self-control. He has no insight of his needing help, and will not cooperate with treatment. Anyone, anywhere, anytime may become the subject of his fantasy of oppression. With LWOP, he will have a license to kill at will, with absolute legal immunity, whether in a prison or in forensic mental institution. In the latter, lawyers are promulgating regulation prohibiting physical restraint. So, this license to kill will have no interference from the staff.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jan 9, 2011 5:46:37 PM

Thank goodness his sanity and competence will not be determined on blogs.

Posted by: Alex Bunin | Jan 9, 2011 8:46:46 PM

Judy Clarke has been appointed to represent him. He couldn't be in better hands.

As to the federal death penalty decision, see all the rules in the U.S. attorney's manual and criminal resource manual. There's a lot of steps to go through before they decide if this case qualifies. The heinousness of the crime is but one factor.

See here and here for starters.

Posted by: TalkKLeft | Jan 9, 2011 9:11:31 PM

There is absolutely no need to clarify. The critics are left wing, biased, promoters of evil, to increase no-work government sinecures. Even if the victims are fellow government workers and high officials, the rent seeking comes before life itself for these rigid ideologues. Left wing government workers have started using this tragedy for cheap partisan political jabs at their adversary. Meanwhile conservative opponents of the Congresswoman are gracious in their regrets, condolences and offers of support.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jan 9, 2011 9:42:58 PM

peter --

Does the time ever come with you that we should blame the person who plots and carries out the murder rather than everyone else?

Alex Bunin --

If competent authority, rather than blogs, determines he was sane enough to stand trial and to have known what he was doing, will you support full accountability under Arizona and/or federal law?

claudio --

"[W]ho did say death penalty is a deterrent?"

About two dozen independent studies, listed here, http://www.cjlf.org/deathpenalty/DPDeterrence.htm.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jan 9, 2011 10:05:15 PM

Is Sarah Palin and others who put up the targets with the cross hairs in any way culpable?

Posted by: msyoung | Jan 9, 2011 10:40:47 PM

msyoung --

Do you have any evidence that the shooter cared one whit about Sarah Palin, much less knew about "crosshairs," and still less was motivated by them? If so, you don't produce it. When you do, maybe that will also explain why he shot (and killed) the influential, Bush-appointed Chief Judge of the District of Arizona.

What you produce instead of evidence is minor league McCarthyism. I suppose it was only a matter of time before the Left tried that one.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jan 9, 2011 11:27:31 PM

"Is Sarah Palin and others who put up the targets with the cross hairs in any way culpable?

No more so than the DNC who did exactly the same thing with a map "targeting" Republicans just a few short years ago. The symbolic "Targeting" of political opponents is pretty standard fare on both sides of the aisle.
(See Heartland Strategy, DLC | Blueprint Magazine | December 13, 2004, http://www.dlc.org/ndol_ci.cfm?contentid=253055&kaid=127&subid=171

Or how about this one?

"DNC targets Republican leaders on the stimulus"
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
By Jonathan Martin, Politico
"We're going with guns blazing on this," said DNC communications director Brad Woodhouse."

There is a petition at change.org titled "Tell Sarah Palin to stop inciting violence". Those who "Target" Palin, and/or the Tea Party movement or any other political entity for this tragedy, including those who post and sign petitions to that effect are just as nuts as the shooter and just as guilty of inciting violence as those that they accuse.

Posted by: Anon | Jan 10, 2011 10:17:29 AM

Anon - I think the point is that the hysterical language used by many politicians of all persuasions is creating a climate to which the mentally unstable can be dangerously drawn. It is a fantasy world to which they can relate. The political climate is too divisive and hyper-charged with rhetoric that is neither in the interests of political progress and achievement, nor the health of society in general. Instead of people having to take "sides", there needs to be a more measured, moderate debate of policy and airing of differences. The "us" or "them" approach to the problems that face the US today, internally and externally, is self-defeating.

Posted by: peter | Jan 10, 2011 10:41:03 AM

"How deranged can he be? The shooter understands his 5th Amendment protection, as well as when and how to invoke it."

I don't think Catch 22 is supposed to be normative.

Posted by: Michael Drake | Jan 10, 2011 1:09:20 PM

peter --

What evidence do you have that political debate, heated or otherwise, had anything whatever to do with the shooter's motives?

And who is to decide when political debate becomes too "heated?"

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jan 10, 2011 1:46:46 PM

Why aren't the liberals here condemning the McCarthyite (and fact-free) rush to blame Sarah Palin?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jan 10, 2011 1:50:39 PM

I wish that you would also clarify your point about the defendant's mental health, i.e., clarify that your intent was to assume the defendant's sanity for the sake of your argument about the nature of the offense. Of course, I did not think that you were being so flippant or naive as to suggest that there is any reliable information about a defendant's sanity before a social history investigation and contemporaneous forensic psychiatric evaluation are performed, but some other readers may have thought so.

Posted by: Josh Lee | Jan 10, 2011 9:05:26 PM

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