Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Would you pull the switch?

A bit of a controversy, Dear Gentle Reader(s), has arisen over the death penalty, and it comes from recent writings by two members of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Here’s the original link.  It’s a New York Times article referring to a recent Court decision to hear a death penalty case.

Here are two interesting viewpoints:

1) “The substantial risk of putting an innocent man to death,” Justice [John Paul] Stevens wrote in a concurrence joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer, “clearly provides an adequate justification for holding an evidentiary hearing.”

2) “This court has never held,” Justice [Antonin] Scalia wrote, “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.”

While the first example seems a given; the second seems somehow illogical. 

Don’t we all, by now, understand that “a full and fair trial” is more of a goal to which we might aspire but might never know if we have attained? 

Full?  Has every last iota of evidence been offered and considered?  Fair?  Is the prosecution interested in Justice or conviction rate?  Is the defense interested in Justice or manipulating the system?

If Justice Scalia’s statement is correct, and the Constitution does not forbid the execution of a person in the situation described by him, ought it so to do?

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