Tuesday, 27 April 2010

The Injustice Of Love or Why Texas Can Go Fuck Itself

Even when you spend as much time as I do cataloguing the myriad forms of lunacy the Americans are pleased to call "justice", every now and then something surfaces that is just so far removed from anything worthy of the name that it takes your breath away.

For instance: refusing the appeal of a man on death row following a trial in which the prosecutor and judge were lovers. Why? Because they'd kept their relationship secret until too long after the trial for it to be held as relevant.

This, to me, is quite insane. My legal-eagle father was a little more thoughtful on the subject, though, and suggested that this was symptomatic of a larger trend (of which, he admitted up front, he has noted on the basis of comparatively scant evidence) of a tendency in the US/certain US states to fetishise the letter of the law far beyond what could be considered realistic, or more appropriately, just. He pointed out to me that the UK too has laws preventing appeals from being made too late after the fact - so as to prevent any attempts to use the process to gum up the works of the court - but that the system has the leeway to overrule said rules whenever it becomes clear that justice had been particularly ill-served.

Whilst I am significantly less qualified than my father to judge the differences between US and UK legal approaches, his theory makes some intuitive sense. It stands to reason that a country that obsesses so much over the meaning of its original constitution would tend to follow the strict letter of the law whenever possible (quantifying the irony of such a practice taking place in the self-styled "land of the free" is an exercise left to the reader) but a) this should not be taken as a reason not to view this as the affront against common decency and justice that it is, and b) if you're going to take such a potentially dangerous hard line stance against interpretation, consideration and simple wisdom, then you'd damn well better make sure your rigidly unbreakable system works better than it clearly is here.

Besides, I think something else is going on here.

What surprises me even more is the fact that Hood's case is getting a sentence hearing - as I understand it, a discussion over whether his sentence was fairly reached without touching whether his guilt was fairly determined - and the prosecution are going for the death penalty again. I suppose on one level I can see what's happening; the prosecution are convinced of the guy's guilt so they don't really care that he was found guilty by a compromised court, but once you're at a point where you know the defendant was a victim of a mistrial that simply wasn't recognised as such at the time, you would hope at the very least the idea of murdering him over it might be reconsidered as being possibly a bad idea.

Not in Texas, of course. In fact, the horror-show above ties into a larger problem, both in the US in general and most especially with respect to Texas: the continuing refusal of authorities who support the death penalty to accept that the system is fallible.

Once you look at it through that twisted prism, everything makes sense. Suppose this affair hadn't been revealed until after Hood had been executed. That would mean a legally innocent man[1] had been put to death. And the supporters of capital punishment can't deal with that. So instead we have the ridiculous idea that because Hood lacked the telepathic powers necessary to discern the truth in time, his trial must have been fair. That way, even if he was pushing up the daisies by the time the judge fessed up, it wouldn't matter. Time-limit expired. Shoulda spent more time studying body language, amirite?

It's the only way to avoid getting into the much more complicated conversation of whether executions known to have stemmed from miscarriages of justice can be considered an acceptable price to pay for continuing to maintain the death penalty. Not surprisingly, I would argue that no, it doesn't, that certain scenarios are simply too horrific to countenance (see also: torture, state use of). But that's a debate we could have, and it's one Texas' authorities seem desperate to deny is necessary.

Of course, all of that is just a strict subset of my larger problem with American conservative thought. I've mentioned this before, but to restate, the simplest, easiest way to work out the American right is full of crap is to count the sheer number of complicated situations they are prepared to claim are actually incredibly simple, and in which everyone wins. We'll be out of Iraq in three months. Lowering taxes always increases revenue. Everyone within driving distance of an ER does not lack for healthcare. Global warming has yet to be proven to exist. Torture works.

On almost every conceivable front, these people duck the necessary formulation of "This idea will be bad/terribly bad/nothing short of catastrophic for the poor/the black/foreigners/the very soul of our nation, but we still need to do it because..." and instead repeat The Old Lie, "Our way is easy, and no-one will suffer who doesn't deserve it." After that, it's just a toss of the coin as to whether they will argue that no-one is suffering, or that those people who are must by definition deserve it (we'll call the latter "The Limbaugh Method").

This is just one more example of that. Faced between commuting the sentence of a legally innocent man, and finding the most obscure legal loophole possible and exploiting it to the fullest - an exploitation directly leading to the death of a man - the Texas system of "justice" went through Door #2. Because it was easy. And because the guy deserves it. Why else would he have been found guilty?

[1] Obviously, I haven't the faintest idea whether or not this guy is actually innocent.

1 comment:

Senior Spielbergo said...

I may have mentioned this before but over here for quite a number of years our Chief Judge (our Bailiff) and Chief Prosecutor (our AG) were brothers. Quite a number of cases were dealt with where both of them were involved but the appeal court when this was challenged that this was not an issue:

See here

Now of course, brothers aren't quite the same thing as lovers (although the issue at hand of apparent bias is clearly the same), our law if different from both UK and US law (although this decision referenced a number of UK cases), and of course we don't have the death penalty. But it is still an interesting comparison.

Instinctively to me this sounds like the Supreme Court have taken the easy way out - the appeal was technically invalid due to the time scale issue so therefore they could simply dismiss the appeal with a 1 line response and chose to do so. Thus effectively avoiding a ruling on if this would be construed as apparent bias. What would be interesting to know if there has already been / going to be any similar cases that would fall into the acceptable timescale where you would find a judgement on that particular point.