30 June 2006

State v. Stephenson

Link to opinion (Tennessee Supreme Court). The remarkable thing about this capital murder case is this: Defendant was tried and convicted of the charges in 1990 (he hired for someone to murder his estranged wife). At the initial sentencing hearing, the death sentence was imposed. During the initial set of appeals, the sentence was reversed. On remand, the State opted not to seek the death penalty and the defendant was re-sentenced to life in prison without parole. In 1998, defendant fights this sentence as well in a habeas action on the grounds that it was void. The Supreme Court agrees. On remand, the state again sought the death penalty. The re-sentencing jury agreed, so the original sentence was re-imposed. In this month's ruling, the Supreme Court affirmed.

Moral of the story: If you're a capital murder defendant who managed to get a death sentence reduced to life, be careful about what you ask for. You might very well get it, along with some extremely unpleasant surprises. Such as re-opening the door to the death penalty.

29 June 2006

In re Death Penalty (Tennesseean Editorial)

Here's a link to an editorial that was in the Tennessean on 29 June 2006. In this editorial, the commentator goes on to note how attitudes towards the death penalty and the method of execution has shifted over time. I submit that this observation misses the point.

It is understood that such a shift within our world has transpired. Nevertheless, there are certain crimes that throughout history have universally shocked society's conscience. These crimes are so inherently intolerable that a person of sound mind who commits them should forfeit his right even to subsist in a penal institution. This is so because the crime is not just against the victim or even his or her immediate family. For the same act irreparably and forever damages the very fabric of our society. Premeditated murder easily qualifies as just such an offense.

The writer also suggested that the death penalty is not valid because crime continues. That also misses the point. The question is not wither a certain penalty fully eliminates crimes, because sadly, crime will always be with us. The question is whether a purportedly civilized society is willing to uphold the life of a known murderer, even though that person clearly does not value the life of others. I personally question our level of civilization to the extent we do that.

The above is not to suggest that we must rush to the death chamber or that it is wrong to have years of appeals in a given case. I have no quarrel with the precautions and safeguards that need to be part of the appellate process. My point is that the death penalty must be fair and just...but it must be also certain as to those who are most deserving of it.

A civilized society deserves nothing less.