Regarding my earlier post about the case of Robert H. Richards IV, who was sentenced by a Delaware judge to probation rather than incarceration for his heinous crimes, I should clarify that I think the punishments meted out to other offenders are symptomatic of our narrow way of thinking about justice and that our criminal justice system has a wide variety of blemishes (that I’ve written about on this blog for years; peruse the “criminal justice” tag to find hundreds of such posts).
Should poor people spend their lives in terrible conditions in our prisons? They should not. Should minorities? They should not. Should the rich get all the breaks? Clearly, no.
The fact that Richards was not sentenced to spend his life in terrible conditions in a prison doesn’t somehow suggest that it’s right that anyone should. Nor is it right to say that he ought to be made to suffer more since others from different backgrounds and walks of life have been sentenced to do so.
The point of my original post was not to laud the light sentence that was handed down in Richards’ case or to applaud the lenient treatment afforded to the wealthy and/or white offenders in our society at the expense of the poor and people of color. It was instead to argue against the notion that justice can only be served by doling out suffering.
I’m also not arguing that this case is an example of restorative justice; I don’t believe this was a restorative sentence and I don’t believe that we’re anywhere near a place where offenders are being successfully rehabilitated or getting proper treatment or reintegrated into society. The point of the post was merely to suggest that calling for a long and suffering-filled prison sentence for offenders doesn’t accomplish anything and keeps us far away from even approaching a more restorative understanding of justice.
As I wrote at the end of my post:
Restorative justice isn’t about leniency for offenders; it’s about discovering and attempting to meet the needs of victims while encouraging offender accountability. It’s just not clear that lengthy prison sentences under the worst possible conditions accomplishes either of those things.
I completely understand the gut feeling that something terrible ought to happen to a person who harms a child; as a father myself, I’m disgusted and outraged by this man and what he did to his children. But that doesn’t mean we ought to turn that feeling into policy, especially if doing so accomplishes nothing more than making the public feel good about getting vengeance. Taking out our collective wrath on offenders doesn’t necessarily do anything to help their victims, nor does it automatically lead to offender accountability. Working to accomplish those things, rather than to sate our desire for vengeance, would likely result in a radical change in the way we think about justice and punishment, and the way we respond to crime.
The DNA Testing Act gives inmates access to evolving scientific technology, but it was not intended to allow an inmate a second chance to perform DNA testing which was available at trial.
That’s Nebraska Supreme Court Judge Michael McCormack, writing for the court in a decision to deny an inmate’s request for DNA testing of evidence in a 2007 murder for which the inmate is serving life in prison.
So … rather than allowing a couple of tests that will help determine whether or not Antoine Young committed the murder for which he’s serving life in prison, the Nebraska Supreme Court is arguing that he should have asked for the tests back in 2008.
They’re right: His lawyer should have done so. But if the DNA Testing Act can’t account for mistakes made by lawyers, and potentially keeps innocent men in prison because of those mistakes, there’s a problem with the law.
As for Young, maybe he’s innocent, maybe he’s guilty … but it doesn’t much matter to the judges. Their job isn’t to make sure an inmate has access to any evidence that might raise doubts about his guilt; their job is just to determine whether or not the state, which has an interest in not considering any more evidence in this case, is following the law as it avoids doing so.
Florida: Where the Stand Your Ground law will always agree that a white guy had a good reason to murder a black teenager.
Seems like this guy would’ve been in the clear if he’d managed to kill everyone in the car since the jury couldn’t decide on the one murder charge but had no trouble with all the attempted murder charges.
The whole situation is so incredibly disturbing for so many reasons. Not the least of which is how often this kind of thing keeps happening.
Almost 70 years ago, South Carolina electrocuted 14-year-old George Stinney, the youngest person to be executed by an American state since the 1800s. Family members today say he’s innocent, and while they can’t bring him back, they want his name cleared.
A black teen in the Jim Crow South, Stinney was accused of murdering two white girls, ages 7 and 11, as they hunted for wildflowers in Alcolu, about 50 miles southeast of Columbia.
Stinney, according to police, confessed to the crime. No witness or evidence that might vindicate him was presented during a trial that was over in fewer than three hours. An all-white jury convicted him in a flash, 10 minutes, and he was sentenced to “be electrocuted, until your body be dead in accordance with law. And may God have mercy on your soul,” court documents say.
Fewer than three months after the girls’ deaths, Stinney was escorted to an electric chair at a Columbia penitentiary, built for much larger defendants. The chair’s straps were loose on Stinney’s 5-foot-1-inch, 95-pound frame, and books were placed on the seat so he would fit in the chair.
On its website, CNN is asking: “Was execution of boy, 14, justice?”
This seemed to me like such an unbelievably ridiculous question for so many reasons that I was planning to do nothing but lampoon CNN in this blog post …
But then I read the comments.
And — guess what? — plenty of people think that the confession of a 14 year old is all the evidence you need for justice to be done; that the word of a white police officer who says a black boy confessed to killing two white girls is clearly unimpeachable in the Jim Crow South; that due process clearly doesn’t matter all that much when it comes to justice; and that, even if he was guilty, executing a 14 year old somehow equates with justice.
This is Tadahiro Kanemasu, the “Carry-Your-Pram-Ranger.”
He is an IRL superhero who chills out in a green outfit with silver trim and mask, waiting by the stairs of a Tokyo subway station to lend his strength and exquisite manners to the elderly and passengers who need help carrying heavy packages, as well as mothers with baby strollers. Photos by REUTERS/Yuya Shino.
So, this is pretty great.
But why does Tadahiro Kanemasu dress up in a superhero costume to help people carry things down the subway stairs? Why not simply dress normally?
I’m reminded of the story of the ring of invisibility found by Gyges the shepherd in Book II of Plato’s Republic, through which Glaucon alleges that no one who can act anonymously or in secret will act justly:
Now if there were two such rings, and the just man would put one on, and the unjust man the other, no one, as it would seem, would be so adamant as to stick by justice and bring himself to keep away from what belongs to others and not lay hold of it, although he had license to take what he wanted from the market without fear, and to go into houses and have intercourse with whomever he wanted, and to slay or release from bonds whomever he wanted, and to do other things as an equal to a god among humans. And in so doing, one would act no differently from the other, but both would go the same way. And yet, someone could say that this is great proof that no one is willingly just but only when compelled to be so. Men do not take it to be a good for them in private, since wherever each supposes he can do injustice, he does it. Indeed, all men suppose injustice is far more to their private profit than justice. And what they suppose is true, as the man who makes this kind of an argument will say, since if a man were to get hold of such license and were never willing to do any injustice and didn’t lay his hands on what belongs to others, he would seem most wretched to those who were aware of it, and most foolish too, although they would praise him to each others’ faces, deceiving each other for fear of suffering injustice (360c-d).
I’ve been thinking a lot about last night’s “Breaking Bad” series finale; what follows are some thoughts and impressions about justice and the moral universe of the show.
Spoilers abound, so click at your own risk.
Meanwhile on Facebook, more than half a dozen white people are still arguing with me that the real culprit in the Trayvon Martin shooting is Trayvon Martin and that race isn’t a problem in the U.S. today (or, if it is, it’s a problem that only exists because of leaders in the African-American community).
Scalia opened his talk with a reference to the Holocaust, which happened to occur in a society that was, at the time, “the most advanced country in the world.” One of the many mistakes that Germany made in the 1930s was that judges began to interpret the law in ways that reflected “the spirit of the age.” When judges accept this sort of moral authority, as Scalia claims they’re doing now in the U.S., they get themselves and society into trouble.
Scalia cited numerous issues that have been thrown to the courts — a woman’s right to an abortion, society’s right to execute someone for a crime, whether “homosexual sodomy” ought to be allowed — and claimed that judges are unqualified to answer them. Medical doctors, engineers, ethicists and even “Joe Six Pack” would be just as qualified as a legal professional to settle some issues that have come before the high court.
In other words, if the Supreme Court rules against the wishes of “Joe Six Pack” that executions constitute cruel and unusual punishment or that gays and lesbians have the constitutional right to equal treatment with their heterosexual fellow citizens, we’re obviously well on our way to Nazi Germany.
On the other hand, here’s an actual expert ”on the role of German courts during the period leading up to and during Adolf Hitler’s regime”:
A United States Holocaust Memorial Museum historian told an audience today at the Supreme Court of Ohio that pre-World War II German courts set the stage for Nazi atrocities by falling for promises of restoring order, professionalism and judges’ authority.
Even when the number of political prisoners held by the Ministry of Justice increased from 35,000 to 150,000 in the 1930s, Meinecke said the situation looked normal to jurists. “Jurists had no interest in questioning the legitimacy of the Nazi state, because it saved them from the abyss,” he said. “The court was afraid of being irrelevant.”
In his research, Meinecke said he uncovered one sitting judge who challenged Nazi practices. The judge, who objected to a secret killing program of mentally and physically disabled people, was removed from office. Another judge, who refused to take an oath to Hitler resulting in unlimited power, resigned from office. Neither judge was arrested. Other officials with objections were transferred to distant posts with little meaning and little power.
Slowly, Hitler remade the judiciary step-by-step in his own image. “He used the rules of democracy to destroy democracy,” Meinecke said. Jurists, obviously, couldn’t see where all this was headed and called the changes minor because they didn’t affect nonpartisan jurists, only Jews or those politically active, he said.
To me, this doesn’t sound quite like what Scalia has in mind when he talks about judicial activism on issues that ought to be left to the citizenry. Of course, Josef Sechserpack and the citizenry in Germany voted the Nazis into power in 1933, effectively making Hitler the German Chancellor … an inconvenient fact that Scalia omits from his lecture.
But, hey, whatever, right?
My grandson was killed by his own government. The Obama administration must answer for its actions and be held accountable.
That’s Nasser al-Awlaki in his New York Times op-ed, “The Drone That Killed My Grandson.”
More than a year and a half after the drone strike that killed Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, Eric Holder has “said only that Abdulrahman was not ‘specifically targeted,’ raising more questions than he answered.” Now, the grandfather plans to force the issue in federal court.
I am happy she is getting out tomorrow and I wish her the very best. She is supposed to call me when she gets out, and we’re supposed to meet and go shopping. I told her whenever she got out, I’d treat her. I have a friend who would like to buy her an outfit, and I want to buy her a computer.
That’s Bill Pelke, my friend of more than a decade, talking about Paula Cooper. Cooper was freed from prison today after serving twenty-seven years for the murder of Pelke’s grandmother, Ruth.
For decades, Pelke has been a tireless advocate of restorative justice and opponent of the death penalty; he’s one of the most effective public speakers on these important topics and one of the all-around best people I know.
It’s Bill’s story I tell whenever someone informs me that I’d feel differently about the death penalty if one of my family members was a victim of violence. I always say, “Perhaps. But I hope I’d be more like Bill Pelke …”
I’m thinking of Bill and his family today.
Spend some time with Jack Patterson this afternoon … if you’re looking to debate whether Nazis are actually bad guys who deserve punishment.
He begins by doubting the veracity of everyone reporting on the Nazi war criminal living in Minnesota. After three or four tweets about how the guy probably isn’t even a war criminal, he decides the guy was probably just a “small fry” and therefore not worth dealing with today. Much better to let him live out his life in peace, since being a war criminal isn’t a big deal — as long as you’re just a minor war criminal. This is especially true, he claims, because justice is just something the powerful say once they’ve won a war … rather than an actual thing we can talk about (like, for example, when we say that genocide is an injustice and punishing genocide is just).
From there, it’s a hop, skip, and jump to claiming that, really, everyone was committing atrocities back then and that we ought to concentrate our real efforts on dealing out justice not to Nazi war criminals of the past but — of course — to Jews who are committing atrocities against Palestinians today.
Well played, Jack. Well played.