A Sign of Weakness or Slackness in the Government

“In any case, frequent punishments are a sign of weakness or slackness in the government. There is no man so bad that he cannot be made good for something. No man should be put to death, even as an example, if he can be left to live without danger to society.” – Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract

“But secondly you say ‘society must exact vengeance, and society must punish’. Wrong on both counts. Vengeance comes from the individual and punishment from God.”
― Victor Hugo, The Last Day of a Condemned Man

Luther Strange, the attorney general of the State of Alabama, wants the state to be able to expedite the execution process. There have been 56 people executed in this state since April of 1983, and 30 of those have happened since 2003. We have the highest execution rate in the United States, a rate of execution 6 times that of Texas. With 194 people on death row, we house 6% of the national death row population. In 2010, more people were executed in the state of Alabama than in Georgia, Maryland, Virginia, Arkansas, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Louisiana combined. In the US, 139 people have been exonerated, but only eight have been in the state of Alabama. And he wants execution to be easier?

Has he forgotten how easy it is to get a death verdict in this state? If a person is convicted and the jury doesn’t recommend death, then all you have to do is have a judge decide death instead. Alabama is the only state where judges can sentence you to death even if the jury says you should get life in prison. It’s called judicial override and it does happen. It even went before the Supreme Court after happening in 95 cases. The following is from the linked article:

The case, Woodward v. Alabama, No. 13-5380, concerned Mario D. Woodward, who was convicted of killing Keith Houts, a police officer. By an 8-to-4 vote, the jury recommended a life sentence without the possibility of parole. The trial judge rejected the recommendation and condemned Mr. Woodward to death.

Alabama law allows judges to override jury recommendations in either direction: from life to death or from death to life. But Alabama judges have overridden recommendations of life 95 times and of death just nine times.

Florida and Delaware also allow overrides, but they are subject to strict standards. No one has been sentenced to death in Florida as a result of a judicial override since 1999, and no one is on death row in Delaware as a consequence of an override.

The way that we so willingly execute in this state has alarmed human rights activists and even members of the Supreme Court. It’s also one of the best ways to win an election in this state. If you run for a judicial position and proclaim yourself “hard on crime, then promote the idea that you’ll be even tougher on crime, you have to deliver…or someone else will. And, as I’ve pointed out from Facebook posts before, people around here like to advocate killing people for just about any crime, including flag-burning cases, crimes that involve juvenile perpetrators, crimes committed by the mentally ill and by those with varying levels of mental retardation, and random crimes that were committed by people of minority races and religions.

This state lacks things like a proper public defense system, thus “public defenders” are often private attorneys who are only paid $1000 by the state. There is also a $1000 cap for each appeal filed, which means that people who are defended by state-paid counsel may be denied proper resources to mount a defense. We are the only state that lacks a state-funded program to assist inmates in wrongful conviction cases, which means that people could be executed unjustly. According to the Equal Justice Initiative, there’s another major issue that exists when it comes to the defense provided to those on death row:

Many death row prisoners were represented by attorneys who have since been disbarred, suspended, or disciplined for misconduct. Some lawyers were found to have been intoxicated or impaired during the capital trial.

There are also, as I hinted at earlier, issues when it comes to race and the death penalty. Eighty percent of death sentences involve white victims, even though 65% of the murder victims in the state are black. None of the state’s 19 appellate court judges is black and only one elected district attorney is black. The state has a population that is 27% black, but almost half of those on death row currently are black and 83% of the people who have actually been executed have been black.1

Strange claims that expediting executions and appeals processes would be more just for everyone, and that it wouldn’t step on the rights of anyone. How can expediting an already unjust process and speeding the executions along be more just? That just doesn’t make sense. Yeah, it might help the families feel better, and some families may not care if the wrong person dies for a crime, but I bet the families of the inmates would. And I think that everyone in the state, the country, and the world should care when someone is wrongly convicted, and should definitely care when they are executed for crimes that they didn’t commit.

Admittedly, I think the death penalty sucks. There are very few people who I think it is appropriate for, so it would make sense that making it an easier, quicker process would piss me off. I guess that’s why I hope that the law won’t pass, even though I’m sure that it will–after all, the same electorate picks the state legislators that pick the judges and that elect the district attorneys and the State Attorney General.

“Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

“There were eleven votes for ‘guilty.’ It’s not easy for me to raise my hand and send a boy off to die without talking about it first.”
― Reginald Rose, Twelve Angry Men

  1. Equal Justice Initiative 

About Janet Morris

I'm from Huntsville, Alabama. I've got as many college credits as a doctorate candidate, and the GPA of some of them, too. I have a boss by the name of Amy Pond. She's a dachshund. My parents both grew up in Alabama.