Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Oh, What a Mess, What a Mess in America's Judicial System. Explaining and dissecting the N.C. death-row racial bias bill.

It seems to me that one measure of a country's success is the degree with which its justice system works well, for the good of the country, the majority, and the wrongly accused. However, when I read  what is going on in some American states, I wonder how successful the U.S. is on this criteria. Let's take the recent example of North Carolina.

Let me see if I can summarize the situation and then comment on the implications:

1.  Back in 2009 the current Governor of North Carolina signed into law a bill that requires judges (I assume on appeal) to amend a "death sentence" if they believe that that lower court sentence was based on racial prejudice.  They must amend it to "life in prison without parole" in such cases of belief.

2.  Two weeks ago, a number of N.C. legislators put forward a bill that would repeal that law, arguing two things:  first, that it can and does clogg up the system with appeals, and second, that it has the impact of imposing an indefinite moratorium on legalized death penalties in the state.

3.  Just today (Wed. Dec. 14, 2011), the Governor vetoed the appealing bill and the 2009 anti-racial-bias bill stands.  It's formal name is the 2009 Racial Justice Act.

4.  The 2009 bill was designed to offset the belief or concerns that race impacted on who was sentenced to death in the state and who might not be.  And the defense lawyers can use simple statistics as an argument.  Almost all executions have been stopped in the last five years as a result.  Almost all of the 158 prisoners now on death-row have filed for reconsideration under this Act -- both black and White inmates claim their sentence was an act of racism.

5. But this theatrical circumstance has at least one more scene to go -- by law, when a Governor issues a veto in N.C., they have a certain number of days (this time by Jan. 8th) to recall the legislature so that they could, if they were able to, override the veto.  Fat chance as Republicans who support the repeal of the bill don't have the necessary majority to do so.

6.  Apparently most N.C. citizens support the death penalty and are not too happy with the Democratic Governor's solitary decision.

7.  On the other hand, there is 2010 study by two law professors at Michigan State University that found a defendant in North Carolina is 2.6 times more likely to be sentenced to death if at least one of the victims was white, according to article in the link below.  But again that's just statistics and no statement is made on the merits of those cases.

Now, let's try to think about some of the finer points of this situation:

A. Racism is indeed a sin that our world, and in particular, our Western society is saddled with.  And we should do all we can to minimize its negative impact on people and society.  However, this Act seems to assume that if the judge is white, he/she will go for the jugular rather than an alternative sentencing based on racial prejudice; if the victim is white, the white judge is even more likely to do so; and if the jury is predominantly white, the accused who is black has little chance.   And the death-row prisoner can simply use statistics to get the relief he/she wants.   That is, there is no safe-proof way of looking at a case and determining (in this appeal) that the lower court's process was or was not racist on the merits of the case -- but rather, through statistics, just assume it to be so.

B. Although the amended sentence would be "life without parole" -- we all know how that can be changed over time including pardons.  It would be better if the act read, "life sentence without the possibility of parole".

C. Many of us believe that justice delayed is justice denied.  But that works both ways -- both for the accused that is innocent and the accused that is guilty.  Denying the execution of the sentence a criminal has been given is justice denied for his/her victims and society.

D.  And then of course there is the fact that the provision for an over-ride is rendered useless when the opposition to the governor does not have the votes.  A flaw in the system in my opinion.  And add to that this sole governor is acting contrary to the majority of her constituents.  Another flaw.

E.  For my money, we, especially Christians, are obliged to take a much higher approach.  We need to arrive at the "more correct" answer to this dilemma (for there is no possible human answer that is perfectly correct, moral, etc.) by using a paired-comparison decision-tree of priorities by which we can assess pairs of competing variables and determining which has the 'higher' value to society as a whole and allowing the winners to float to the top until we arrive at our agreed to decision.  And always each consideration should be, at least for Christians, also assessed in light of what the Bible may say about it.  Variables in this case include: justice, delays, system clogging, death-sentences, racism, criminal penalties, and so on.

What then are we to make of all this?  Racism is caused by sin.  Sin screws everything up.  There is no right or wrong in the eyes of sinners.  Each man and woman does/thinks/demands whatever seems right in their own minds.  (Proverbs 12:15, 14:12, and 21:2.)   There are no absolutes to help them.  And the sinkhole of society gets deeper and deeper.   I don't believe in evolution, but if this keeps up someone will need to explain to me how it is that man today is evolving to be more like a four-footed animal in his behavior.

-- For Epistoli, I'm Ken Godevenos, and I invite to express a different point of view in the comment section below.  Here's the link to the original article. . . . 

The Associated Press: NC governor vetoes death-row racial bias bill

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