Tuesday, December 13, 2005

While I wouldn't have imposed the death sentence on Cory Maye, who was sentenced to death for killing a police officer who broke into his apartment while executing a warrant for a drug search, I wonder if those opposed to his execution (and here) have the proverbial snowball's chance of overturning the verdict...

What we have here, other than a failure to communicate, is a situation where the system 'worked'. It doesn't look like a 'reversible mistake' was made during the course of the trial and sentencing. Charges were brought, the jury heard the evidence, deliberated and returning their verdict. I haven't (yet) heard that Maye is retarded, that blacks were kept off the jury, that his attorney was incompetent (although this post hints at poor representation) or in the pay of the police, that his 'confession' was beaten out of him, or that the prosecutor withheld evidence from the defense.

Assuming there are no procedural grounds to overturn the verdict, his defenders, in particular, those on the right, will be forced to answer the question of whether they will support the sentence - not necessarily because they want people such as Maye to die - but because it was the result of a system they profess to believe in.

We know the criminal justice system was not designed to produce the 'perfect' outcome. If it were, 'technicalities' would not allow someone to escape punishment for their actions. There would be no right to avoid self-incrimination. There would be no limit on the number of appeals a prisoner could make. There would be no death sentence, as executing someone would forever foreclose the possibility of making things right for someone improperly convicted.

And by designing the system we have, we as a country are saying that we value the process over the end result. What matters is whether or not the rules are followed and not whether the jury reached the 'right' decision.

If we try to change the outcome, we invalidate the process itself. We can't say we value the system we have put into place for adjudicating guilt and imposing a sentence if we're going to say 'never mind' when the system produces an outcome we don't like.

If we truly believe in the system, we need to stand by it... not just when it produces outcomes we like (Tookie Williams being executed), but, and perhaps more importantly, when it produces outcomes we don't like. That's the standard John Roberts adhered to in Hedgepeth and it's the true measurement for standing on principle: having it hurt.

And it hurt when our system for electing Presidents produces a Bill Clinton (for the (likely) few readers I have of Democratic persuasion, substitute Bush for Clinton).... but, notwithstanding some idiots here and there, we stick by the system.

So, the question is do we throw out our criminal justice system because Cory Maye found himself on death row? If we do, perhaps we ought not to bother with going through the motions of having trials and sentencing phases... we'll just let those who scream the loudest decide the proper outcome ...