“The Crying Game”

Scott Peterson was convicted of the murder of Laci Peterson and his trial is now in the sentencing phase. Whether or not he will live or be executed is being decided by a jury based on emotions.
This article asked the question should the decision of life and death be left up to emotion? Should the death of an individual be decided by using one’s heart as a guide or should there be standards for sentencing a convicted man to death?

Two days into the penalty phase of the Scott Peterson trial, it’s clear that Kleenex must be flying off the Safeway shelves in Redwood City, Calif. Jurors sobbed openly as Laci Peterson’s mother testified on the first day of the guilt phase. Peterson himself cried when his dad testified yesterday. And jurors who made it through hours of the gruesome testimony offered at the guilt phase have morphed into puddles when faced with photos of the dead victim and emotional narratives about what a great mother she would have been.

Peterson was convicted last month of murdering his pregnant wife, Laci, and his unborn son, Conner. He now faces the prospect of either life in prison or capital punishment. And on Tuesday, as the penalty phase of the trial began, it became clear that “penalty phase” is simply a term of art for “blatant emotional manipulation,” as both sides did everything in their power to persuade the jury to vote only with their hearts.

We have become so accustomed to bifurcated capital trials in America—trials at which the guilt phase is separate from the sentencing phase—that we forget how truly bizarre this system can be. We end up with a “head” trial—a dispassionate hearing on what happened, in which evidence is sometimes cruelly limited to the cold, hard facts. That proceeding is closely followed by a “heart” trial—a mini hearing full of hearsay and legally irrelevant detail: The defendant was abused as a baby; the victim was a wonderful wife and mother. Witnesses are, in short, encouraged to take the stand and emote—describing how desperately they miss the victim, or how tragic the life circumstances of the defendant really were. And, instead of deciding guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, jurors are asked to engage in a subjective balancing test—weighing a list of aggravating factors (was the murder particularly heinous; was it done for financial gain; does the defendant have a violent criminal history?) against a list of mitigating ones (was the defendant abused as a child; was he on drugs or otherwise impaired in his judgment?).

I find it ridiculous that the life of a man, albeit a convicted murderer can …

come down to whether the jury believes Laci’s family is ultimately more tragic than his.

I am not a supporter of the death penalty myself but if capital punishment remains a possible sentence for convicted felons there should be an establish criteria for its sentencing. 

The notion that there is a place in the chilly, linear life of the law for this sort of sentimentality—the unrestrained id of emotion untethered from logic—is beyond strange. The idea that in order to decide whether a criminal deserves the “ultimate punishment” a jury must abandon reason and clarity for emotion and intuition inverts everything the law otherwise represents. When else do we contend, as a society, that people exercise fantastic judgment at that moment when they are sobbing and gasping for breath?

The author also goes on to question the constitutionality of this split system of trial and sentencing.

the penalty phase no longer represents a contest between the defendant and the state but, rather, becomes a contest between the defendant and the victims’ survivors, is a result of years of advocacy by the victims-rights movement. Whereas victim-impact statements were once prohibited at trial, for example, the Supreme Court now holds them to be constitutionally permissible. Whereas the victim’s family used to be almost incidental at a capital trial, they now play a central role, most notably at the penalty phase.

I would love to hear some opinions of this system and since I have read how most feel about abortion I’ll be curious to see how you feel about killing adults. Our president has no problem with it that’s for sure.


Ashcroft’s Parting Shot.

You knew he couldn’t go quietly. Here’s a parting shot at the voters of Oregon and their decision to allow for physician assisted suicide. Let’s all hope Justice Rehnquist is still unavailable when this issue is reviewed.

Oregon’s law, known as the Death With Dignity Act, lets patients with less than six months to live request a lethal dose of drugs after two doctors confirm the diagnosis and determine the person’s mental competence to make the request.

Is it me or does this seem like a logical and compassionate option for the terminally ill. Why do fundamentalists prefer that the terminally ill suffer for their remaining days? This option allows for a person to decide the way in which he leaves this world. The terminally ill are allowed to bypass the inevitable pain and suffering and leave their loved ones behind with a dignity not available to those who are required to deteriorate and painfully perish. Where is the compassion in not allowing for this option?

The Bush administration has argued that assisted suicide is not a “legitimate medical purpose” and that doctors take an oath to heal patients, not help them die.

The patients that the doctors are treating cannot be helped. They are terminal; the only help the doctor can give is relief from the inevitable pain often associated with terminal conditions. Most often, the relief this option provides not only effects the patient but their loved ones as well.

Living in Florida I have seen first hand how much the Bush family opposes this issue and for the life of me I cannot understand the problem. Jeb Bush, through his unconstitutional “emergency legislation,” believes that he saved the life of Terri Schiavo, a brain damaged woman who has been kept alive by life support and feeding tubes for 14 years. What life has he saved? Considering how logical physician assisted suicide seems to me, I cannot understand how Oregon can be the only state that has voted to allow it.