Sam Howard, "A Letter From Death Row."
The criminal justice system in America is seriously broken, and I've news for you; no matter what some actor playing a cop on TV says it isn't broken because the criminals have all the rights. If you are accused of a serious crime all of the resources of the police department and the District attorney's office are arrayed against you. If you are poor, and the vast majority of those tried for major crimes are, chances are you get one over-worked Public Defender and a clerk. Add to that the automatic presumption of guilt in the minds of a jury that is sufficiently ill-informed to pass voir dire, (I keep getting rejected because I admit I read the newspaper), and your odds of acquittal suck. Better have an alabi. The Governor would be nice.
There was a case tried in Sacramento a few years ago, I was called for jury duty...an excused, where the prosecution's entire case against a mildly retarded teenage boy rested on tape recorded evidence obtained by an informant the prosecution admitted they paid approximately $250,000.
The jury convicted him.
There was a case somewhere in the Deep South where a man was imprisoned for murder, even though the inside of the barrel of the shotgun supposedly used to commit the crime was rusted.
Jurors have admitted they voted to convict "just in case". They would rather risk putting an innocent man in prison for life than let a guilty man go free.
It happens all the time.
For me, I go the other way. One innocent man killed in my name is too many. If a killer does go free, the chances are slim that he will kill again. Murder has the lowest rate of recidivism of any major crime.
A criminal justice major told me that one.
Finally, after all of the logic and ethical arguments are trotted out, there is this: I remember watching the crowd assembled outside the walls of San Quentin before an execution on TV years ago. It was back when they still used the gas chamber in California. The camera panned across two different groups outside the gates. There was the candlelight vigil of the people opposed to the death penalty. They were mostly quiet with their signs. There may have been a Pete Seeger song being sung, but mostly I remember hushed solemnity and candlelit earnest faces.
Then there was the other group. It was like a tailgate party cheering on the executioner. I remember one sign:
PLOP PLOP FIZZ FIZZ
OH WHAT A RELIEF IT IS
I am sure there were more than a few coolers full of beer in that crowd.
All other considerations aside, I am damn choosy about the company I keep.
Be seeing you.