“It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into”

Jonathan Swift
"The Democrats have moved to the right, and the right has moved into a mental hospital." - Bill Maher
"The city is crowded my friends are away and I'm on my own
It's too hot to handle so I gotta get up and go

It's a cruel ... cruel summer"

Monday, April 11, 2005

Pulling Your Lege

This week I'm in a reflective mood, and happened on this article. Sen. Eddie Lucio (D-Brownsville) introduced legislation, SB 60, to offer juries in cases involving capital crimes the option of life imprisonment without possibility of parole, in addition to the two current options, life imprisonment with possibility of parole in 40 years, or death. Now, it's not as though Lucio is trying to eliminate the death penalty. In explaining his reasoning, he said "Life without parole does not weaken the death penalty. It is tough on crime. It provides certainty to the families of the victims because they know those individuals would never walk the streets again."

Some Republicans supported the legislation also, believing that since the U.S. Supreme Court recently struck down the death penalty for minors, juries needed some stiffer (!) option for sentencing such minors, and was reported out of the criminal justice committee on March 16.

Nevertheless, on the Senate floor, the bill failed to receive the 2/3 vote needed to begin debate. All 12 nay votes were cast by Republicans. Sen. Todd Staples (R-Palestine) voted no in order to avoid confusing jurors. "We need to streamline so jurors fully understand the decision they're making," Staples said. Apparently, Texas juries are unable to comprehend more than two choices. The Chronicle reported that Lucio is continuing to try to find a way to push the bill through.

All that aside, however, I'm left wondering what the actual interplay in a jury room would do with this third option. Would most Texas juries use it to reduce the number of death verdicts? Or, would "concern" for the victim just reduce the number of parolees? Never mind that a guaranteed 40-year term is effectively life, anyway, even for a fifteen-year-old.

And what is the motivation behind this legislation, really? Is it the proverbial camel's nose under the death penalty tent? If so, it's just one nostril. Does it have to do with introducing more sentencing options, in general? Or (I'll bite) is it really as Lucio described it? I'm no criminal justice expert, so I invite comments from those more knowledgeable.

In general, I've got to say that I'm a death penalty opponent, not because I find it totally unjustifiable, but because I know enough about the way the justice system works (or more correctly doesn't work for those who are poor, ignorant or both) to know that perfectly innocent people get convicted and executed, mostly just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. We know this from the number of people who have recently been exonerated after serving years in prison, based upon new DNA evidence. I don't know when the regressives in this state are going to wake up to the reality that we aren't perfect. But I guess the question is, do we care about living in a society where you can be killed because you didn't know how to get a good lawyer? If we did, the Lege wouldn't be wasting time with bills that really don't move the ball.