Sunday, July 10, 2011

Appointment or Election of D. A.s, Judge Alex and Capital Punishment, Minors as Jurors

In response to my most recent blog, Matt has posed tough questions regarding the Casey Anthony case, past which I should have moved by now but am still thingking, talking, and writing about just a bit. My gut feelings tell me that Casey did chloroform the child. Whether the mother merely intended for the child to sleep though mom's party or whether she actually intended to end the child's life, I do not know. I don't think drowning was the manner of death. (In California, I think we term things in the opposite way as is done in Florida. For example, in the Laci Peterson case, "homicide" was the cause of death. The "manner" of death was unknown. In Florida, it seems that the "cause of death" is the specific incident that led to the death, as opposed to "manner of death" being the broader term in Florida.) Regardless of whether the intent was to end little Caylee's life, if the jury had found that Casey had chloroformed the child for whatever purpose, it would have been aggravated assault upon a child leading to the child's death, which would have been first degree murder.

I'm not certain yet how I feel about the death penalty under any circumstances, but in any event, it seems counterproductive to put it on the table in many cases when what it actually does is reduce the chances that the jury will return a guilty verdict even when, in some cases, the jury actually believes the defendant to be guilty. I'm not saying such is the case with regard to the trial in question, as the jury didn't find Casey guilty in any of the lesser charges pertaining to the death of Caylee, anyway. Still, it seems that the possibility of capital punishment could have that effect on a jury. While I like to think I could follow the law as a juror regarding the death penalty or anything else on the table, I can't say with certainty that my vote wouldn't be influenced by the possibility of a death sentence were I on a jury that convicted a defendant. Death is just so . . . final, for lack of a better owrd.

I recall stating in an earlier blog that if anyone was deserving of the death penalty, in my opinion, of would be Scott Peterson. I was wrong in stating that. Regardless of my convictions concerning the right or wrong of the state sentencing anyone to death, I now believe capital punishment is never an appropriate penalty when the evidence is entirely circumstantial. I have no probalem with a conviction based on circumstancial evidence, but circumstantial or even eyewitness evidence by itself to me no longer seems sufficient to condemn someone to the ultimate punishment. People can be mistaken, and circumstances can combine to make an innocent person look guilty. I still feel that if the witness is sufficiently credible or the circumstacntial evidence sufficiently compelling, a conviction may be reasonable, but the finality of capital punishment under such conditions is no longer acceptable to me. Again, I'm still not even sure how I feel about capital punishment, period, but I certainly cannot support it with only a single eyewitness as evidence (as opposed to an entire crowd of viewers or videotaped proof) or circumstantial versus direct evidence.

Several Tweeters and Facebook posters have asked Judge Alex if he is in favor or opposed to capital punishment. In each case I have seen, he as avoided the question. Doing so is probably wise. No one, including the judge himself, probably knows for certain what are his long-term career plans. He could conceivably find himself in the "for real" legal profession again, possibly as a judge at a higher level than he has been in the past. One's position on the death penalty is a highly charged issue for potential judicial candidates -- so much that revealing it could very well mean the difference between confirmation for a judicial post or lack thereof. He seems wise to avoid the issue. Nonetheless, I'll probably ask him if it's a conscious choice on his part not to reveal his position.

Matt asked questions about the relative merits of appointing versus electing district attorneys. His question would probably pertain to judgeships as well. (Some states appoint superior or circuit court judges, while others elect them execept in the event that a vacancy is created between elections.) Matt's question concerned whether the election of district attorneys led to political grandstanding in terms of seeking higher charges or penalities, or otherwise not acting according to one's conscience at the expense of appealing to voters. It's a very valid concern. Still, even with the obvious drawbacks, I'd still prefer for district attorneys and judges to be elected. My opinion is that too much power is given to the governor or a state if the sole means of choosing judges is by political appointment. Too many spoils go the the victor as it is. I'd hate to grant any more political appointments that happen as favors to friends and supporters than already happen under the present system. Still, it's an imperfect system even under the election process.

I'd like to address one more topic, which is that of the right and rsponsibility for citizens to serve as jurors. I very much look forward to the opportunity to serve as a juror. My hope is for a trial that is not so boring that I find myself in contempt of court for falling asleep during testimony, yet one not so grave that someone's life is on the line. That's probably the sort of trial for which every potential juror hopes-- or those of us who do not actively seek to avoid jury service, anyway.

I have one additional thought concerning the jury selection process. It is my opinion that sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds are capable of functioning as jurors. Their service would need to be limited to short-term trials or to trials occurring during summer breaks because the obvious need to avoid missing excessive class time. An entire jury should probably not consist of sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds, but one or two minors scattered in a panel of twelve citizens should be a positive addition to the system. A constitutional amendment. or at least amendments to state contitutions, would probably be required. Still, if minors in some cases can be tried as adults in crimes, other minors should be allowed to serve as jurors. Most sixteen-and seventeen-year-old can reason intelligently and would take the responsibility of jury duty seriously.

1 comment:

  1. In the UK the age limit for jury service is 18, I think.

    The appointment to the judiciary is semi-governmental, and supposedly non-political, but in reality it is somewhat political.