Tuesday, December 14, 2004

What jurors fail to appreciate: Since I'm on my lawyer kick, no sense stopping now. We all know now that Scott Peterson is headed for the er...lethal injection table (not quite as pithy as "headed for the chair" or "gallows"). This has fascinated the People Magazine editors (read down a bit) to no end, but in terms of jurisprudence, this is a ho-hum, been-there, done-that case. Still, the focus paid by the media bears some further scrutiny - after all, this was a "victory" for Laci's family, and apparently, for other non-related people as well. Well, let's see.

Some analysts were surprised at the sentencing, given the paucity of direct evidence linking Scottso to the killing, however when asked, the jurors were quick to explain how the punishment fit the crime, i.e. a life for a life. Which might make sense if it were true. See, the jurors weren't told what happens to a prisoner sentenced to death in California. There (and in many other jurisdictions) a death sentence is more likely a life sentence with the slim possibility of death - and even then, the death is more likely to occur by natural causes or suicide than by the state-sanctioned method of killing. It's all here in black-and-white folks. Since 1978 when capital murder was approved by the California legislature, courts and governor, 717 prisoners have received a death sentence. 60 were released or re-sentenced. 13 offed themselves, 22 "died" (presume by natural causes, but I suppose could be murdered in prison), and only 10 were "executed" (again assume that this means state-sanctioned).

Yup, my rough math skills show that the actual execution rate for prisoners condemned to death is about 1.4%. By way of example, in 1996 (and yes, I'm really stretching my statistics), accidental injuries caused 4.1% of all deaths in California. Meaning, you are actually safer being on death row in California then you are simply walking down the street! Fortunately, murders only accounted for .oo6% of all deaths of Californians in 2000 (6.1 per 100,000), which gives you some faith in your government I suppose.

The last inmate executed in California was in 2002 - for crimes committed 22 years earlier.

So, 10 executed in 26 years. We have somewhere around 600 prisoners remaining in front of Peterson. Assume even 100 are either released, re-sentenced, "die" or kill themselves. The backlog is so enormous you'd either need a total re-vamping of the judicial process or have elected some testosterone-pumped action-hero type governor to...oh...hmmm.

Anyway, point being, while the jurors thought they were seeing justice done, all they did was ensure another couple of decades of appeals, ensuring their tax dollars are spent not only fighting those appeals, but feeding and housing Scott Peterson. Who knows, maybe he'll even get conjugal visits. Bravo.

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