Saturday, October 09, 2004

Executing An Innocent (But Unsavory) Person?

The New York Times today gives a cursory cry of "injustice" to the case of Paul Gregory House, who appears to be on death row for a murder he did not commit. The Times notes that the en banc Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit split down partisan lines (according to which party appointed them), with the Republican appointees voting to keep Mr. House on track for execution and the Democratic appointees voting for acquittal or a new trial. The Times opines
It's hard to dismiss the thought that the Republicans voted as a show of support for capital punishment, not on the merits of the case.
More likely, it was a vote for "finality" - literally for form over substance - although not as explicitly stated as in some other cases. (Read the opinions - PDF Format)

The majority opinion is not unconvincing, until you read the dissent and learn the facts the majority conveniently omitted to make its rendering seem plausible. It is difficult to justify not granting at least a new trial if you actually look to the facts. But the Republicans in the House and Senate, and the Rehnquist Supreme Court, have long been pushing for "reforms" of the appellate process and the right of habeas corpus which place a near-exclusive emphasis on "procedural due process" and diminish the importance of "substantive due process". That is to say, if all of the procedural rules were sufficiently followed, and a conviction resulted, the preference of many "conservatives" is to uphold the conviction in the name of "finality". Arbitrary deadlines and restrictions have been imposed on the use of exculpatory evidence discovered after conviction.

And if a some innocent people rot in prison, or perhaps even suffer execution at the hands of the state, our conscience can be clean - because whatever the facts, we know that the I's were dotted and the T's were crossed, and the need for "finality" must sometimes be placed ahead of facts establishing innocence. Right? (And as any good fascist can tell you, if you're innocent and in prison, you probably deserve to be there for some other crime anyway.)

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