December 21, 2006

Art imitates life imitates justice

Posted in Politics at 7:28 pm by Nova Newcomer

When I was a junior in college, I was subpoenaed for the penalty phase of a trial on behalf of a classmate with whom I attended high school. The individual had been involved in a brutal execution-style killing. I had been with him on a Mock Trial team that finished 4th in state — with him, oddly enough playing the role of the defendant in our competition. No one in our class would have been surprised to find out that he was capable of a crime. He was one of those kids who gets branded quickly and then lives up to his labels.

What disturbed me about the penalty phase of his trial is that the prosecuting attorney wanted the death penalty for my classmate. While investigating, police had found materials in his home outlining the Oregon statute for capital murder, which I now believe to be our Mock Trial materials. The prosecutor wanted to use this evidence to aid the case that my classmate was the ringleader and that he was obsessed with murdering someone.  I would have had these same materials in my home and there are very few people who would have believed me to be capable of a violent crime. We all get branded in some way or another. Unlike my classmate, I was a goody-two-shoes.

The circumstances of my subpoena inspired me to write my undergraduate thesis on the Death Penalty. I discovered that defendants are more likely to have been discriminated against in the prosecutorial decision phase rather than the jury phase. You see, the ugly truth of our capital punishment is that prosecutors don’t go after the death penalty for everyone who commits eligible crimes. Our system can’t afford to go after cases that the prosecutor’s office doesn’t “win”. So, like my classmate’s case, they look for evidence that will be sure-bets with a jury and then choose to pursue those cases with unholy righteousness.

I came across this article on CNN.com that talks about prosecutors using violent rap lyrics to get juries to understand motive. How many of us have rapped or sang along with a violent lyric? I think that the simple way of looking at this is kid sang about killing another kid, kid kills kid, lyrics telegraphed intention. Or could it be more complex — that the lyrics say more about our society and our failure to reach these young men before they have given up on us.

http://www.cnn.com/2006/LAW/12/20/gangsta.lyrics.ap/index.html

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1 Comment »

  1. michael newcomer said,

    THE DEATH PENALTY IS REDICULOUS.
    MAINLY BECAUSE IT IS IMMORAL.
    SECONDARILY AND ALMOST AS IMPORTANT IT
    IS SELECTIVE. JUST ASK BLACK PEOPLE IN TEXAS AND
    FLORIDA WHERE IT SEEMS AS THOUGH PRISONS ARE
    FOR PROFIT AND SPORT. AS FAR AS THE RAPPER CONVICTION,
    I LIKE THE COMMENT – IF ROBERT DENIRO, AL PACINO OR
    MARLON BRANDO WERE CHARGED WITH SHOOTING SOMEBODY,
    ARE THEY GOING TO SHOW CLIPS FROM THE GODFATHER TO
    ASSIST IN THEIR CONVICTION.


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