Thursday, April 19, 2018

Judge sounds off on putting the brakes on the death penalty

Mike Fields, the presiding judge of Harris County's Criminal Court at Law No. 14, is a very complex character.

I've had disagreements with Judge Fields that I have documented in this blog. We've butted heads a couple of times in the courtroom. But we've also had nice little chats in chambers, on the sidewalk of my old neighborhood and at the bench. Hell, Judge Fields performed the marriage ceremony (in his courtroom) for my current wife and me.

For the longest time, Judge Fields was the only black judge in the misdemeanor courts. That changed when Darrell Jordan was elected to County Criminal Court at Law No. 16. If you remember back a little while, I wrote about Judge Fields backing out of the county's lawsuit to retain its unconstitutional and punitive misdemeanor bail schedule.

Now comes an editorial in the Houston Chronicle in which Judge Fields challenges the wisdom of those who want to speed up the death penalty in Texas.

Just for a moment, however, let’s forget about the exorbitant costs associated with killing a fellow human being. The very idea that a person, innocent of a capital crime, could be caused to sit on death row for any amount of time or, worse, wrongfully killed by our government, is offensive to our fundamental notions of liberty and justice. As celebrated English jurist Sir William Blackstone once said, “It is better that 10 guilty persons escape, than one innocent suffer.” Some of our founding fathers agreed. -- Hon. Mike Fields

In this piece, Judge Fields points out the number of times juries have gotten it wrong (that we are aware of) when it comes to death penalty cases. He also points out the role that the defense bar has played in this process. When no one else is standing up to defend the rights of the accused, it makes it so much easier to stick a needle in someone's arm and worry about whether the jury got it right later. Prosecutors have an ethical duty to see that justice is done - yet most district attorneys will fight tooth and nail to prevent an exoneration. In the mind of the prosecutor it is far more important to preserve the illusion that our criminal (in)justice system gets it right than it is to prevent an innocent man from being murdered by the hand of the state.

I've said it before and I will say it again multiple times before I die that our adversarial trial system isn't designed to determine the truth, it's designed to see which of two competing versions of reality a jury is willing to buy. And if we grease the wheels of the death penalty machine any more then we are going all-in on that notion.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Awesome post.