Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Serving justice?

A prosecutor has an ethical duty to see that justice is done. Justice isn't measured in convictions or death sentences or moving cases off the docket.

Last July James Holmes walked into a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, tossed a smoke grenade and opened fire on the people gathered to watch the premiere of the new Batman movie. Twelve people lost their lives that night and countless others saw their lives change right before their eyes.

This past week Mr. Holmes' attorneys proposed a plea agreement in which Mr. Holmes would plead guilty and receive a sentence of life in prison without parole (what my fellow blawger Jeff Gamso refers to as "death in prison"). There you have it. Case closed. There was a crime. The defendant accepted responsibility and pled guilty. The state would take away his liberty for life.

There would be no need for a trial. No need for the families of those who were killed to relive the tragic night detail by detail. Justice would have been served. Mr. Holmes would never again be able to harm anyone outside a prison wall.

But that wasn't good enough for Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler. Not by a long shot.

Instead of accepting the deal in which the accused would receive the maximum sentence, short of death, Mr. Brauchler said "No."


For the sake of revenge.
“You know you’re guilty,” said Marcus Weaver, a survivor of the shooting, addressing Mr. Holmes as he spoke before television cameras. “Why not just plead guilty and accept your fate? Man up. Save us all the difficulty and the tax dollars.”
The death penalty serves no other purpose. It provides no deterrent. It doesn't give the accused time to contemplate what he did and why it was wrong. There is no useful social function of capital punishment other than revenge.

I am so mad at you that I want you to die! That's what we're saying when we sentence someone to be murdered in cold blood by the state.

Now the families of the victims will have to relive their worst nightmares. They will have to listen to the cold recitation of facts about the deaths of their loved ones. They will have to endure years of appeals when they will get to relive that night over and over again. The taxpayers of Colorado will foot the bill for the prosecution and the automatic appeal. Someone's going to have to pay for the expert witness who will interview Mr. Holmes to determine if he was insane at the time of the killings. The state will have to expend time and resources to fight back appeals and to ward off writs.

Time and money will be thrown away to feed the ego of a prosecutor who wants to put a notch in his belt and make a name for himself.

Mr. Weaver got it all wrong. Mr. Holmes was more than willing to plead guilty and accept his fate. He was prepared to spend the rest of his life behind bars. It is the state that will be making it both difficult and expensive for everyone involved.

Justice would be served by Mr. Holmes pleading guilty and going off to prison to die of old age. The victims' families would be served better by ending the litigation right now. The taxpayers would be served by accepting the plea agreement and saving the money.

But, then, that wouldn't be nearly as dramatic as a death sentence, would it?

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