Sunday, April 23, 2006

From Ruth's Public Radio Report, her coverage of Law and Disorder

We're highlighting this section from Ruth's latest Ruth's Public Radio Report.  (If she needs a break next week -- and she may -- we'd be perfectly happy if she just covered Law and Disorder.)  For the full report click on the link.  Here's our excerpt:
Friday, Willie Brown was executed by lethal injection in the state of North Carolina. Mr. Brown's case and the death penalty were discussed on WBAI's Law and Disorder Monday with Sue Gunawardena-Vaughn who is the Director of the Program to Abolish the Death Penalty for Amnesty International USA.

Mr. Brown's history of mental illness was not addressed in the trial nor were witnesses brought into court that could have countered the prosecution's case. "His attornies did not present any of this" mental illness history "as a mitigating factor," Ms. Gunawardena-Vaughn explained. Brown's jurors were given improper instructions as well. In terms of their decision, they were told that they must all agree on mitigating factors which brought up the issue of mitigating and aggrevated factors that co-host Heidi Boghosian suggested they define. Thank you, to Ms. Boghosian for that because I was treading water as a listener at the point and sure I was about to go under. As I understood it, listen to the episode, a mitigating factor is a detail that should allow for a lesser sentence. Mental illness and child abuse were given as examples and Ms. Boghosian put them under the easy to understand umbrella of "human factors." These are factors that add to the total picture of the crime. Aggrevating factors, again as I understood it, were issues such as torture, rape, etc. Another factor is "future dangerousness" which would suggest that the person charged, if found guilty, commmitted the crime in such a manner or with a pattern, that, in convicting, these factors needed to be noted such as whether remorse is shown, the number of victims, etc. My mind immeditately went to the Tate-Bianaca murders. Certainly, a seriel offender, murderer, rapists, etc, would have the issue of future danger raised in their case.

The issue of medical ethics was raised due to the fact that the lethal injection is not as "tidy" as people are led to believe. As more doctors have become aware that it is not necessarily a painless procedure, some, such as in California, have stated that they will not participate. Judges are now ordering that a doctor participate.

After the discussion, the hosts explored aggrevating and mitigating factors in further death.
Jurors are told "your decision is not final, there can be appeal after appeal," Ms. Boghosian noted, which can confuse the issue and leave a jury with the impression that they are not, in fact, making a final decision. In addition, they are not briefed on all the findings they may make such as life without parole. Michael Ratner brought up jury disqualification and how, in jury selection, you start out with a huge pool that gets "funneled" into a smaller pool which favors execution since you are excluded from the jury if you are someone who says that you are opposed to the death penalty "until by the end you're getting people who favor the death penalty, and then you're getting a series of factors that actually hit them over the head and say 'Give this guy the death penalty.'" Michael Smith offered that it was not all that long ago when they used firing squads in Utah. Other forms such as electrocution and gas chambers were moved away from as well because they were seen as brutal. The idea is that lethal injection is more "humane." Which is why the courts are ordering doctors to participate and some doctors are resisting because lethal injection is not the smooth procedure that people are led to believe it is.

For more on this discussion, you can read Mike's "Law and Disorder, Nepal, Guantanamo and more" which includes a rare example of Hillary Clinton being pressed on the death penalty issue by a journalist. Cedric's "Law and Disorder addressed PBS and Armenia" does a wonderful job of covering the segment on the show where the genocide in Armenia was discussed.

Charlie Hay-Mestre, member of the board for the Center fof Contitutional Rights and a civil rights attorney in San Juan, Puerto Rico spoke of an issue C.I. and Ava have been writing about in the round-robin: Puerto Rico after the assassination of Filiberto Ojeda Rios. Eddie e-mailed that this was his favorite segment of Monday's show. "Domestic terrorism" is the cover for what is going on in Puerto Rico and this has come about in the post-9/11 period. "I'm getting a sinking feeling, Charlie, that what's happening to people down there could be happening to people in the United States next," Michael Smith stated.

Mr. Hey-Mestre: It's very frightening because essentially what's going on is A shift in the use of this apparatus of the federal government to quell dissent and to use the boogey man of terrorism to persecute political minorities. That tactic will be transferrable to many organizations and we've seen what's happened with warrantless searches, electronic searches in the states which is really on the front burner of the ongoing debate about whether that's legal -- this is another aspect of the same tactic.

Which lead to the last guest, Shane Kadidal of the Center for Constitutional Rights, and Sara Miles co-wrote an article with Mr. Ratner that goes into the background. Mr. Kadidal noted the Center for Constitutional Rights case attempting to determine whether or not the government has been listening in to attorney-client phone calls. FISA and other laws regulate privaliged calls. To "prepare an aggressive defense," innocence until proven guilty are among the reasons for the privilege. As Ms. Boghasion and Mr. Kadidal pointed out, the result is that lawyers must think twice before addressing sensitive issues in e-mails or phone calls. Mr. Kadidal noted that in reply to written questions from the Senate, the Justice Department refused to rule out whether or not they were listening in on lawyer-client phone calls.

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