Saturday, September 15, 2007

Treason: Among Prosecutors any Questioning of the Harshness of Punishment is Treason

Even many people who support the death penalty believe that it is unjust when a person most responsible for a murder is spared death while someon less responsible faces execution. Some death penalty states do not permit the less culpable party to face execution if the more culpable party is spared. Thus in Tennessee when a death sentence against Marcus Presley for shooting two people during the robbery of a pawn shop, was reversed because Presley was only 16 at the time, the prosecutor in the case, Robert Owen, testified in court that Presley's non-shooting accomplice LeSamuel Gamble, should also receive a life sentence.

Quoted in a story in today's New York Times, Own expressed the difficulty he faced.
“It’s difficult for me. I’ve been a career prosecutor. I don’t like taking a position that’s not what my victim would like to take, but I couldn’t lay my head on my pillow at night if I stood by and let a person who didn’t kill somebody be executed when the person who did kill somebody was not.”

That might seem a thoughtful instance of prosecutorial judgment. Just the kind of careful weighing we want these officials who exercise so much discretion to be engaged in. But in the era of governing through crime, prosecutors have become icons of the war on crime whose status is much sought after by other executive officials. As I argue in Chapter 2 of the book, politicians like Attorney Generals and Governors openly compete with prosecutors for the title of being the most loyal champion of crime victims.

Seeing an opportunity, Tennessee Attorney General Troy King announced he would intervene in the case to try an reinstate a death penalty against Gamble. According to Brenda Goodman's reporting in the Times, Mr. King's intent "was to protect the interests of the victims in the case and that Mr. Owens had acted on the side of the criminal."

Governing through crime has created enormous opportunity for expanding the power of executives, but only when the operate in the black and white terms dictated by governing through crime in which the world has only victims and evil doers, and in which any questioning of the harshness of punishment is a form of treason.

1 comment:

mrssammann said...

I sat on the jury for Mr. Gamble's trial. The trial was held in Shelby County, Alabama and not Tennessee.