June 2017: While we’re on the subject . . .


There has been a lot of interesting writing about criminal justice published in the last few weeks that we thought you might want to know about. Here’s a small sampling.

Stephen Cooper, a former federal public defender in Alabama, explains in a column for the LA Post Examiner that his opposition to the death penalty would have included even Hitler if he had been captured alive.

A study in the Yale Law Journal by three professors looks at the result of a survey on the death penalty they conducted of 480 jurors called to Orange County (California) Superior Court. Their findings, especially in an “outlier” county known for the high number of death sentences it imposes, are surprising. An example: only nine percent said they would automatically vote for a death sentence; 32 percent said they would automatically vote for life imprisonment.

Historian S. Jonathan Bass’s book, “He Calls Me By Lightning,” is the story of  Caliph Washington, a black 17-year-old who, in 1957 in Alabama, was stopped by a white police officer for no reason, and in the midst of struggling over the officer’s gun, accidentally shot and killed him, and then fled. After his capture, and not advised of his rights, Washington signed a confession and was sentenced to death by an all-white jury. His execution was stayed 13 times, but after years of appeals, he was finally released in 1971. In his New York Times review, Timothy B. Tyson says the book “insists that we face the cost of lives that don’t matter to a persistent racial caste system.”

“Courting Death: The Supreme Court and Capital Punishment” by Carol S. Steiker and Jordan M. Steiker, is a history of the death penalty in the United States that according to reviewer Jed S. Rakoff (a senior Judge of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York) in the NY Review of Books, makes the argument that, “The debate over the death penalty is ‘first and foremost’ a symbolic battle over cultural values, with a strong current of racism running just below the surface.” While he calls the book a “trenchant account,” Rakoff does criticize the authors’ “failure to give more than passing attention to the moral outrage that provides much of the emotional support for the death penalty—outrage felt not only by the family and friends of a murder victim, but also by the many empathetic members of the public. . .”

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