Tuesday, March 29, 2005

... the pursuit of Justice

I'd encourage you to read this article (or one like it) about a man whose death sentence was overturned because the jurors referred to the Bible for moral backing as they were deliberating. Apparently one of the jurors was thinking that, as a Christian, it would be against his religion to sentence the convicted rapist and murderer to death. So the other jurors used the Bible to make their case that it was ok ("an eye for an eye"), and encouraged him to follow state law on the matter. But because the jurors brought in an "outside source" that was not presented in the courtroom, a higher court found that their decision may have been somehow prejudiced against the rapist.

I can see both sides of this. On the one hand, if the jurors had brought in, say, an article written about the case that hadn't been presented in court, this would be an obvious breach of protocol. On the other hand, if a juror decides that his religion forbids him from passing judgment ("judge not, lest ye be judged"), then there's an enormous risk of sacrificing justice because of religious ideals. Ideally, such a potential juror would be screened out early because they are unwilling to support state law based on religious grounds. But on the gripping hand, our society is based on the precept that protecting somebody from tyranny or mob mentality is worth that risk. Ten guilty people may go free, if we can be certain that one innocent person won't be punished for something they did not do.

This was my point when I made my comments on the Terry Schiavo case. I hope that nobody took my statements to mean that I think Terry needs to live. And I find it interesting that Michael Shiavo's supporters seem to be constantly complaining that people are "demonizing" or "vilifying" him for getting on with his life by starting an extramarital relationship. I haven't heard that argument, and I hope nobody entertains the notion that I ever made that argument. And we could debate back and forth for a very long time, trying to determine whether or not Terry would actually want to die. And I'm not saying that she doesn't have a "right to die." If I were in her position, I honestly don't know whether I would prefer to die. I do know that I would rather have that decision made by people who wanted to provide me with therapy in hopes that I might improve, rather than someone who is bent on denying me any care that might make me live any longer. But I digress. My point is that because we could go on debating this, and because there is reasonable doubt as to her condition, her wishes assuming she is in that condition, and the motives of the people who wish her dead, our legal system really had ought to, as Bush put it, "err on the side of life." That is to say, if she lives another month or year or however long in a state of oblivion, it is possible in the future to make the decision to allow her to die; no harm done. But if we decide to kill her now, and history proves us wrong, we won't very well be able to restore her to the condition that she was in previously.

On the plus side, her husband has apparently decided to allow an autopsy. (She was originally going to be cremated, which her parents point out is against her religion). So now we may at least know whether we were right or wrong on the matter. Not that we'd be able to do anything about it anyway. I find it interesting that Michael Shiavo won't consent to an MRI to decide beforehand if her brain is mush, but he figures that after he's starved her to death it's okay for us to find out one way or another.

In other news, "SEVENTY-EIGHT per cent of people who have died in Zimbabwe since 1980 are registered to vote and are expected to give phantom votes to Robert Mugabe in tomorrow's national poll." It's nice to know that those good folks will keep voting for you even after you've killed them... or at least will start voting for you after you've killed them. Hmph. Amazing.

Frodo: It's a pity Bilbo didn't kill him when he had the chance.
Gandalf: Pity? It was pity that stayed Bilbo's hand. Many that live deserve death. Some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them, Frodo? Do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. Even the very wise cannot see all ends. My heart tells me that Gollum has some part to play yet, for good or ill before this is over. The pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many.

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