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Wrong on All Counts


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There are two articles here, one makes you think the other makes you wonder at the depravity of humans and the stupidity of many people.

Wrong on All Counts

By George F. Will

Sunday, March 6, 2005; Page B07

In 1992, before delivering the Supreme Court's ruling in an abortion case, Justice Anthony Kennedy stood with a journalist observing rival groups of demonstrators and mused: "Sometimes you don't know if you're Caesar about to cross the Rubicon or Captain Queeg cutting your own tow line." Or perhaps you are a would-be legislator, a dilettante sociologist and a free-lance moralist, disguised as a judge.

Last Tuesday Kennedy played those three roles when, in yet another 5-4 decision, the court declared it unconstitutional to execute people who committed murder when they were under 18 years old. Such executions, it said, violate the Eighth Amendment proscription of "cruel and unusual" punishments because. . . . Well, Kennedy's opinion, in which Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, David Souter and John Paul Stevens joined, is a tossed salad of reasons why those five think the court had a duty to do what state legislatures have the rightful power and, arguably, the moral responsibility to do.

Although the court rendered an opposite decision just 16 years ago, Kennedy says the nation's "evolving standards of decency" now rank such executions as cruel and unusual. One proof of this, he says, is:

Of the 38 states that have capital punishment, 18 bar executions of those who murder before age 18, five more than in 1989. So he constructs a "national consensus" against capital punishment of juvenile offenders by adding a minority of the states with capital punishment to the 12 states that have decided "that the death penalty is inappropriate for all offenders."

But "inappropriate" is not a synonym for "unconstitutional." Kennedy simply assumes that those 12 states must consider all capital punishment unconstitutional, not just wrong or ineffective or more trouble than it is worth -- three descriptions that are not synonymous with "unconstitutional."

While discussing America's "evolving standards of decency," Kennedy announces: "It is proper that we acknowledge the overwhelming weight of international opinion against the juvenile death penalty." Why is that proper when construing the U.S. Constitution? He is remarkably unclear about that. He says two international conventions forbid executions of persons who committed their crimes as juveniles. That, he thinks, somehow illuminates the meaning of the Eighth Amendment.

Kennedy evidently considers it unimportant that the United States attached to one of the conventions language reserving the right "to impose capital punishment . . . for crimes committed by persons below eighteen years of age." The United States never ratified the other convention Kennedy cites. Kennedy the roving moralist sniffily disapproves of that nonratification as evidence that America is committing the cardinal sin of being out of step with "the world community."

Kennedy the sociologist says "any parent knows" and "scientific and sociological studies" show that people under 18 show a "lack of maturity" and an "underdeveloped sense of responsibility" and susceptibility to "negative influences" and a weak aptitude for "cost-benefit analysis." All of this means, he says, that young offenders "cannot with reliability be classified among the worst offenders."

Well. Is it gauche to interrupt Kennedy's seminar on adolescence with some perhaps pertinent details? The 17-year-old in the case the court was considering bragged about planning to do what he then did: He broke into a woman's home, put duct tape over her eyes and mouth, wrapped her head in a towel, bound her limbs with electrical wire, then threw her off a railroad trestle into a river where, helpless, she drowned.

Justice Antonin Scalia, joined in dissent by Justices William Rehnquist and Clarence Thomas (Justice Sandra Day O'Connor dissented separately), deplores "the new reality that, to the extent that our Eighth Amendment decisions constitute something more than a show of hands on the current Justices' current personal views about penology, they purport to be nothing more than a snapshot of American public opinion at a particular point in time (with the timeframes now shortened to a mere 15 years)."

Kennedy occupies the seat that 52 Senate Democrats prevented Robert Bork from filling in 1987. That episode accelerated the descent into the scorched-earth partisanship that was raging in the Senate Judiciary Committee at the very moment Tuesday morning that Kennedy was presenting the court majority's policy preference as a constitutional imperative. The committee's Democrats were browbeating another appellate court nominee, foreshadowing another filibuster.

The Democrats' standard complaint is that nominees are out of the jurisprudential "mainstream." If Kennedy represents the mainstream, it is time to change the shape of the river. His opinion is an intellectual train wreck, but useful as a timely warning about what happens when judicial offices are filled with injudicious people.



March 5, 2005, 9:14PM


Court denies victims a legal guarantee


On the night of Nov. 12, 2003, Robert Aaron Acuna murdered my parents in their Baytownhome as they were getting ready for dinner.

My father, 76, was in the garage sitting in a chair, listening to talk radio. Evidence indicates that he was forced to kneel, then shot once through the back of the head with a .38 caliber handgun. His wallet, with credit cards, car keys and cash, were stolen.

My mother, who was 74 and unable to move around without her walker, was in the house, sitting at the kitchen table. She, too, was forced to kneel, and shot twice in the face. The first shot was not fatal. Enough time passed between the first shot and the second shot for her to actually grab a roll of paper towels and wipe some of the gore off of her face. Then Acuna shot her again, this time fatally.

On the morning of Nov. 13, 2003, Acuna was due to appear in court on charges of aggravated robbery. He was charged with, and later confessed to, pulling a knife on an elderly man in the parking lot of the San Jacinto Mall in Baytown.

He did not show up that morning in court. He had stolen my father's car after the murders and had driven to Dallas. On Sunday, Nov. 16, Acuna was arrested at a hotel in Dallas for the murders of James and Joyce Carroll. He had in his possession their credit cards, my father's wallet, car and several personal items, which had been taken from the Carroll house. He was also found to have three shell casings consistent with the murder weapon.

The stolen car was parked in the hotel parking lot. Inside the stolen vehicle was the murder weapon. Acuna also had some false gold teeth (a "grill"), some gold chains, and a gold belt buckle that said "PIMP."

Last Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court, by a 5-4 vote, banned the execution of juveniles. The decision means Acuna, and 27 other Texas inmates on death row for capital murder, will be spared from execution.

It is a sad day for us all when our courts decide to use an arbitrary age to determine a convicted murderer's eligibility for a specific punishment, with no regard for the heinousness of the crime or the circumstances surrounding it.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has long held that in those states where the "juvenile death penalty" was allowed, the fact that it was still rarely handed down by juries in those states was indicative that the system was indeed working; that juries were not only considering the culpability of the offender, but also the nature of the crimes themselves in rendering their verdict.

Typically, only the most cruel, sadistic and obviously premeditated crimes generated a death penalty verdict. To take this remedy off the table entirely is to deny the victims a very basic right -- the legal guarantee that no one should be able to take a life without any risk of losing his or her own for having done so.

In Texas, before a jury can hand down the death penalty in any case, jurors must answer two questions about the accused:

1) Are there any extenuating circumstances that may have influenced the accused to carry out the crime, where otherwise he or she would not have?

Jurors must all answer no -- the vote must be unanimous or the death penalty cannot be imposed.

2) Do you feel that the accused would continue to be a threat to society, even while in prison?

All jurors must answer yes. It has to be unanimous, or the death penalty may not be imposed.

The jury that tried Robert Acuna for the premeditated and sadistic double murders of my parents, James and Joyce Carroll, was unanimous, not only in finding Acuna guilty of the crime, but also in confirming that they believed he would be a continuing threat to society, and that there were no mitigating circumstances which would have influenced his actions.

Now that the Supreme Court has made the blanket ruling that it is unconstitutional to execute anyone who committed crimes before reaching the age of 18 (Acuna was a few months shy of his 18th birthday at the time of the murders), his sentence will be commuted to life.

So now, Acuna will be fed, clothed and provided medical and dental care by the state of Texas for the next 40 years in exactly the same environment where a jury decided he would pose a deadly threat to others.

Should Acuna kill someone else in prison and destroy yet another family, who now will bear that blame?

For those who feel that this ruling is some sort of moral victory, that we are now on our way to becoming a more "civilized" society, I truly hope and pray that you and the people you love never have to experience the evil, the ugliness and the terrible sorrow that have been inflicted on my family at the hands of this man.

That said, I also defy you to find the family of a murder victim that opposes the death penalty in principle. There is just something about seeing a glossy police photo of the person you loved most in the world, face torn and disfigured by close-range gunfire, that has a way of polarizing you on the issue.

This is just another sad page in the evolving story of a culture that is becoming ever more determined to champion the rights of murderers and criminals than to heed and pay respect to the voices of their (now silent) victims.

Carroll works in Houston and lives in Baytown. He can be e-mailed at carroll65@aol.com.


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The thing is, the Constitution doesn't say anything about victims. Maybe it should.

We give Defendants rights because we're limiting what THE GOVERNMENT gets to do, officially, to its own citizens. The scumbucket murderer ain't the government and the victim's problem ain't the government but the scumbucket.

My biggest problem with the death penalty is that I'll feel comfortable giving the government free rein to kill its own citizens the day I can trust the government never to lie or cover stuff up. Prosecutors have been caught withholding evidence that shows the guy didn't do it.

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