Cruel? Yes. Unusual? Not So Much.

“The execution of a person who can show that he is innocent comes perilously close to simple murder.” –Supreme Court Associate Justice Harry Blackmun

Perilously close to murder? Yeah, I might even say it’s beyond close! Whatever happened to the view that it is better for nine guilty men to go free than to imprison, much less kill, one man unjustly? Has that been ruled unconstitutional? Maybe so.


Did you know the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that it’s legal to execute an innocent person?
Daily Kos * Tue Feb 17, 2015 at 05:31 AM PST
byShaun King
Argued before the Supreme Court in 1992 and decided in a contentious 6-3 ruling in 1993, Herrera v. Collinsstates that anyone who is found legally guilty in a court of law, even if later evidence determines that they are actually innocent, do not have explicit constitutional protection under the 8th amendment’s wording on cruel and unusual punishment.
In his spirited dissenting opinion, Justice Blackmun, joined by Justices Stevens and Souter, stated,
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“Nothing could be more contrary to contemporary standards of decency or more shocking to the conscience than to execute a person who is actually innocent.”
Chastising the majority for its circumspection, Blackmun wrote, “We really are being asked to decide whether the Constitution forbids the execution of a person who has been validly convicted and sentenced, but who, nonetheless, can prove his innocence with newly discovered evidence,” and he took note of “the State of Texas’ astonishing protestation to the contrary.”
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What could be more cruel and unusual than executing an actually innocent person?
While it appears that modern thinking about the meaning of “cruel and unusual” is focused on the actual methods of execution, the gentlest method of execution for someone who is actually innocent is the gravest form of injustice and cruelty possible.
With 325 people convicted of murders in America now exonerated of guilt by DNA evidence alone, its essential that those who are legally found guilty in our country are given every opportunity to prove their actual innocence. Regardless of cost or convenience, if new evidence, post conviction, is likely to have influenced the outcome of a case, it must be considered.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” –Martin Luther King Jr.

How many people have been wrongly convicted of murder in this country? How many were executed before advocacy groups like those mentioned here got started? We can’t even make a good guess. No laws or institutions are perfect, I know, but are we even trying these days? Calling what we have a “justice system” too often feels like cruel mockery. It’s past time we work on living up to our much-hyped exceptional love of freedom and justice. And it would be nice if our so-called leaders ever get on the right side of history.

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DNA Exoneree Case Profiles
There have been 325 post-conviction DNA exonerations in United States history. These stories are becoming more familiar as more innocent people gain their freedom through postconviction testing. They are not proof, however, that our system is righting itself.
The common themes that run through these cases — from global problems like poverty and racial issues to criminal justice issues like eyewitness misidentification, invalid or improper forensic science, overzealous police and prosecutors and inept defense counsel — cannot be ignored and continue to plague our criminal justice system.
Twenty people had been sentenced to death before DNA proved their innocence and led to their release.
The average sentence served by DNA exonerees has been 13.6 years.
About 70 percent of those exonerated by DNA testing are people of color.
In almost 50 percent of DNA exoneration cases, the actual perpetrator has been identified by DNA testing.
Exonerations have been won in 38 states and Washington, D.C.
The Innocence Project was involved in 173 of the 325 DNA exonerations. Others were helped by Innocence Network organizations, private attorneys and by pro se defendants in a few instances.
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About l. l. frederick

I'm pretty ordinary, so I find any number of things in the world interesting, among them: books, music, flowers, food, social justice, politics and (sometimes!) people. As for my writing, I've decided that I can be subtle and tasteful when our only problems are esthetic ones. Or when I'm dead, whichever comes first. In the meantime, read at your own risk.
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6 Responses to Cruel? Yes. Unusual? Not So Much.

  1. That 1993 SCOTUS ruling is truly mind-boggling and could be interpreted as sociopathic.

  2. Legalized lynching in other words.

    • Legalized lynching … yes, I almost used that as the title. The truth shall set you free? Well, not if we can help it, apparently. There’s damn little “law” in our law enforcement these days. But more than enough force. Thanks for commenting. – Linda

  3. And who are the real criminals? The ones who deny safe and adequate nutrition, access to health care and safe housing for millions of families and children? Those who foment wars that destroy homes, orchards, and gardens and displace and kill millions? Those who pollute the land, water and air, causing disease and death to millions? Those who make money by seizing houses and putting hundreds of thousands of families on the street? Or the Black man or youth who sell or nick cigarettes? It makes one wonder what “justice” really means… A system that targets poor and marginalized individuals to keep us from questioning who the real criminals are?

    • Carol, Maybe that’s why it’s called the ‘criminal justice system’ — administered by the criminals for their own benefit. Justice for all? Be nice if we can get closer to it in our lifetime, but we’re so far from any reasonable measure of justice now that it’s demoralizing. Which doesn’t help much either. But why is it so hard for so many of us to see who the true criminals are, who the real enemies of society are? It’s not like they’re wasting much finesse on conning us. Thanks for your comment, as always. – Linda

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