The difference between life and death can rest on the whim of a president or the ability of a lawyer. Whether or not the death penalty can be justified is very much up for grabs.
American writer and anti-capital punishment campaigner Richard North Patterson, was in Australia recently and says, though it hardly needs to be said, that proof of innocence is neither of use nor consolation to someone after they have been executed. All it can do is further fuel the motivation of those fighting for the abolition of capital punishment.
North Patterson believes capital punishment to be an abomination on a moral and judicial scale, a practice prone to corruption, error and ego.
The further her trial progresses, the more two schools of thought emerge about Gold Coast woman Schapelle Corby.
In Australia, the prevailing view is that she is innocent, being forced to sit and wait in a hot, crowded Indonesian prison cell located tantalisingly close to the beaches and other tourist settings she had left Australia to enjoy.
Supporters contend Corby not only is a victim of someone else's cruel trickery, but could become a sacrificial lamb paying for growing anti-Western sentiment within Indonesia's chiefly Muslim society.
The view from Indonesia, however, is that Corby is little more than a brazen opportunist, whose attempt to smuggle 4.1kg of cannabis into Bali last year in a boogie board bag protected only by its zipper, represents the height of arrogance, stupidity or both.
Corby is enmeshed in a legal system the workings of which can be incomprehensible to outsiders. All that is clear, and brutally so, is the possible result - the taking of her life, even if she is innocent.
North Patterson's latest novel, 'Conviction' uses fiction to expose the inadequacies, injustice and inequity of American death penalty law. In its comprehensive dissection of the American legal system, Conviction also can be read as a lesson to other governments and a plea for them, including Australia, not to consider the re-introduction of capital punishment.
While the brevity of his Australian stay did not allow North Patterson to become fully apprised of the Schapelle Corby case, the depth of his study and lobbying in the U.S. allows him to speak about its potential outcome.
"Some people say capital punishment legislation in the U.S. is incompetent. I'm not so sure. Lawyers are incompetent, not the law, because if the goal of the law is finality, even for the innocent, then achieving that goal through an execution is hardly incompetent," he says.
"But there are so many misconceptions about the death penalty that need to be addressed in order to change opinion that capital punishment is an appropriate measure.
"For starters, the American legal system is one that has many examples of people being put to death and later found not to have committed the crime. That is horrifying, but perhaps even worse is the feeble excuse that killing a few innocent people is an acceptable price to pay for getting the rest who are guilty.
"Secondly, the American legal system has too many lawyers who are either poseurs, hustlers or just plain incompetent. And there are not many lawyers prepared to defend the poor in capital punishment cases."
"Thirdly, too many Americans continue to convince themselves that capital punishment is a deterrent to violent crime. If it was, then Texas, for example, would be the safest place in the world. Take it from me, it's not."
North Patterson's mention of the U.S. state of Texas is deliberate. When American President George W. Bush was governor of the Lone Star state, he did not so much increase the number of executions as install an express lane.
Violent crime, however, did not diminish in the slightest, and of the 38 U.S. states with death penalty statutes, Texas executes more often than any other.
Conviction is set in San Francisco 12 years after two brothers, Rennell and Payton Price, have been sentenced to death for the killing of an 11-year-old girl. As the execution date looms, overworked lawyer Teresa Paget, her husband Chris and Harvard law graduate and stepson Carlo become convinced that Rennell Price did not receive a fair trial, may not have been mentally competent to stand trial in the first place, had a lousy lawyer and might actually be innocent.
As North Patterson said in a previous interview: "Probably the No.1 contributor to death sentences is a terrible lawyer."
'Conviction' is a rivetting legal thriller from a writer who started his professional life as a trial lawyer in Washington and San Francisco. He then became an assistant attorney-general for the state of Ohio, before working as the liaison to the special prosecutor for the Watergate hearings in the 1970s, which helped bring down President Richard Nixon.
Among North Patterson's 12 best-selling novels are Degree of Guilt, No Safe Place, Balance of Power and The Final Judgment. He also serves on the boards of several Washington-based advocacy groups dealing with political reform, reproductive rights, gun violence and capital punishment.
Linking gun violence and capital punishment, North Patterson points out how American law is all-embracing in one context, yet apparently selective in the other.
"The right to bear arms, to own guns, is right up there near the front of the American Constitution, yet our gun laws have become idiotic," he says. "These laws make it possible for murderers, abusers, drug traffickers, you name it, to have guns.
The American passion for guns is such that it is possible to own any gun you want. The foolish belief is that guns make us safer, as if a bar full of armed drunks is safe. What kind of thinking is that? The nightly news is full of examples of the folly of our gun laws," he says.
Yet strangely, America's constitutionally approved right for everyone to own a gun is an example of democracy at work. In the case of the death penalty, however, democracy and equality are less visible, a point well made in 'Conviction'.
"Individual crimes must be punished, of course," says North Patterson. "But the U.S. death penalty is a classic example of the inequities within American society.
Death row cases in the U.S. are dominated by the
disenfranchised - blacks, Hispanics, the poor, people of substandard mentality, people with lack of opportunities in life, victims of abuse. They are also the people who cannot afford the best legal representation and so, as occurs in 'Conviction', they suffer from an incompetent defence," he says.
"If that's not bad enough, the final nail in their coffin - so to speak - comes in the form of community attitudes that say `Well, these are not worthwhile people to begin with, so what does it really matter if they're executed?'"
"Implicit in that attitude is a sense, a belief, that even if a person didn't commit this particular crime for which they are to be executed, they would have committed a similar crime sooner or later, so the death penalty is vindicated."
Then there is the scapegoat theory, which finds a person being made an example for social or political reasons, for the need for justice to be seen to be done. It is into this category that many fear Schapelle Corby has fallen.
While it serves nothing and no one to compare one country's legal system with another, compounding Corby's woes is the level of bitterness currently bouncing between Indonesia and Australia over the two-and-a half-year prison sentence recently given to Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir for his alleged role in the Bali bombings of October, 2002.
Such ill feeling is a component of the ever-broadening division between Islam and the West since the events of September 11, 2001, and which have led to the ongoing debacle in Iraq, an increase in fundamentalist-inspired terrorism and the rise of the kind of ultra-right wing thinking that saw President George W. Bush and Australian Prime Minister John Howard re-elected so profoundly.
"It's a worry," says North Patterson. "The rise of the right wing makes it difficult to make headway in the fight for reforms on capital punishment, although that doesn't mean you stop fighting."
CAPITAL PUNISHMENT AROUND THE WORLD:
Stats from 2004 reveal a sharp rise in the application of capital punishment around the world, although it is likely verifiable figures fall well short of the reality.
Executions by shooting were carried out last year in Afghanistan, China, Indonesia, Lebanon, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Yemen, either by firing squad or a single bullet to the back of the head.
Hanging was prevalent, with executions in Bangladesh, Egypt, Iran, India, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Pakistan and Singapore. Most of the 157 verifiable hangings last year were by the short drop method, although Iran continues to execute people by hoisting them into the air by crane (includes a 16-year-old girl, Ateqeh Rajabi, for her crime of premarital sex).
Saudi Arabia remains the only country where beheading is an official form of punishment, while lethal injection was the primary process in the United States.
Countries in which verifiable executions took place in 2004: Afghanistan - 1 shot; Bangladesh - 12 hanged; China - 24 shot and 193 injected; Egypt - 6 hanged; India - 1 hanged; Indonesia - 3 shot; Iran - 95 hanged; Japan - 2 hanged; Jordan - 1 hanged; Kuwait - 9 hanged; Lebanon - 2 shot and 1 hanged; Pakistan - 10 hanged; Saudi Arabia - 36 beheaded; Singapore - 4 hanged; United States - 58 injected and 1 electrocuted; Uzbekistan - 2 shot; Vietnam - 44 shot; Yemen - 1 shot.
(source: Gold Coast Bulletin, Australia)
(picture: Capital Punishmet)
By ACADP and Just Us posted 22 March 05
AUSTRALIAN COALITION AGAINST DEATH PENALTY
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Resource on Capital Punishment
THE POT CALLING THE KETTLE BLACK:
US: The American media reports that thousands of Iranians cheered, whistled and clapped as a serial killer was publicly executed in Iran last week.
USA - FEELING THE HEAT FROM INTERNATIONAL FIRE:
The United States of America has withdrawn from an international agreement that gives detained foreign nationals the right to seek assistance and talk to their consular officers.
Corby lawyer pleads for Australian help
Schapelle Corby, 27, is accused of carrying over four kilograms of marijuana into Bali and could be sentenced to death if she is found guilty.
OHIO: Appeals court tosses death sentence for U.S.-British citizen
In Cincinnati, a federal appeals court on Tuesday threw out the conviction and death sentence of a man with dual U.S.-British citizenship who was convicted of killing a 2-year-old girl by starting a fire in his ex-girlfriend's apartment.
THE INNOCENT SCOT ON DEATH ROW IS ALMOST FREE
If you haven't heard about it yet, you will. There's a celebration in the air: Kenny is an innocent man living on death row in an Ohio prison and the authorities may finally acknowledge what we've known all along.
EXPENSES FOR STATE-ASSISTED SUICIDE EXCEEDS $33,000.00
To prepare for Connecticut's first state-sanctioned killing in 45 years, the state Department of Corrections has spent more than US$33,000 on such items as training personnel, drugs (poison), intravenous catheters and tubing, portable restrooms, mobile offices, lighting and curtains for the witness observation room.
Child Offenders on Death Row
Recent Australian studies of alcohol and cannabis use show that girls are increasingly inclined to behave boldly. But boys out number the girls, two to one; and three to one in the juvenile justice system, mortality figures, speeding infringements and car crash statistics.
US death row numbers don't change policy?
The number of prisoners on death row in the United States appears to be falling, mostly credited to a single Governor who commuted the sentences of all the death row prisoners in his state.
Despite Drop in Crime, an Increase in Inmates
US: The number of inmates in state and federal prisons rose 2.1 percent last year, even as violent crime and property crime fell, according to a study by the Justice Department released yesterday.
How Denying the Vote to Ex-Offenders Undermines Democracy
For starters, hundreds of thousands of people who are still eligible to vote will not do so this year because they will be locked up in local jails, awaiting processing or trials for minor offenses.
DNA Evidence of Bipartisanship
Last week the U.S. Congress passed the Justice for All Act, which includes provisions of the Innocence Protection Act. As of this posting, the legislation has not yet been signed by President Bush. Attached is an analysis of the legislation prepared by the Justice Project.
Our Two Priority Bills sent to White House
US: The 8th National CURE Convention last June lobbied on Capitol Hill the Innocence Protection Act in the Senate and the Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act of 2004 in the House. On Sunday, October 10th, Congress passed both bills and sent them to the President to be signed.
THE LAW IS AN ASS:
US: A Californian man who beheaded a german shepherd dog he had named after his girlfriend, has been sentenced to 25 years to life under California's three-strikes law.
SAVE THE LIFE OF NGUYEN TUONG VAN:A PLEA TO SINGAPORE PRESIDENT On behalf of the Australian Coalition Against Death Penalty (ACADP) and in the spirit of respect for human life, I make a heartfelt plea for clemency, compassion and mercy, to spare and save the young life of Nguyen Tuong Van, currently under sentence of death at Changi Prison in Singapore. Nguyen Tuong Van, is a 23-year-old Australian man of Vietnamese origin. Nguyen was arrested at Changi Airport in December 2002, whilst in transit from Cambodia to Australia. He was later charged and convicted of drug-trafficking. In March 2004 he was sentenced to death for his crime.
EXTRADITION ACT FLUSHED DOWN THE TOILET
A long-standing convention not to extradite people out of Australia if they face the death penalty has been abandoned.
BIRTHDAY PROTEST BACKS INNOCENT MAN ON DEATH ROW:
Kids from 3 to 83 years old beat candy labeled "Justice" out of a big Texas-shaped piqata on Aug. 1 as dozens gathered in the Houston City Hall Park to celebrate the 30th birthday of Nanon Williams, an innocent person on Texas death row.
THE LAND OF BIBLES, GUNS, PATRIOTS AND THE 'WORLD ROLE MODEL' FOR HUMAN RIGHTS: The state of Alabama, USA, executed James Barney Hubbard. So what? ... you might say ... America executes prisoners almost every week!
Appealing a Death Sentence Based on Future Danger USA-HOUSTON, June 9 - Texas juries in capital cases must make a prediction. They may impose a death sentence only if they find that the defendant will probably commit more violent acts.
Forensics? In proposing a new death penalty for Massachusetts last month, Governor Mitt Romney offered firm assurance that no innocent people would be executed: Convictions, he said, will be based on science.
Silencing the Cells: Mass Incarceration and Legal Repression in U.S. Prisons People without a voice are not people in any meaningful sense of the word. Silenced people cannot express their ideas; they can neither consent nor protest. They are reduced to being pawns in the schemes of the powerful, mendicants who must accept whatever is imposed upon them. In order to keep people in a state of subjugation, silencing their voices is essential. Nowhere is this clearer than in U.S. prisons.
U.N. Group Seeks End To Executions The United States, Japan, China, India and Muslim nations including Saudi Arabia opposed the resolution. Burkina Faso, Cuba, Guatemala, South Korea and Sri Lanka abstained.
US: Execution Dear Friends, this is so sad especially for our dear friend, San Nguyen. San who lives in Oklahoma worked very hard with the rest of the Vietnamese community to stop Mr. Le's execution. You may remember San from being at CURE's First International Conference in New York City in 2001. San also plans to be at the 8th National Convention this June in Washington. Charlie
Please contact the Governor The Vietnamese-American Community, the ACLU, and many others want the March 30 execution of Huang Thanh Le commuted.
Cherie Blair attacks US over death penalty in Catholic paper Cherie Blair has renewed her attack on America's use of the death penalty. In a book review in the Catholic journal The Tablet, under her maiden name Cherie Booth, she says: "Capital cases are uniquely prone to error and thus call into question whether we can ever be really sure of obtaining the just result.
Death penalty: a lawyer sees the light The observation "Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus" is illustrated by the two nations' differing reactions to the use of the death penalty as a legitimate punishment for murder.
OHIO: Judges join dissent on execution delay In Columbus, 5 federal appeals court judges say a convicted killer's request to delay his execution was illegally denied because 2 senior judges participated in the vote.
Stephen Romei: Death knell sounds for US capital law GEORGE Ryan gets my vote as Australian of the Year, even though he's the outgoing governor of the US state of Illinois. There's just no one I admire more right now, not even Greg's Kables Community News Newtwork..
Mexico Awaits Hague Ruling on Citizens on U.S. Death Row Sbaldo Torres, a convicted murderer on death row in Oklahoma, should have been dead by now, his appeals exhausted, his time up.
Jury Passes On Business Of Killing US: This drives the death penalty crowd in the legislature nuts. Yet another jury - another 12 men and women, tried and true, who had all attested to their belief in the death penalty - has refused to join in the killing business.
Ultimate Punishment Scott Turow has long juggled two careers‹that of a novelist and that of a lawyer. He wrote much of his first and best known legal thriller, Presumed Innocent, on the commuter train to and from work during the eight years he spent as an Assistant United States Attorney in Chicago, and he has churned out another blockbuster every third year since joining the firm of Sonnenschein Nath and Rosenthal in 1986.
A Question of Innocence Rubin Carter: Day after day, week after week, I would sit in that filthy cell, seething. I was furious at everyone. At the two state witnesses who lied, at the police who put them up to it, at the prosecutor who sanctioned it, at the judge who allowed it, at the jury who accepted it, and at my own lawyer, for not being able to defeat it.
Amnesty steps up campaign to abolish death penalty Human rights watchdog Amnesty International is urging people around the world to pressure countries to abolish the death penalty.
'LAND OF THE FREE' SET TO EXECUTE TWO PRISONERS BY FIRING SQUAD: Wanted: Willing executioners for two convicted murderers. Must be psychologically sound and familiar with .30-calibre rifles. No victims' relatives need apply.
TEXAS EXECUTES 300th PRISONER Keith Clay was executed tonight, becoming the 300th prisoner in Texas to die by lethal injection since the rogue state resumed the death penalty 20 years ago.
AUSTRALIAN COALITION AGAINST DEATH PENALTY " ... Our nation was built on a promise of life and liberty for all citizens. Guided by a deep respect for human dignity, our Founding Fathers worked to secure these rights for future generations, and today we continue to seek to fulfil their promise in our laws and our society.
Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty Please note the following article carefully.....it shows clearly the hateful, uncaring and anti-human rights attitude as reflected by the Governor of Texas (and most other elected Texas officials).
Bush rules out death sentence review US President George W Bush says has dismissed any chance of a review of America's system of capital punishment.
Amnesty urges Bush to shut death row Human rights watchdog Amnesty International has urged US President George W. Bush to take a "moral stand" and abolish the death penalty after the Illinois Governor dramatically emptied that state's death row.
USA - A NATION IN TURMOIL: As the year 2002 draws to a close, little if anything, has changed in the United States in regards to state-sanctioned killing. Various campaigns, calls for clemency, petitions, and international condemnation, have failed to humanize U.S. politicians.
Here come de Judge - Time to Leave 
There have always been examples of rulings and interpretations that have supported the saying "The law is an ass". This is increasingly the case, because even the best intentioned judges are now facing an avalanche of new technologies and social change. But, it is no good making excuses for the judiciary and continuing to accept their strange interpretations. We must recognise that not only judges but the whole legal system will struggle more and more. In the end the whole system will become a farce. This is the way empires end.
Govt, police 'let off the hook' Haneef inquiry
8 years ago