Wednesday, October 26, 2005
41 new reasons to kill you—all with less effort
The Republicans of the House of Representatives continue to advance the cause of state terrorism. Note that I do not say state-sponsored terrorism; America has sponsored terrorism for some time now. No. We are talking about state terrorism—terrorism that only a government can inflict on its citizens; the bone-chilling knock-at-the-door kind of terrorism; the arbitrary, capricious soul-numbing Kafkaesqe terrorism where questions of life and death rest in the hands of the Prosecutor.
Dan Eggen writes today,
The House bill that would reauthorize the USA Patriot Act anti-terrorism law includes several little-noticed provisions that would dramatically transform the federal death penalty system, allowing smaller juries to decide on executions and giving prosecutors the ability to try again if a jury deadlocks on sentencing.
The bill also triples the number of terrorism-related crimes eligible for the death penalty, adding, among others, the material support law that has been the core of the government's legal strategy against terrorism.
The death penalty provisions, which were added to the House bill during a voice vote in July, are emerging as one of the major points of contention between House and Senate negotiators as they begin work on a compromise bill to renew expiring portions of the Patriot Act. If approved, the provisions could have a significant impact on future Justice Department terrorism prosecutions.
"These are radical changes in the way federal death penalty cases are litigated, and they were added virtually without any debate," said Jennifer Daskal, U.S. program advocate for Human Rights Watch.
The death penalty provisions were added as an amendment by Rep. John Carter (R-Tex.), who had originally proposed the changes in a separate bill called the Terrorist Death Penalty Enhancement Act.
Under the proposals, 41 crimes would be added to the 20 terrorism-related offenses now eligible for the federal death penalty. Prosecutors would also find it easier to impose a death sentence in cases in which the defendant did not have the intent to kill.
In one example cited by Human Rights Watch, "an individual could be sentenced to death for providing financial support to an organization whose members caused the death of another, even if this individual did not know or in any way intend that the members engage in acts of violence."
But critics are most concerned about procedural changes related to juries, including a provision that would allow a trial with fewer than 12 jurors if the court finds "good cause," with or without the agreement of the defense.
The bill would also give prosecutors a chance to try again if a jury is deadlocked over a death sentence. Currently, a hung jury at sentencing automatically results in a life sentence, which mirrors the system used by most of the 38 states that currently allow the death penalty. Five states, including California, allow prosecutors to empanel a new jury if the first one deadlocks.
The new death-penalty provisions were passed on a voice vote! These people are not proud of their work.