despised people

There’s guilt and innocence, and then there’s despised.  The idea that we limit ourselves, in our emotions and thoughts, to the first two is maybe a little naive.

The law claims we do; that we are dispassionate and reasonable.  It says that crimes are committed, that enforcement brings perpetrators to the courts by whose honored mechanisms evidence is weighed and judgments meted.  That everything from the slash of the blade to the clang of the door that shuts out the condemned, is analyzed, vetted, debated and safely concluded.  The claim is not that the system is perfect but that, even in its imperfections, the broader aims of Justice ultimately prevail and social order is reestablished.

But there are cracks in the stones at the very base of the institution of law:  we don’t confine ourselves to guilt and innocence; we do despise.  There is a carefully scripted process for this too.  Cameras linger on wronged parents and spurned lovers; incautious words are spoken;  sparks are fanned.  Rumour and innuendo and slander are slung and our ire rises and our blood boils.  Powerful media personalities coach hate.  Mafia narratives of payback, and vengeful court and cop TV loop relentlessly on cable and pay for view.  Revenge hatches and sits like a black bird on our necks.   The rational system that looks for guilt or innocence, isn’t enough and we begin to truly despise.

Texas used to be the capital of the death penalty.  No more, apparently, thanks to the very hard and effective work of groups of defense lawyers including Dana Lynn Recer and David Lane.  They are quoted below from the wonderful article The Mitigator by Jeffrey Toobin in the New Yorker.

They are called mitigators because they use mitigating circumstances to reduce their clients’ death sentences to life in prison.  They are big believers in nurture over nature; that men and women who commit violent acts in their adult lives almost always have been the victims of violent acts in their youth, often by family and caregivers.  What goes around comes around.

Until recently, no defense lawyer had bothered  to do the hard work and dig for mitigating factors, and juries doled out death sentences like candy.  When these lawyers did, jurors reacted and death sentences declined dramatically.

Their work is with the condemned on death row; but also, and equally importantly, it is with us, who are condemned to the wills of our degenerate emotions.  In a way their work helps to mitigate our love of scandal and tendency to hate.  All they ask is that we look closer at the circumstances that populated and poisoned the lives of condemned men.

Their mitigating agent is mercy, which is a social tool I will not pretend to understand.  Somehow, mercy is throwing water on a wicked witch.

Here are the lawyers’ comments from the article:

“You tell the jurors that mercy is a perfectly appropriate reason to give a life sentence to someone; that they are never required to impose a death penalty; that they never even have to articulate a reason why they vote for life. No one else has to agree with you.  You don’t have to be able to write it down. You don’t have to defend it to others. You can do it for any reason or no reason. We empower the jurors to know their right to show mercy.”

-David Lane, Denver death penalty defense lawyer

“I don’t apologize for saying I love my clients in all their complexity. We insist on seeing their humanity, despite what they’ve done. That’s what mitigation is all about. I’m not motivated just to make the system fair. I’m motivated to help these broken and despised people. I’m in it to stand up for them.”

-Dana Lynn Recer, death penalty defense lawyer

The Mitigator, Jeffrey Toobin, New Yorker

Leave a Comment so far
Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: