Washington Libertarian Review

Political commentary from the State of Washington with a libertarian perspective.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Re: No room for error in death penalty cases

There is no doubt the primary obligation of the state supreme court is to apply the law. Yet the Tacoma NewsTribune chastises Justice Richard Sanders for defending the law, and would have the court ignore this constitutional and moral imperative when the facts are right. Agreeing that Cecil Davis should be re-sentenced because a juror saw him in shackles, it argues ironically that he is not entitled to a new trial because, well, a juror saw him in shackles.

It may be, in fact, that the evidence of Davis' guilt was "overwhelming." But to suggest that the facts should overcome the law is to beg the question why the law exists in the first place. In the classic movie "A Man for All Seasons" Sir Thomas More explains in a dialogue with the man who would later accuse More, falsely, of treason.

More: "What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
Roper: "Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that!"
More: "Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!"

Roper ultimately subscribed to the law of expedience and More ultimately lost his head in casualty to Roper's ambition.

The News Tribune is arguing for expedience. Today Davis' head is on the block. But tomorrow whose head will be there? Can we afford to cut down the law for expedience's sake? I hope and pray we have not yet come to that.


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