Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The other side of Landrigan

In order to be fair, I want to present the opposing argument to my opinion of the Landrigan case. Over at "Crime and Consequences" (a blog sponsored by the conservative Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, which describes itself as "an organization advocating reduced rights for accused and convicted criminals"), they have a post arguing in favor of the Court's decision. The argument is basically that the District Court was correct to defer to the state trial court's factual finding that defendant waived all mitigating evidence. Or, to put it differently:

It follows that if the record refutes the applicant’s factual allegations or otherwise precludes habeas relief, a district court is not required to hold an evidentiary hearing.

So, "the record" (i.e. defendant's remarks such as "bring it on" regarding the death penalty and his refusal to allow mitigating evidence) disproves defendant's claim that his attorney was incompetent. However, the mitigating evidence that defendant waived was only the testimony of his mother and ex-wife. To suggest that he waived all mitigating evidence is flawed logic. He was not aware of his mental condition; he could not have waived evidence that he had no knowledge of. But, of course, opponents will argue against the mental illness defense anyway:

It is disappointing that the dissent got four votes in this case. Apparently, four Justices were actually impressed with Landrigan's far-fetched psychological argument. There are enough psychologists and psychiatrists in America who are viscerally opposed to the death penalty that it is likely every inmate on death row can find one who will swear he has some kind of serious mental problem. If that were enough to brush aside all the limits Congress has placed on relitigation, then it would never be possible to have an effective death penalty. That is, of course, exactly what the opponents want.

The dissent in this case does not suggest that the dissenting justices are "impressed" by Landrigan's argument. It simply suggests that they think the argument deserves to be considered in court. Yes, I think the dissent does ultimately represent an opposition to the death penalty more broadly, but it also represents a desire to see all relevant evidence presented before a court of law. It is possible that such mitigating evidence could have affected the sentencing, and I think that shows that it deserves to be considered.

No comments: