Supreme Lunacy

Posted in Tirades at 10:02 pm by admin

Our Supreme Court (and by “Our” I mean the one operated by the United States of America) has discovered the argumentative technique called “reductio absurdom”, reduced to the absurd. It seems that last year, they decided that a judge could not impose a “Hate Crime” bonus penalty and the reprecussions have been, shall we say, absurd.

In a double knee-jerk reaction, the various lawmakers in the US drafted laws which were heard by the Supreme Court and struck down as unconstitutional. This occurred because of two highly publicized cases involving protected minorities, one a gay man, the other a black man. In each of these two cases, it appeared that the perpetrators sought out a member of the minority at random and viciously killed them. Calls for the heads of the criminals lead to knee-jerk #1, Hate Crime legislation, laws that tack a bonus penalty on to the base punishment for crimes motivated by irrational hate.

The second knee-jerk came when the Supreme Court reviewed a case that appeared to have been motivated by irrational hate. The court decided that the criminal in question (and let there be no confusion about this, this person was convicted by a jury of his peers making him a convicted criminal by definition) was somehow denied his right to a trial by jury because the judge, acting within the context of the new Hate Crime laws, extended his sentence. The important thing to note is that the judge only had the authority to impose the bonus punishment after the conviction by a jury.

A quick review of how trial-by-jury works:

  • A grand jury is called to determine if a crime has been committed.
  • The grand jury hands down an indictment naming a crime and defendant.
  • A petit jury is impanelled and trial is held.
  • The petit jury finds the defendant guilty.
  • The judge imposes sentence based on guidelines established by lawmakers.

Notice that there are two “outs” here for the accused. The grand jury may not find that there is sufficient evidence to support a trial. The petit jury may not find that there is sufficient evidence to support a conviction.

The problem with the Hate Crime legislation is that the trial is supposed to be the finding of fact. However, if the judge must then base his sentence on a finding of fact outside of the jury’s finding of fact, then there was a second trial. In some states, a jury hands down a sentencing recommendation or there is a hearing after the trial, again with the jury present, where sentencing is determined. So, the Supreme Court has determined that only a jury may find fact (in a trial) and that the judge is constitutionally prevented from finding fact.

Now comes the Supreme Lunacy. A convicted murderer has appealed, not his conviction, but his sentence to death to the Supreme Court who overturned, not the conviction, but the sentence. Here is their reasoning: The judge in the case found that there were special circumstances that warrented the death penalty as required by the laws in that state. However, judges are not allowed to find fact, that power is reserved to juries. So, in spite of the fact that everything was done by the law as written by lawmakers in the state in question, the judge over-stepped his constitutional authority. In one decision, the Supreme Court has (once again) killed the death penalty and 150 death-row inmates are no longer in danger of dying in prison, until a jury has determined the special circumstances.

But wait! There’s more! Because of the Expost Facto rule, it may not be possible to impose the death penalty on those already convicted of crimes that fall under any judge’s “special circumstances” ruling authority.

My solution to this delimma is simple. Rework the laws so that there is a presumption of hate crime and a presumption of special circumstances and then give the judge the authority to find that these DO NOT exist in a particular case. Therefore, any crime must have an extra two years penalty and the judge must determine that the criminal did not act with irrational hate in commiting the crime. In this way, the judge is given the opportunity to reduce a sentence, not increase it. Simple. Stupid. A semantic change and nothing else. But it is constitutional because the judge’s finding of fact is in the favor of the defendant.

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