Monday, April 10, 2006

The Rule of Law? Really?

Is the United States a nation under the rule of law or the rule of emotion? Zacharias Moussaoui has been convicted and is currently in the sentencing phase of his trial. As I understand Virginia law, the jury will recommend sentencing, but it is finally up to the judge.

The goal of the prosecution in the case is to convince the jury to recommend the death penalty. I am not interested in dealing here with the death penalty itself (call or email me if you’d like to discuss that), but with the method the prosecution is using to guide the jury.

“America’s Mayor,” Rudy Giuliani was among the witnesses who offered testimony. Today (Monday) family members of victims of the September 11 attacks will weigh in. To my knowledge, and according to all the reports I have heard, none of these witnesses can connect Moussaoui to the attacks.

What each of these witnesses can do, however, is remind the jury how devastating that day was in American history. As if any of us can forget, the jury in Alexandria will be taken as close to those days of shock and confusion as possible.

Here is my concern: should Moussaoui’s life or death be determined on the basis of how bad 12 people feel about how extreme the September 11 tragedy was? Is the death penalty about severe payment for crimes that we feel really bad about?

Perhaps Virginia has some criteria for legally determining which capital crimes are punishable by death and which are not; most states do. Even if I support the death penalty, I surely don’t support it’s application for crimes on the basis of which ones most disturb us.

After all, they tell us the United States is governed by the rule of law. Unless, perhaps, it helps to make the jury feel really bad about something. Then it is ok to be ruled by emotion.


At 9:49 PM, Blogger Kristin said...

for all I know you dont remember me at all, but I'm friends with Justin Czimskey and I just saw that you posted on his blog and wanted to say hello! I grew up in the CTC FUMC and hung out with you on a number of mission trips, glen lake camp weeks, etc.

I'm up at Belmont University now and I'll be graduating in may of 07 with a degree in Design Communications. yeah, that's me in a nutshell, i suppose.

i hope you're doing well. thanks for all of your wise words.

At 5:49 AM, Blogger John said...

About a year and a half ago I sat on the jury of a civil trial. The plaintiffs designed their case out of emotional appeals rather than reason and evidence. When it came time to deliberate, I thought that we would be out of there in five minutes with a summary judgement for the defendants. To my surprise, the emotional appeals had worked and there was enormous sympathy for the plaintiffs.

At 5:17 PM, Blogger Michael said...

Well said, Steve. These emotional appeals should be removed from the process altogether. I see no rationale for keeping them when we are supposed to judge a case based on its merits and facts directly pertaining to the case.


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