Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Life Without Parole

Life Without Parole
Hal Pepinsky,,
Armistice Day 2009
Two days ago the US supreme court heard oral arguments on whether sentencing juveniles to life without parole for crimes other than murder is cruel and unusual punishment. Since I figure punishment is cruel and unusual in human relations period, I have no arguments to make to the court on this occasion.
I DO note the irony of proliferation of imposition of life without parole. Death penalty abolitionists originally proposed life without parole as a legally cheaper alternative to the death penalty, pointing out that if life without parole were offered US residents in polls as an option to execution, support for the death penalty dropped to a minority. Defense counsel were led to encourage their capital clients to plead to life without parole; those sentences proliferated faster than the decline in death sentences.
Now that life without parole has become established as a “humane” alternative to our basic desires to kill the bastards, legislatures have raised punishment for all manner of offenses to that limit, and have, as in Florida in 77 cases, extended the limit to juveniles.
Punitive excess like leniency is always subject to political reversal. Executive clemency and pardon can end any life sentence, and perhaps as time passes, political pressure will increase resort to this legal option. Meanwhile, life without parole has blown back among its proponents who aspired to lighten sanctions against convicted offenders.
In my recovery as a lawyer, I have learned to beware legal victory. Victory is always subject to reversal. Love and peace--hal

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