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International Opinion and the Death Penalty

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For those who place great weight on the opinions of other countries regarding America's death penalty, James Dao's story in yesterday's NYT may provide some food for thought. Former Army private Steven Green is on trial for raping an Iraqi girl and then murdering her and her entire family.

Several major issues are at stake in their verdict. Iraqis have been demanding the death penalty for the former soldier, Steven D. Green, a private first class with the 101st Airborne Division at the time of the killings. Only death will prove the fairness of the American judicial system and bring a measure of solace to the victims' relatives, many Iraqis say. The only other possible sentence, life without parole, could set off protests.

But of course the American judicial system is not fair to the victims, especially in capital cases. The worst feature of the federal system, due to the Supreme Court's dubious interpretation of a poorly drafted statute, is that a single juror can veto a death penalty that the other 11 consider the only just punishment for a particularly heinous murder. (Alternatives are to require the jury to deliberate to unanimity one way or the other, as in California, or to allow a nonunanimous jury to make a recommendation to the judge, as in Florida.)

So, we should not be surprised to shortly see people in another country protesting the unfairness of America's system of capital punishment. Unlike the usual protests, though, (1) it actually is their business, as the crime was committed in their country against their countrymen, and (2) the system actually is unfair in this respect.

Update: As predicted, and as yankalp notes in the comments, the single-juror-veto rule has resulted in a life sentence for this atrocity, and the Iraqis are justifiably furious. Habib al-Zubaidy has this story for Reuters. We don't know what the jury vote was, but that information will probably come out later.

What are the chances of Congress fixing the rule? Zero in the present Congress. Even when persons of sense were in control, I was not able to raise any interest in it.

2 Comments

This case is particularly heinous. Using your country's uniform and weapons in the course of committing a horrendous crime is especially aggravating.

Now that he's been given a life sentence, why not hand him over to the Iraqis and see if they'll give him a death sentence?

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