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Imagine That -- We're Trying To Execute a Nobel Peace/Literature Prize Nominee!

Many stories about Stanley "Tookie" Williams, the co-founder of the Crips gang who was convicted of having "shot and killed four people during two robberies in Los Angeles" note that he has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and the Nobel Prize in Literature (for writing children's books warning children against becoming gang members). Here's an AP story: "He has received several Nobel Prize nominations . . . ." An L.A. Times story: "He later was nominated repeatedly for the Nobel Prize . . . ." An NPR story from Nov. 21, 2005: "For his anti-gang work, Williams has received multiple nominations for the Nobel Prize." An L.A. Times story about the daughter of one of his victims:

Then four years ago, she said, she learned that Williams was alive and had been nominated for a Nobel Prize, and "it literally hit me like a ton of bricks."

"It literally almost destroyed my life because of my own anger," she said. "I was just flabbergasted. How could the man who co-founded the Crips be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. What in the world?"

I have an answer to that question: Any social science, history, philosophy, law, and theology professor, judge, or legislator in any country (plus a few others) can nominate anyone for a Nobel Peace Prize (past nominees, just in 1901-1951, included Hitler, Stalin, and Molotov). Any literature or linguistics professor can nominate anyone for a Nobel Prize in Literature. Naturally, many nominees have real merit; but that someone has been nominated by one of likely hundreds of thousands of potential nominees is little evidence of such merit. And this is especially so when that someone is a source of controversy, when it may seem that nominating him may prevent his being executed -- something that may understandably sway the judgment of nominators who are deeply opposed to the death penalty, and who might see the need to save a life and to make an anti-death-penalty statement as more important than the need to make an impartial evaluation of the person's net contribution to peace or the quality of his literary works.

And in any event, wouldn't it have been helpful -- both to listeners and to the victim's daughter -- if the stories that mentioned Williams' nominations had stressed how unselective the nomination process really is?

(Incidentally, whether a person's sincere contrition, and post-crime good deeds, should lead to clemency is a difficult question; I don't mean to opine on it here. My point is simply that a convicted murderer's having been nominated for the Nobel Prize sheds little light on that question.)

Stephen Quist (mail):
The Nobel Prize Committee for scientific achievement awards typically waits 20-40 years from the time of the work to the time of the award. Indeed, several of the most notable achievements in science have never been so recognized.

In contrast, the Peace Prize is often awarded almost immediately. It seems to me that it would make sense for that prize committee to wait at least a decade before considering nominations, if for no other reason than to see if a nominee's actions really did promote the cause of peace.

As to the literature prizes, well, they were a bad idea to begin with and the history of the prizes only confirms that judgment.
11.21.2005 1:20pm
Dan Markel (mail) (www):
Eugene writes: Incidentally, whether a person's sincere contrition, and post-crime good deeds, should lead to clemency is a difficult question; I don't mean to opine on it here. My point is simply that a convicted murderer's having been nominated for the Nobel Prize sheds little light on that question

For those of you who are interested in a lengthier treatment of the issue Eugene mentions above, you might be interested in a piece entitled Against Mercy, which provides a framework for thinking about these issues. It's available at this link:
http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=392880
11.21.2005 1:25pm
goldsmith (mail):
Well, Yassir Arafat was not only nominated but won a Nobel peace prize. Past winners of that prize include Kofi Annan and the UN (in 2001), Jimmy Carter (awarded, in the words of Nobel peace prize chairman Gunnar Berge, as a "kick in the leg to all that follow the same line as the United States") and most recently to Mohammed ElBaradei and the IAEA, who have gently overseen Iran's development of nuclear weapons.

The peace prize has become a self-congratulatory political tool, and I'm sad that its reputation tarnishes the tremendous value of the other Nobel awards.
11.21.2005 1:26pm
Steve:
One of the quacks who repeatedly opined on cable news and elsewhere that Terri Schiavo was just a hop, skip and a jump from being restored to full functioning was routinely cited in the news media as a "Nobel Prize nominee." None of those sources ever mentioned the important caveats Prof. Volokh points out; people were left to believe that there was a legitimate difference of expert medical opinion.
11.21.2005 1:28pm
flaime:
The thing about the Nobel Peace Prize is that the committee often seems to select the winner based on a particular political message they wish to send. Arafat, for instance, was, it was thought by many, primary awarded the Peace Prize to shame him into making further peace consessions with Israel (and similar reasons were applied to the Israeli PM's win at that time too). Now, this conflates the actual influence the Nobel committee actually has over world affairs, but I don't doubt that they think they might have such influence.

Similarly, the Nobel Prize for Literature seems primarily aimed at thumbing it's nose at canon. A large number of mediocre, even inept, writers populate this list. Harold Pinter is the first writer in about a decade that I found worth the effort, and he was a playwright.
11.21.2005 1:39pm
jvarisco:
I shared your concern, but then I read an article (on cnn of all places!) that included the reminder: "In truth, anyone can nominate anyone."

When I went back to search, I found that story here.

However, I also found another story posted 20 minutes later, which is the only one linked to on their website, which appears to be identical EXCEPT for the phrase I quoted above. That one is here.
11.21.2005 1:54pm
arbitraryaardvark (mail) (www):
I would like to nominated for the nobel peace prize. What is the going rate? Will take lowest bid - gtbear at gmail.
11.21.2005 1:58pm
DK:
Clearly, we need to get a law prof who reads the blog to nominate Eugene et al.! Then it can be The Volokh Conspiracy: a blog by noble prize nominees.
11.21.2005 2:24pm
Justin (mail):
Though there is a significant set of references why the Nobel Peace Prize nomination should be discounted in your post that I do not dispute (though I ultimately think unpersuasive to the degree, and only the degree, that the Peace Prize nomination shows contrition, likelihood of reform, continuing social value of the convicted's existance, and other "what is the guy like TODAY" questions), the problem with your post is that when people point out that Williams was nominated for a nobel peace prize, what they mean was that he was seriously nominated for valid reasons and (probably) seriously considered. That it is "possible" for one to be nominated on a lark should not require commentators to have to exhaust that discussion given that it is patently obvious that Williams was NOT nominated on a lark.

Now, others have rightfully pointed out the question of "what does that actually mean", because the Nobel Committee's understanding of moral worth is not universal, but here I think the relevance is "obvious" enough that your request for a disclaimer serves no purpose and is counterproductive given that the disclaimer would undermine the (correct) underlying point that the article is trying to make.
11.21.2005 2:28pm
Justin (mail):
PS I think it highly unfortunate that Eugene should choose to completely ignore the fact that Tooks, who undoutably was a monster at one point in his career, has acted in ways that shows a real sense of atonement.

That even years later a theory of "victim's rights" should make a criminal's behavior somehow unattonable (or, god forbid, make it morally wrong to try to atone, less one give the victim moral conflict in his or her desire to see retribution), is not only questionable as a philosophical or sociological question, it is invariable a policy disaster given that most criminals do ultimately leave prison and are ultimately at risk of recidivism.
11.21.2005 2:32pm
Seamus (mail):

Then four years ago, she said, she learned that Williams was alive and had been nominated for a Nobel Prize, and "it literally hit me like a ton of bricks."



If it "literally" hit her like a ton of bricks, then she should be dead, or at best in a coma in intensive care.
11.21.2005 2:35pm
Pritesh:
Imagine That —Did Texas execute an innocent man?

rel="nofollow" href="http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/front
/3472872.html">
11.21.2005 2:37pm
A2 Reader:
Seamus,

Depending, of course, on the velocity of the bricks . . . .
11.21.2005 2:40pm
Kurt (mail):
Machiavelli had something to say about this. If someone does a foul deed and later does a good deed, the good deed is a good think, but should not be used as justification for clemency or liniency for the foul deed. In no way should the good deed be allowed to cancel out the punishment for the foul deed.

Machiavelli was very clear on this issue and used specific cases from the Roman Republic to support his arguments.

This is what I would tell the Williams victims' daughter.
11.21.2005 2:42pm
Frank N Stein (mail) (www):
Society thanks him for honestly wishing to atone for killing people. When the drugs kick in and his life leaves this place much more peacefully then his victims did, I will promise to pour a Scotch and toast to justice.
11.21.2005 2:44pm
PD Shaw (mail):
US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald is currently prosecuting a Nobel Peace Price nominee for corruption charges. http://www.stopcapitalpunishment.org/ryan.html
11.21.2005 2:55pm
Jordan (mail):
Well, "I'm sorry" just doesn't cut it after you murder 4 people. I don't care how sorry you are, unless you find a way to bring your victim(s) back from the dead, then your life is forfeit. Waste him.
11.21.2005 2:58pm
FXKLM:
Seamus: That "literally hit me like a ton of bricks" line comes from the daughter of one of his victims. It bugs me a little too, but under the circumstances I think it's in rather poor taste to criticize her.
11.21.2005 3:06pm
Public_Defender:
I think it highly unfortunate that Eugene should choose to completely ignore the fact that Tooks, who undoutably was a monster at one point in his career, has acted in ways that shows a real sense of atonement.
No, Professor Volokh carefully left open the question of whether Williams deserved mercy.

For what it's worth, according to a pro-Williams web site, www.tookie.com, Williams has been
nominated five times for the Nobel Peace Prize -- once by a member of the Swiss Parliament and four times by a growing list of eminent professors from the United States and Europe. He has also been nominated four times for the Nobel Prize for Literature by William Keach, Professor of English Literature from Brown University.
Interestingly, the site also claims that Williams "[r]eceived from President George W. Bush a 2005 Presidential Call to Service Award for his volunteer efforts to help youth."

The professor is right. It would be helpful for journalists to say what it takes to be nominated.

And Seamus, one thing I have learned representing people who have done horrible things is to never, ever take a pot shot at a crime victim. Criticizing a victim is something I do only rarely, and then with extreme care. They have suffered enough. When they are explaining how my client (or anyone else) brutalized their family, it is incredibly cruel and petty to make style or grammar corrections.

Grow up.
11.21.2005 3:15pm
Houston Lawyer:
I'm just surprised that Karla Faye Tucker somehow avoided a Nobel nomination. Her supporters, who didn't seem to draw a distinction between Texas's justice and God's justice, could surely have sponsored an application.

Then again, Mr. Arafat surely murdered more people than Mr. Williams, and without any expressions of remorse. Once you start handing out Nobels to common bandits, no matter how popular, you can't really claim that anyone is below your standards.
11.21.2005 3:29pm
A Guest (mail):

That even years later a theory of "victim's rights" should make a criminal's behavior somehow unattonable (or, god forbid, make it morally wrong to try to atone, less one give the victim moral conflict in his or her desire to see retribution), is not only questionable as a philosophical or sociological question, it is invariable a policy disaster given that most criminals do ultimately leave prison and are ultimately at risk of recidivism.




Some crimes are "unattonable" in this life. My guess is that you'd agree if I were to indulge your argument by raping and murdering your mother or your child while you were forced to watch. Or perhaps I simply killed you directly and asked your wife ten years later whether she felt I was deserving of reacceptance due to my political awakening and contributions to children's literature? Or whether my kiddie book sufficiently covers by brutal murder and qualifies me for a Nobel prize?

Only a sheltered, ignorant intellectual forgives murder...and even then only to the extent that it doesn't affect him directly.
11.21.2005 3:31pm
Justin (mail):
No, Professor Volokh carefully left open the question of whether Williams deserved mercy.

Professor Volokh helpfully clarified his position by adding this after my post.
11.21.2005 3:31pm
Justin (mail):
Only a sheltered, ignorant intellectual forgives murder...and even then only to the extent that it doesn't affect him directly.

Only a sheltered, ignorant nonintellectual fails to address a real argument by providing a straw man argument and then, rather than disecting the argument, simply relies on ad hominen attacks and points to the straw man.

This was never about whether or not Tooks, putting on his utilitarian hat ex ante, can make a conscious decision to commit a crime and then pay for it through good works. The obvious moral difference has been dealt with too often and too obviously for me to bother extending additional comments.
11.21.2005 3:34pm
Derek Lowe (mail) (www):
The science Nobel nominations aren't very open at all, comparatively. It's the Swedish Academny of Sciences (and the Karolinska Institute, for the Physiology/Medicine prize), plus faculty members from the Scandanavian countries, past laureates in that field, and others that the Nobel committee "may otherwise see fit to approach."

And the nominations themselves are never made public. So when you see someone in the sciences who's billed as a "Nobel Prize Nominee", it's generally the sign of (at the very least) a shameless self-promoter.
11.21.2005 3:36pm
Robert Schwartz (mail):
IIRC, Norman Mailer got some punk freed from prison, because Mailer thought the aforesaid punk was a great literary talent. In act 2 the punk reverted to type, murdered a waiter in a restaurant and went back to jail forever.
11.21.2005 3:39pm
SF_Tom (mail):
One might be more convinced that clemency should be considered if Mr. Williams would renounce the Crips and cooperate with law enforcement in bringing other members of that notorious gang to justice. From what I understand, he has thus far failed to do so. It would seem he wants it both ways: to be revered as a promoter of peace, while at the same time continuing to support the violent members of his gang by his refusal to help bring them to justice. Furthermore, he protests that he should live, as if his punishment is not the just dessert for his crimes, of which no one doubts his guilt. When he accepts his punishment as just, formally renounces the Crips and begins cooperating with the law, then he might be worthy of consideration for clemency. Otherwise, he should pay for his crime as determined at his trial.
11.21.2005 3:40pm
Wintermute (www):
I haven't seen any reportage of how the family members and close friends of the victims feel about this.

Moreover, Williams' clinging to omerta doesn't seem to be something to be rewarded with a Nobel.
11.21.2005 3:50pm
hey (mail):
I'm mostly upset and disappointed that this situation even exists. When sentenced to death, the punishment should be carried out with deliberate speed. Not excessive, but say 5 years or so. Capital cases should have their appeals accelerated so that we don't have these people languishing for decades on death row, a cruel and inhuman thing for both the victim's family as well as the criminal.
11.21.2005 3:51pm
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
Anybody here a professor of literature? I've got a law review article I'd like nominated. And some unseemly poetry...
11.21.2005 4:04pm
Soak Hinson (mail):
I saw grab Justin by the ankles and beat old Tookie boy to death with him. Probably against the law to whip crap with poopie, though.
11.21.2005 4:09pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Justin: I should note that my post above is as I originally posted, including the paragraph about not expressing an opinion on the broader clemency-for-good-deeds question.

Soak Hinson: You've been banned from posting further on the site, for reasons that should be pretty clear given the instructions below.
11.21.2005 4:19pm
PrestoPundit (mail) (www):
Prison officials believe that "tookie" still runs the "crips" inside the prison -- and he's ordered some really nasty stuff.

There's a good chance also that this thugs "co-author" did most of the writing of "his" books.

As for the Nobel Prize -- it's been awarded to far worse than this.
11.21.2005 4:29pm
Redman:
I can forgive Williams for his crimes, because forgiveness is the central tenet of my faith. Perhaps Williams is genuinely contrite and means every word that he has written regarding the evil of violence and gang membership. Or, perhaps Williams means not a word of it, but it is merely a sustained attempt to gain clemency and spare his life. That is not for me to decide.

As for the nomination itself, such an honor has certainly lost its cache over the last twenty years. To paraphrase Bill Buckley, one could nominate the first 100 names in the Boston telephone directory and come up with someone at least as deserving of the honor.
11.21.2005 4:37pm
Leland:
For me, the measure of Stanley "Tookie" Williams' punishment has nothing to do with his relations to the Crips or any Nobel Prize. The measure is the opinion of 12 jurors who found fact that this person committed a heinous crime for which there is no possibility of atonement. To offer difference to the jurist opinion based on the Nobel Prize is to offer de facto sovereignty in this matter to the Norwegian Parliament.

We can debate as to whether any crime is so heinous as to make atonement unattainable or whether any government has enough moral authority to make such a decision. But I do think that is a separate debate. I think Mr. Volokh's point is to note that the Nobel Prize should not enter into such a debate.
11.21.2005 4:45pm
Tom952 (mail):

Any social science, history, philosophy, law, and theology professor, judge, or legislator in any country (plus a few others) can nominate anyone for a Nobel Peace Prize

I think I see a business opportunity here...
11.21.2005 5:01pm
Anthony Leonson (mail):
He changed his tune only after he exhausted all of his appeals. He refuses to renounce the crips. He refuses to give information on any of their activities...

And since when is a death row inmate allowed to exercise in the yard with other non-death row inmates? I thought they were kept separate.

This guy is playing bleeding hearts and the media. Period.
11.21.2005 5:13pm
AppSocREs (mail):
Blackstone has commented that living in expectation of execution is such a horrendous state of existence that the common law requires such executions should be carried out within a very short period after conviction. Mummiah, Tookie, Abbot, et al., their very many victims, and society as a whole would be better served if executions were done more expeditiously in this country. Convicted murderers should get one very quick run up the appelate ladder followed - almost invariably I suspect - by another very quick run to the gallows. This would immediately resolve many of the more philosophical objections to the death penalty presented above.
11.21.2005 5:14pm
Visitor Again:
Well, "I'm sorry" just doesn't cut it after you murder 4 people. I don't care how sorry you are, unless you find a way to bring your victim(s) back from the dead, then your life is forfeit. Waste him.

Just for the record, Stanley Williams, founder of the CRIPS gang in Los Angeles, has consistently maintained his innocence of the murders for which he was convicted and sentenced to death. Thre are those who believe the evidence against him was entirely unreliable. It is not the sort of evidence that inspires great confidence (but I will not go into that here since it is rather beside the point of the thread and since it appears he has few legal options left other than a request to Governor Schwarzenegger for clemency).

Also just for the record, the woman quoted in the story, daughter of one of the victims, said, in addressing a gathering of student leaders, that she has not asked that anyone be put to death for murdering her father. She remained silent about whether or not she thought Williams should be put to death. She said she was keeping quiet on that out of respect for the State. What hit her like a ton of bricks was the news that Williams was alive and had been nominated for the prize. Before that, she had understood her father's killer had been executed long ago.

Both the San Quentin Prison staff and the Los Angeles Police Department have begun what the Los Angeles Times described as highly unusual campaigns to ensure Williams is executed. The former San Quentin warden Daniel Vasquez was rather shocked at the prison staff campaign. It's doubtful anyone would be shocked by anything the LAPD does. I suspect Williams knows a lot about the LAPD and what it did in the 1970s and early 1980s.

It is true that Williams has consistently refused to inform on others. He has said he will not become a snitch.

The iirst time Williams was nominated, it was by some European after Williams' ideas had been used to bring a truce in gang warfare in Europe. The next few years he was nominated by some California professor who opposes his execution. Williams' books have been praised for deromanticizing gang life among the young here and abroad.
11.21.2005 5:16pm
JohnAnnArbor:
He has said he will not become a snitch.

Ah, yes. The universal defense of the indefensable. Used by city gangs and suburbanite frat boys alike to cover up anything inconveniently illegal.

And to the victims who never see justice because people hide the truth? Apparently, they're to go to hell, in his newly enlightened mind.
11.21.2005 5:20pm
Pamela aka (mail) (www):
Ok OK, let me understand this so I get it right.

This barbaric criminal is under consideration for narrative lit on his bloodlust and Claudia Rosett is still waiting after exposing the largest international crime in the name of humanity in the history of the world.

Got it, Pamela
11.21.2005 5:20pm
Jordan (mail):
Just for the record, Stanley Williams, founder of the CRIPS gang in Los Angeles, has consistently maintained his innocence of the murders for which he was convicted and sentenced to death.

Boo hoo. How many prisoners do you think make the same claim? You'll forgive me if I doubt the honesty and sincerity of the founder of the Crips. I don't care if he cures cancer, he should have been dead a long time ago.
11.21.2005 5:27pm
eddie (mail):
I am really not sure what this is all about.

Is this simply a rant against the legitimacy of the Nobel Prizes. As a matter of law, the Nobel Prize is about as weighty as winning the lottery vis a vis any adjudicated sentence.

Is this a public relations problem? Are you suggesting that once someone has been convicted by a jury of his peers that any and all "good news" about such individual be suppressed to protect the victims (or any relatives)? Would anyone be complaining if a felon were found to be dying of an incureable disease that he contracted from his sinful ways?

Or as some posters have acknowledged is this simply a backdoor argument regarding capital punishment?

Do those who think capital punishment is wonderful, suddenly feel uncomfortable with the fact that humans, and their behavior are not easily described by a simple black and white picture? Is it easier to dehumanize convicted felons? (And more importantly are you all arguing that that should be the legal affect?) Are we saying one strike and you cease to have any rights? And don't let anyone (especially foreigners) mess with the security of that warm feeling?

Leland: I think you and the professor protesteth too much. If this is a "legal" discussion then why even mention the affect of winning the Nobel Peace prize (or for that matter whether someone in jail is born again and suddenly is converting all of the inmates)? Why should it matter at all what some Scandinavians think is or is not appropriate? Or is all of this discussion an exegesis concerning "victims" rights.

How quickly everyone is willing to give up freedoms, to exercise the more instinctive and less ideally based need for retribution. And if retribution is the source of authority for our penal/legal system, then nothing, I repeat nothing, should be able to mitigate same.

Is everyone ready to take that great leap backward?
11.21.2005 5:34pm
JohnAnnArbor:
I'll bet Mumia's been nominated for the Peace Prize too. Doesn't change the fact that he's wasting valuable oxygen by still being alive.
11.21.2005 5:39pm
JohnAnnArbor:
eddie, I like how you put the word "victims" in scare quotes, to make it clear that you couldn't care less about the victims of crime.
11.21.2005 5:41pm
Jordan (mail):
Is it easier to dehumanize convicted felons?

I'd say that brutally murdering someone is a very effective way of dehumanizing yourself.

How quickly everyone is willing to give up freedoms, to exercise the more instinctive and less ideally based need for retribution.

Yes, well when you commit a crime you are punished by having some of your freedoms taken away, regardless of whether the goal is reform or retribution.
11.21.2005 5:53pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
I certainly don't want dehumanize murderers -- after all, if a nonhuman (say, a dog, or a defective product) kills a person I don't morally condemn the nonhuman. I morally condemn murderers precisely because I realize that they are human, and deserve to be judged according to the standards we apply to humans.

But in any event, eddie, I'm not "rant[ing] against the legitimacy of the Nobel Prizes." For all the Prizes' flaws, if someone had won a Nobel Peace Prize or even a Nobel Prize in Literature, that would be a pretty significant argument to consider in deciding on clemency. Perhaps one may still reject the argument for various reasons, but one can't casually dismiss it.

I'm condemning people's quick references to Nobel Prize nominations as if those nominations were meaningful (and with no acknowledgement to readers that the nominations are actually largely meaningless).
11.21.2005 6:11pm
Buck Turgidson (mail):
I was going to respond to Eugene's post but noted that there were so many comments that the point would easily be lost. Then I saw this from Justin:


when people point out that Williams was nominated for a nobel peace prize, what they mean was that he was seriously nominated for valid reasons and (probably) seriously considered.


Well, I guess, a clarification is necessary. There is no official nomination process, so any nomination from the field--however professiona and however considered--has exactly the same weight as a nomination from Sean Hannity or another toady. The only people who have any actual input on the candidates considered each year are the members of the Academy who can be rather impervious to outside influence. They usually take their job seriously even if their motives may well be misguided.

So, when I saw the reference to the "three nominations" in the Knight-Ridder version of the story, I recognized two things--first, the reporter did not do his job; second, the claim came from a cheap piece of propaganda. This kind of nonsense may end up hurting rather than helping an appeal for clemency. On the other hand, I find it quite disturbing that the prosecutor (well, DA's office) has submitted "evidence" ostensibly to show that Williams continued to stir up trouble. Why am I suspicious of this submission? Because the report claims that the submission essentially terminates twelve years ago. In other words, it shows absolutely nothing as to the current state of mind of Williams. Come to think of it, the evidence is also purely correlational, showing absolutely no link between Williams and the problems that the state allegedly had during the first few years of his incarceration. Still, as the reporters got the "Nobel nominations" from a piece of propaganda, I wonder if the rest of the information came from there as well.

The bottom line is that there is not such thing as "nomination for the Nobel Prize".
11.21.2005 6:25pm
Visitor Again:
Me: Just for the record, Stanley Williams, founder of the CRIPS gang in Los Angeles, has consistently maintained his innocence of the murders for which he was convicted and sentenced to death.

Jordan: Boo hoo. How many prisoners do you think make the same claim? You'll forgive me if I doubt the honesty and sincerity of the founder of the Crips. I don't care if he cures cancer, he should have been dead a long time ago.

A lot of prisoners make the same claim, Jordan. But the reason I pointed it out is because in an earlier post you said "Well, 'I'm sorry' just doesn't cut it after you murder 4 people." You would not expect one who claims he is innocent to say he is sorry, would you?

You believe he is guilty, of course. But has it ever struck you that the innocent on Death Row say they are innocent as well as the guilty? That's precisely what the Texas man who was the subject of today's Houston newspaper story, linked in a message above. said before he went to his death. "I'm innocent," he said, no one believed him and now it turns out it's pretty clear he was indeed innocent. I don't know for sure if Williams is guilty or innocent, but I do know the evidence on which he was convicted is shaky at best and I wouldn't put anything past the LAPD, particularly not in 1981.

You're entitled to believe all the men in prison or on Death Row are guilty, of course, although that demonstrates naivete about the fallibility of our criminal justice system. Perhaps it is that belief that allows you to be so certain that Williams deserves to die. But when one of those Death Row inmates is shown to be innocent after execution, perhaps you will spare one of your boo hoos for him and mean it, too. Then again, perhaps not.

Me: He has said he will not become a snitch.

John Ann Arbor: Ah, yes. The universal defense of the indefensable. Used by city gangs and suburbanite frat boys alike to cover up anything inconveniently illegal.
And to the victims who never see justice because people hide the truth? Apparently, they're to go to hell, in his newly enlightened mind.

Oh, quite a few more than gang members and frat boys, eh, John? Police officers, soldiers, politicians, lobbyists, lawyers, doctors, psychotherapists, husbands, wives, boyfriends, girlfriendw, business partners, newspaper reporters, buddies, parents, children, priests, political radicals and people who invoke the privilege against self-incrimination and don't get immunity from prosecution (and even some who do get immunity), and many others who simply don't like informing on someone. A few of these hide the truth behind legally recognized privileges, to be sure, but the effect on the victim is just the same, isn't it?
11.21.2005 7:46pm
Jack Bauer (mail):
Visitor Again, he is guilty as far as the calls for clemency go. He was convicted by a jury of peers.

And for a criminal to not snitch on another criminal is not the same thing as for a lawyer to protect society's 4,5,6th amendment rights.

Even if it were, it still wouldn't be a valid 'bullet point' in support of him, as the "he isn't a snitch" line was used here. At very very best, it is neutral. It is never a plus. And it's probably a minus, as he's probably an accessory to whatever he isn't snitching to.

Regardless, he probably didn't write the book he was nominated for. Even if he were, the nomination is irrelevant and the media used the nomination as though it was relevant.
11.21.2005 8:23pm
Sam:
few of these hide the truth behind legally recognized privileges, to be sure, but the effect on the victim is just the same, isn't it?

No. Society gains from the legally recognized privileges: the attorney-client privilege helps the overall legal system, the doctor-patient helps the practice of medicine, etc. What does society gain from the gang founder-member privilege?
11.21.2005 8:32pm
cfw (mail):
Eugene

"I certainly don't want dehumanize murderers -- after all, if a nonhuman (say, a dog, or a defective product) kills a person I don't morally condemn the nonhuman. I morally condemn murderers precisely because I realize that they are human, and deserve to be judged according to the standards we apply to humans."

The flaw: your typical SQ death row inmate, and I would tentatively include TW, has a history of child abuse, a limited IQ, the mental status under stress of a 5 to 10 year old.

We apply a different standard to those with a chronological age of 7, yes? Those with a mental age under stress of 5-10 (but a chronological age ot 18+) routinely get treated as if the mental equals of EV. This denies justice.

We cannot, in good conscience, knowing what we know about how the brain develops (or fails to develop) and works (or fails to work) treat humans as fungible.

Does this persuade a rational AS to give clemency in the sense of freedom? No, of course not. Could it justify LWOPP (life without possibility of parol)? Sure. Will the death of TW bring back to life any murdered mother? Of course not. If it would, I could see dropping TW in a NY minute. But we are not bringing anyone back, or wiping out emotional distress that came from the murder.

I also note that a white privileged law professor claiming he cannot readily talk about clemency for a black man seems troubling. It brings to light the fact we may tend to judge those of a differnt race, who came from places like Compton, more harshly. Like EV, AS has never had to live in Compton as an elementary school kid. Does this mean set TW free? Of coures not. Let him rot in jail for LWOPP? Why not?

Keep up the good work. Blog is a great public service.
11.21.2005 8:43pm
Paul Johnson (mail):
Clemency has little or nothing to do with guilt or innocence. It assumes guilt, and empowers the governor to commute the sentence for whatever reason he deems sufficient. To say that "I'm sorry doesn't cut it" is to say that clemency should never be granted. Why then does the power exist? To reward those whose post-conviction behavior has earned it.

Whether a particular inmate's behavior has earned clemency is another whole topic, but too many seem too eager to read the clemency power out of the law.
11.21.2005 8:49pm
therut (mail):
If the man is really repentent of his wrongdoing then he should be willing to pay the penalty not try and dodge it. As far a mercy that he will obtain from God. Forgiveness he can be granted if he truly is repentent but if JUSTICE is to be served the penalty must be payed. There is no Justice without a payed penalty to civilization. God demands it as does our system of Judgement that is based on the same reasoning. (or at least for those of us who remember the system and not the post modern mumbo jumbo of the chattering class.
11.21.2005 9:03pm
mrsizer (www):
We cannot, ... treat humans as fungible

First: I love the word "fungible".

More on topic: I think we must. EVERYONE is a special case. I don't think it is possible to have a society that takes that into account at every turn. It is certainly NOT possible to have a bureacracy that does - bureacracy thrives on rules and stifles judgement.

Before getting to the difficult stuff such as the death penalty, what about a Driver's License? Why 16? Why, at least in Colorado, such ridiculously easy tests? I shudder to think what the aging Baby Boomers are going to do to the process of revoking Driver's Licenses. (I'll bet it is rule based, though, not merit/skills based)

Humans are not fungible, but we must treat them/ourselves that way.
11.21.2005 9:40pm
Visitor Again:
Me: A few of these hide the truth behind legally recognized privileges, to be sure, but the effect on the victim is just the same, isn't it?

Sam: No. Society gains from the legally recognized privileges: the attorney-client privilege helps the overall legal system, the doctor-patient helps the practice of medicine, etc. What does society gain from the gang founder-member privilege?

No to what? Certainly you didn't answer--and cannot answer--my claim that the effect on the victim is the same whether the refusal to talk is based on a privilege or not. The fact that society benefits from the privileges has no bearing at all on the effect on the victim. The exercise of the privilege has a cost, and that is the hiding of truth, which hurts the victim of crime in the same way any refusal to spill the beans does. In any event, my underlying point--that refusing to reveal the truth is commonplace--remains untouched even if you disregard invocations of privilege.

Claiming a social gain for Williams' refusal to snitch is not necessary to any point I made. But I will offer one just to show I can, although it isn't the basis of a privilege. Williams has been trying, with a lot of success, to convince young people to give up or forego the gang life and the reason he has great credibility with these young gang members and potential gang members is because he was the founder of CRIPS and has not turned snitch on his former brothers and sisters. He would lose all credibility with his audience, past, present and future, were he to snitch on his former gangmates of a quarter of a century ago. Williams also put together a manual for negotiating peace between gangs, and the reason for its success is his credibility with gang members all over the world. Again, snitching would mean loss of that credibility.
11.21.2005 9:45pm
Joshua:
My question is whether any of the Volokh Conspirators who are law professors have submitted any Nobel Peace Prize nominations, and if so, for whom.
11.21.2005 10:09pm
JohnAnnArbor:
Again, snitching would mean loss of that credibility.

And to the families of the dead victims of his buddies, well too f---ing bad, right?
11.21.2005 11:04pm
Jack Bauer (mail):

My question is whether any of the Volokh Conspirators who are law professors have submitted any Nobel Peace Prize nominations, and if so, for whom.


It's a conspiracy!
11.21.2005 11:09pm
Jordan (mail):
Will the death of TW bring back to life any murdered mother? Of course not. If it would, I could see dropping TW in a NY minute. But we are not bringing anyone back, or wiping out emotional distress that came from the murder.

Well, that makes no sense whatsoever. Imprisoning him won't bring anyone back either. I guess we should just let him go then?
11.22.2005 12:12am
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
Well, that makes no sense whatsoever. Imprisoning him won't bring anyone back either. I guess we should just let him go then?


Keep in mind that you're arguing with someone who tried to argue that someone nominated for a Nobel prize in literature should automatically be treated as he had a "mental age under stress of 5-10." That and accusing Professor Volokh of racism merely for confining his remarks to the topic of the Nobel prize nominations rather than clemency ought to be enough to disqualify cfw's opinions from any serious consideration.
11.22.2005 4:06am
Public_Defender:
I'm mostly upset and disappointed that this situation even exists. When sentenced to death, the punishment should be carried out with deliberate speed. Not excessive, but say 5 years or so. Capital cases should have their appeals accelerated so that we don't have these people languishing for decades on death row, a cruel and inhuman thing for both the victim's family as well as the criminal.

Are you willing to pay the price for this in money and delays in other cases? When judges have to give priority to capital cases, other cases languish. Is it fair to the rape victim that the appeal in her case is delayed while the courts give priority to a death case?

If you force attorneys to brief the cases more quickly, you prevent private lawyers from taking the cases. They can't afford to drop everything for a month or two for one case. That means you have to hire more government lawyers (like me). Plus, there are inefficiencies in quick deadlines--lawyers will handle fewer cases at a time, but the cases will have tighter deadlines. That means the ebbs and flows of the work will be more severe.

Plus, in some cases, if you push defense attorneys too produce work faster than we can do it effectively, we are under an ethical obligation to withdraw. Because all inmates have the right to effective counsel on one appeal, the courts have to give us the time to do it right.

If the deadlines are too short, defense lawyers refuse to file a brief, and the courts have to appoint new lawyers who have to start from scratch, again delaying the process. Courts know this, and as long as we are reasonable, they generally give us the time we need.

I saw an interesting opinion piece a few years ago about California's appellate system. They couldn't find enough lawyers to handle death row appeals for the money they were paying, so cases stalled for years waiting for lawyers. If I remember right, when inmates got lawyers and their cases were decided in the California courts, the reversal rate was around 1%.

The article suggested that it was generally unethical for lawyers to handle DP appeals because there was a 99% chance the lawyers would hurt their clients by moving them closer to the gas chamber. Would any lawyer take a case where the odds of making your client's situation worse was 99-1?

Capital cases suck giant amounts of resources (time, money and attention) out of the judicial system. If you "streamline" the death process, the cases will suck even more resources.

Back to the subject (kind of). Death Row has given Williams fame. If State had given him life without parole, he would probably be an unknown number rotting anonymously. Congratulations death penalty supporters, you turned a murderer into a hero!
11.22.2005 7:34am
Jordan (mail):
Congratulations death penalty supporters, you turned a murderer into a hero!

That's fine because he'll be dead soon.
11.22.2005 11:31am
Public_Defender:
Yes, but the victims have had to hear about this guy for the past how many years? One of the dirty little secrets about the death penalty is that it can greatly draw out the pain of the victims.

P.S. My clients who rape people and steal stuff would like to thank death penalty supporters for diverting prosecutorial and judicial resources away from their cases. It makes it easier to get deals for less serious convictions and shorter sentences.
11.22.2005 12:01pm
Jordan (mail):
Yes, but the victims have had to hear about this guy for the past how many years?

I think they'd rather hear about him for a decade or so then know that this POS gets to live out the rest of his life while their family member was cheated out of theirs.
11.22.2005 12:30pm
Mark F. (mail):
This debate has little to do with justice. Some people here just get a kick out of the state killing bad people. Admit it, folks! It makes you feel good!
11.22.2005 12:34pm
Public_Defender:
I think they'd rather hear about him for a decade or so then know that this POS gets to live out the rest of his life while their family member was cheated out of theirs.

Some would, some wouldn't.
11.22.2005 12:51pm
Jordan (mail):
This debate has little to do with justice. Some people here just get a kick out of the state killing bad people. Admit it, folks! It makes you feel good!

Out of respect for Mr. Volokh I won't say what I want to say. However, suffice it to say that you have no idea what you're babbling about.
11.22.2005 1:13pm
A Guest (mail):

Death Row has given Williams fame. If State had given him life without parole, he would probably be an unknown number rotting anonymously. Congratulations death penalty supporters, you turned a murderer into a hero!

Heh. No.

If the state had given him life without parole, his supporters would be pressing for his RELEASE, as opposed to commuting a sentence to life. And sappy folks like yourself would be right there, willing to forgive him for what he did to someone else and screaming for his release...after all, you don't have to live in one of the low-income, black neighborhoods his boys will terrorize, now, do you?

p.s. I don't believe you are a public defender. Won't say why, but it's abundantly clear to me that you're just an ACLU loving poseur.
11.22.2005 1:24pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
If the state had given him life without parole, his supporters would be pressing for his RELEASE, as opposed to commuting a sentence to life. And sappy folks like yourself would be right there, willing to forgive him for what he did to someone else and screaming for his release...after all, you don't have to live in one of the low-income, black neighborhoods his boys will terrorize, now, do you?


Good point. No doubt that if we ever were to abolish capital punisment a significant number (but certainly not all) of its opponents would then work to reduce the use of or eliminate sentences for life without the possibility of parole.
11.22.2005 1:55pm
Hemingway:
The New York Times ran an article a month or two ago lamenting how unfair it is that a life sentence actually means life these days. The article noted that courts in some other countries (e.g., Mexico) have found life without parole "unconstitutional."
11.22.2005 3:25pm
Leland:
I stand corrected about Mr. Volokh stance in considering a Nobel Prize as something of merit in regards to clemency. I don't agree. I do agree that the Nobel Prize nominations is insignificant as to be unnoteworthy.

I simply see no reason to allow an honor bestowed by the Norwegian Parliament to effect the sentencing of a US citizen. IMHO, it is akin to recognizing the knighthood of a person. Our constitution does not allow it.
11.22.2005 11:06pm
Leland:
Eddie: I don't quite understand your point, but I'll try to answer some of your questions.

I think this is an US legal matter and therefore the Nobel Prize shouldn't be at issue. Moreover, I agree that certainly that Nobel Prize Nomination process, at least for literature, is so wide open as to be insignificant in value, in terms of a capital crime committed in the US. With that answered, I think what is interesting is that members of the press do seem to think that a nomination for a Nobel Prize is something to be considered. I disagree with those people.
11.22.2005 11:16pm