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Post-Coital Justice

April 24, 2010

At Slate, Dahlia Lithwick writes about the case of Charles Dean Hood, who has been convicted of murder and sentenced to death in Texas. Hood requested a new trial after it came to light that the prosecutor and the trial judge of his case were engaged in an extramarital affair during his trial. Last week, the Supreme Court denied that request, though it did grant him a new sentencing hearing because of a procedural matter. The top Texas court rejected Hood’s appeal as well, saying that “his lawyers had waited too long to raise the issue on appeal.” Lithwick wonders how he could have raised the issue when he didn’t know about it.

Plainly, this is not justice. Whether Hood is guilty and whether the evidence is enough to prove that Hood is guilty is irrelevant. If the judge and the prosecutor are doing it, and nobody knows about it, is there any possibility that the trial was just? Can the conscience of the people of Texas bear the weight of Hood’s life given the overwhelming possibility that the trial was fundamentally unfair? The Supreme Court and, consequently, we the American people apparently believe that this is a non-issue.

The fact that our justice system is incapable of addressing this miscarriage of justice is further proof of what should be obvious: our system is fallible. Of course, it would be unreasonable to expect anything else. We are human; our system is human. Humans make mistakes; our system will make mistakes. However, when we condemn members of our society to death, we institute an absolute punishment which cannot be revised or appealed, using that fallible system. To institute an absolute punishment without absolute certainty is, in my view, morally unacceptable. It is my firm belief that American should abandon this abhorrent practice and join the rest of the civilized world in recognizing these questions of life and death cannot be adequately addressed by a human justice system.

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