September 2009 Archives

September 23, 2009

Bruce Lisker's Freedom Infuriates the D.A.

Bruce Lisker's mother Dorka was brutally murdered in 1983.  Lisker was convicted of the murder in 1985, and languished in prison until August 2009, when a federal judge overturned the conviction.  The judge ruled that the conviction had been based on false evidence, and that Lisker's trial attorney had not defended him competently.  The Los Angeles D.A. could have re-tried Lisker, but in September 2009 surprised everyone at a court hearing by announcing that it would not re-file murder charges against Lisker because it lacked evidence of guilt.  After spending about a quarter of a century in prison, Lisker was finally free.

The D.A.'s office was hardly apologetic.  The prosecutor insisted that he was personally confident of Lisker's guilt, but had to drop the charge due to a lack of evidence.  What a terribly embarrassing thing for the D.A. to say.  What would have been wrong with "So sorry?"  

The evidence on which Lisker's conviction was based turned out to be so unreliable and perhaps even falsified that even Phillip Rabichow, the Deputy D.A. who prosecuted Lisker in the 1985 trial, told investigators said that he had a reasonable doubt of Lisker's guilt.  If you want to read about the sordid details, they are brilliantly captured in this 2005 LA Times story.  Shoddy police work, lying, jailhouse snitches, a rush to judgment by the police, a suspect who at 17 already had an unsavory past-- you'll find in Lisker's story all of the usual suspects when miscarriages of justice occur. 

The added ingredient in Lisker's story is the D.A.'s nasty and uncalled-for farewell.  The D.A.'s mindset serve as an assurance that future miscarriages of justice will occur.  


September 10, 2009

Mike Duvall: Another Hypocrite Bites the Dust

Assemblyman Mike Duvall, who represents a section of Orange County in the California legislature, has resigned after his boastful comments to a colleague about his sexual conquests were recorded and broadcast. Duvall is another in a growing parade of family values married political hypocrites who have traded on their power to attract sexual partners.

Duvall's resignation comments were pitiful.  He said that he was saddened that his inappropriate comments had become a distraction for his colleagues.  Apparently he wasn't sad about bedding a woman who apparently is a lobbyist who did business with the committee of which Duvall was chair.

Duvall's resignation should not be the last we hear of him.  If he had an affair with a lobbyist, his behavior is criminal as well as unethical.  At least now we know what he and the other hypocrites mean by the term "family values": Try to establish as many families as you can.

September 2, 2009

Death Penalty: Popular Support Continues to Decline

A recent study commissioned by the National Jury Project indicates that support for the death penalty in California continues to erode. Two decades ago, about 80% of respondents supported capital punishment; support dropped to 66% in the recent poll. When respondents were given a sentencing alternative of Life in Prison Without Parole, support for the death penalty plunged to 26%.    

The decline is consistent with the sustained national dropoff in the number of executions.  For example, 71 people were executed in the US in 2002; that number dropped to 37 in 2008. 

Here's an even longer term trend.  In 1800, England had more than 200 capital crimes on the books.  By 1900, only 4 crimes carried the death penalty.  (I found these figures in a lecture given by a Dr. Odgers, included on p. 242 of Roscoe Pound's thrilling 1927 book, Readings on the History and System of the Common Law.) In the mid-1960's, England abolished capital punishment.

I generally have little sympathy for the "worst of the worst" who commit the horrific crimes that result in death penalties.  But eventually, I suspect that the risk of executing innocent people, the damatically higher costs that the death penalty entails, the availability of Life Without Parole, and the randomness in sentencing will result in most US states abandoning capital punishment.

September 1, 2009

Phillip Garrido: The Justice System Plays Catch and Release

Phillip Garrido has been arrested for kidnapping 11 year old Jaycee Dugard in 1991. Until August 2009, he was able to hide her in tents and shacks in his backyard. He even fathered two daughters by her. Garrido and his wife were arrested and Jaycee and the girls were finally set free thanks to the instincts of Berkeley (CA) police officers who serendipitously talked to Garrido and the girls and realized that something wasn't right. 

Now authorities are at a loss to explain why Garrido was out on the streets in 1991.  In 1976, he had been convicted in federal and state courts of rape and kidnapping and was given a 50 year prison sentence in Nevada and a life sentence in federal prison.  However, he was paroled after 11 years, leaving him free to kidnap, rape and imprison Jaycee Dugard.   

This tragedy has come to light while California struggles about what to do about its unaffordable, overcrowded prison system. One obvious response is to save money by releasing prisoners.  But opponents of prisoner release are sure to use Phillip Garrido as an example of the bad things that will happen when we play "catch and release" with criminals.

I would argue, however, that prison release programs can actually prevent the release of inmates like Phillip Garrido.  Inmate populations may simply be too high for prison officials to deal with competently.  Dangerous prisoners are sometimes lost in the shuffle and released because nobody has time to pay close attention to what is happening.  I suspect that if we have fewer prisoners, we'll have fewer Phillip Garridos.