Thursday, November 10, 2005

Victims' loved ones can speak for themselves

As has been noted, politicians in Congress are pushing a measure called the "Streamlined Procedures Act." This legislation would, in essence, eliminate the federal habeas appeals process in all criminal cases, death penalty cases and non-death penalty cases. If this proposal passes -- and it is being heard in the House Judiciary Committee today -- it will radically increase the number of wrongful convictions in our courts because there will be no opportunity for federal courts to review convictions and correct errors.

The so-called conservatives backing this legislation (and I say so-called because most conservatives I know have a healthy skepticism when it comes to the ability of government to get it right) say they are doing this for the victims of crime.

But this perspective is not shared by all family members of murder victims. Here is a letter to the editor published in The Hill, which is a publication that covers Congress and those who work on Capitol Hill. Thanks to my friend Peter for calling our attention to this:

Victims’ families speak for themselves on death
It bothered me to read that Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) are promoting habeas-corpus overhaul because they think I want it (Letters to the editor, “Victims’ families are reason for death-penalty-appeals reform,” Nov. 8).

As a survivor of homicide (my father was murdered when I was 7 years old), I have never associated “closure” with the fate of my father’s killer. The responsibility of healing the pain and sadness of that deep personal loss is — and has for my entire life been — mine alone. I seek no contribution from the man who left six children fatherless. And I seek no comfort from politicians using victims as human shields to take shortcuts to justice.

As a victim and as a law-abiding citizen, what I want is a criminal-justice system that is dedicated to the highest standards of accuracy, integrity and accountability. Get the right guy, do it by the rules and be willing to let others check your work.

Unfortunately, in our criminal-justice system, we sometimes send innocent people to death row (121 at last count, according to the Death Penalty Information Center). That’s too often for my blood. It makes little sense to grease the skids to the execution chamber when this degree of risk is present.

But whatever the fate of this bill, politicians must understand that
victims of violent crime are not all lemmings for capital punishment. That to be a victim does not automatically arouse a desire to eradicate fairness and due process as a path to psychological wellness. But most important, that to be a victim means we speak for ourselves.

Robert W. Hoelscher, board member,
Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation

No comments: