Saturday, July 16, 2011

Victim rights, restorative justice and the death penalty

Jeff Gamso tells the story of a hate-crime victim who was shot in the face - the lone survivor from three shootings by the same white supremacist nutjob who was shooting middle easterners in retaliation for 9/11 - who is now seeking to engage in victim-offender mediation with the man who shot him. The hitch: He's scheduled to be executed next week, one of eight men scheduled to be killed by the state in the next couple of months.. So the victim, Rais Bhuiyan, has launched a campaign to have Mark Stroman's sentence commuted to life without parole. (See his website, including a petition to the Board of Pardons and Paroles.)

Texas created its victim-offender mediation program as an homage to restorative justice principles, but normally - because usually the victim is dead - death-row offenders don't participate in the program. That said, the mediation was created for the benefit of the victim, not the offender. It's supposed to provide closure, information, and an opportunity for forgiveness and healing. Should the victim of a terrible hate crime be denied that opportunity? On what grounds?

Writes Gamso: "Texas, of course, ... is deeply committed to ensuring the rights of crime victims. Their voices will be heard. Their needs will be met.  They will be offered support and comfort and help. As long as they seek vengeance. The rights of victims don't extend to seeking mercy." Ain't that the truth!

MORE: The Texas Tribune has a story on a lawsuit filed by Bhuiyan seeking to stop the execution. AND MORE: From Patti Hart at the Houston Chronicle.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Not that it really matters (b/c it's styled "THE STATE OF TEXAS" vs. the defendant) but if the scumbag is going to be executed, then someone must have been murdered--what are the views of that person's surviving family members?

Jeff Gamso said...

Those folks support the effort to save the guy's life.

ckikerintulia said...

Texas offers up a lot of sacrifices. Let's don't even talk about burnt offerings, lest some retributive folks in the Lone Star State get some macabre ideas. But seems to me I read or heard somewhere along the way, "I desire mercy, and not sacrifice."

Anonymous said...

When the mob screams "Kill the whites" what is that?

John David Galt said...

Writes Gamso: "Texas, of course, ... is deeply committed to ensuring the rights of crime victims. Their voices will be heard. Their needs will be met. They will be offered support and comfort and help. As long as they seek vengeance. The rights of victims don't extend to seeking mercy."

I fail to see how this is objectionable. The reason the system treats some offenses, especially the serious ones, as crimes (against the state) rather than torts (against an individual) is that if we allowed some convicted perps to make deals with their victims for lenient treatment, it would defeat the whole purpose of justice (which is to prevent tomorrow's crime by deterring the potential perp) and endanger the public. The rest of us have the right to demand that that not happen.

Indeed, I would like to see plea bargaining banned -- and the use of informants more tightly controlled and limited -- for the same reason. The state's duty is to protect you and me, not to make deals that make their jobs easier.

Hook Em Horns said...

Torts are civil remedies whereas criminal charges as brought about by the D.A. acting on behalf of 'the people.'

Plea bargains are necessary for a number of reasons. First, a criminal defendant may have a degree of culpability but not be 'guilty' as charged. This allows for a remedy between parties.

Far too many times, in my opinion, clients are encouraged to plea in situations where the state has a weak case. I have had this happened where evidence, in my opinion, was weak and/or insufficient but the state wanted to proceed with First Degree Felony charges.

When you are facing 99 years in prison, sometimes pleading the charge down to something agreeable makes more sense to the person facing the 99 than to counsel.

sunray's wench said...

A plea bargain also removes the need for the victims family to go through a lengthy trial, and possibly hear things about the victim that are less than savoury. That was my husband's reason for taking a plea deal. It had nothing to do with reducing the sentence he would receive.

However, once the sentence was suggested by the DA, the victim's family, who also happened to be my husband's family, felt the sentence was too long. They were then ignored. Mr Gamso is correct in saying that the victims are only listened to in TX if they (or their representativies) seek retribution.