There is a moderately entertaining movie called Idiocracy, directed by Mike Judge and starring the less-stoned Wilson brother about a man of perfectly average intelligence who goes into cryogenic deep freeze for a long time and emerges 500 years in the future where the stupid have out-reproduced the intelligent and the Earth is ruled by grunts and monosyllables. Reading some reactions to the death penalty repeal here in CT, it seems to me that the future is now.

First, CT News Junkie reported, in a story with the provocative title ‘Lawmaker Guided By Experience As Defense Attorney’, of the tale of Representative David Labriola. Labriola, a Republican, drew upon his experience as a criminal defense attorney to vote against the repeal of the death penalty, in something that can only be described as fzzt-fzzt-does-not-compute-err-ROR-err-ROR.

You see, Attorney Rep. Labriola represented Miguel Roman. Miguel Roman, you might or might not remember, was the fourth man exonerated in CT with the assistance of DNA evidence. Unfortunately, before that happened, Roman spent 20 years of his life in jail for a crime he did not commit. His actual sentence was 60 years for a murder – one of three that the police believed were linked. Having represented a man you believe is wrongly convicted and has spent decades of his life unjustly in prison is not something a defense lawyer gets over quickly and it is certainly not something that builds confidence in the infallibility of the criminal justice system.

Yet, we have Labriola:

He said the sophistication and reliability of modern DNA analysis is one of the reasons he supported the death penalty statute, which a majority of his colleagues voted to take off the books Wednesday. DNA evidence provides the state with greater assurance that offenders handed guilty verdicts are, in fact, guilty, he said.

I suppose that’s somewhat logical so far, if a bit naive. But here’s the key part:

Labriola recalled that he did present DNA evidence in Roman’s case more than 20 years ago. He said it was one of the first DNA cases in the country. Though the DNA clearly didn’t belong to Roman, prosecutor John Massameno was able to argue that presence of another person’s DNA did not mean Roman was not guilty.

[Ideally, at this juncture, I’d like to Professor Farnsworth uttering his signature “Whaaaa? – you can hear it in your head, can’t you? – but I can’t find it online. So this equally appropriate reaction will have to suffice.]

This is far beyond any timey-wimey plotline that Steven Moffat could conceive of, but I’m going to try and untangle it. Labriola believes:

1. The death penalty is appropriate.

2. Because DNA evidence provides great assurances that offenders are actually guilty.

3. He knows this because he represented an offender.

4. In whose case DNA evidence was presented.

5. And the DNA evidence excluded his guy.

6. And still his client was convicted.

7. And spent 20 years in jail.

8. ????

9. PROFIT!!!!

Labriola concludes with:

“I think working as a defense attorney for the last 25 years gives me insight into a wide range of issues and some crimes are so heinous that the death penalty is the only justifiable punishment,” he said.

It’s almost as if he got to logical step number 8 above, realized that he was going up the down staircase and ended with the handwavium encrusted “well, I know better”.  As a fellow criminal defense lawyer, that last quote of his is especially troubling. I’ve often written that in order to do this job well and honestly, one cannot judge one’s clients and one must take the place of the client and view the world through his eyes. We are the client. We are his advocate and his shepherd. Where does Labriola stop? If some clients are deserving of the death penalty, are others deserving of life without the possibility of release? Are others deserving of 60 years in jail, because, in his opinion, they’re bad people? How do we differentiate the role of the prosecutor from that of the defense attorney? At what point do we stop becoming an advocate and start becoming a mouthpiece – a mere messenger?

For many in this field, capital defense is the holy grail. It is the one job that embodies every ideal that leads us to this work: the defense of those who are most undeserving, the fight for another’s life, the pushback against the mightiest weapon the State possesses in its arsenal. Death penalty defense is more than a job. It is the embodiment of an idea. I believe that one can be a great defense attorney and not like all the crimes that our clients are charged with. Great lawyers refuse to represent people accused of sex crimes. I disagree with that, but I can see it. I believe, however, that anyone in favor of the death penalty has no business representing individuals accused of crimes.

It does not compute.


Lagniappe (a word I have shamelessly borrowed from today’s MLK-themed edition of Blawg Review, hosted by the inimitable Mark Bennett): “Judge” Andrew Napolitano goes on FOX to suggest that CT delay the implementation of the death penalty repeal by, oh, 5 years so we can quickly execute the 11 men on death row. The stupendous idiocy of that position hardly merits the waste of more pixels.




7 thoughts on “Idiocracy

  1. John D. McLauchlan

    If I were writing this piece (and trust me, I don’t dare believe I could do it better or even as well), I might have chosen the video clip from The Hangover. You know, the one where Stu opines about whether it’s worth responding to something Alan said. Yeah, THAT one.

    And thanks for teaching me a new word today. Had to go look up “lagniappe”.

  2. Martin Budden

    I recently read this article

    One of the points it makes is that the campaign against the death penalty has distracted attention from something arguably worse: the huge increase in incarceration rates since the seventies. I abhor the death penalty, but this article provided food for thought.

    Compared with the horrors of garden variety American incarceration, though, the death penalty can be viewed only as a distraction. An extremely small number of people are executed in the United States—fewer than thirty a year, on average, in the last three decades. But at any given moment, a full 7 million people are under some form of regular surveillance from the correctional system. More African Americans are in prison today than were enslaved in the 1850s

    after execution was reinstated in 1976, many activists who might have spent their lives focusing on prisons switched their attention to a narratively vivid but politically minor bugaboo

    The article is well worth reading and I am still thinking about what it says.


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