Claudine Clark

Death Penalty Vendetta

In the United States, it is a common practice for prosecutors in death penalty cases to offer plea deals to defendants. These deals typically involve the defendant pleading guilty in exchange for a reduced sentence, such as 15, 20, or 25 years in prison. This practice is known as a “plea bargain,” and it is used in an effort to avoid the cost and uncertainty of a trial, as well as to secure a conviction. The use of plea bargains in death penalty cases has been the subject of much debate in the legal community. Critics argue that these deals can lead to false confessions and coerced guilty pleas, particularly in cases where defendants are facing the death penalty. They also argue that the use of plea bargains undermines the principle of the presumption of innocence and can result in unjust outcomes. However, supporters of plea bargaining argue that it is a necessary tool for prosecutors to efficiently manage their caseloads and secure convictions.

In many cases, plea bargaining involves pressuring defendants, particularly those who are mentally unstable or have inadequate legal representation, into accepting deals that may not be in their best interests. The pressure to plead guilty can be immense, particularly for those facing the death penalty. As a result, innocent defendants may feel compelled to accept plea deals in order to avoid the risk of being wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death.

Here’s an example of this phenomenon , the case of Kalief Browder highlights the dangers of plea bargaining for vulnerable defendants. Browder was a 16-year-old boy from the Bronx who was accused of stealing a backpack. Despite maintaining his innocence, Browder was offered a plea deal that would have resulted in a reduced sentence. When he refused, he was held on Rikers Island for three years, where he was subjected to abuse and mistreatment. Eventually, the charges against him were dropped, but the psychological damage had already been done. Browder committed suicide in 2015, at the age of 22.

Sadly, for many prosecutors, justice is not about protecting human lives, but about winning cases and advancing their careers. This is especially true in the United States, where prosecutors are often elected officials who are accountable to the public for their conviction rates.

One notable example of a prosecutor who prioritized his conviction rate over the principles of justice is former Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes. During his 24-year tenure, Hynes developed a reputation for being tough on crime, but also for pursuing wrongful convictions and refusing to consider evidence that might exonerate defendants. In one particularly egregious case, Hynes’s office prosecuted a man named Jabbar Collins for murder, despite significant evidence suggesting that he was innocent. Collins spent 16 years in prison before being exonerated in 2010, and Hynes was criticized for his role in the wrongful conviction.

Another example is former Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham, who served in the position for nearly 19 years. Abraham was known for her aggressive approach to prosecuting crime, but was also criticized for pursuing the death penalty in cases where it was not warranted, and for being dismissive of claims of innocence. During her tenure, Philadelphia became known as the “death penalty capital” of the United States, and many of the convictions secured under her watch were later overturned on appeal.

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These examples illustrate the dangers of a justice system that prioritizes conviction rates over the pursuit of truth and fairness.

When prosecutors offer a plea bargain, they are essentially making a judgment call about the defendant’s potential for rehabilitation. By offering a reduced sentence in exchange for a guilty plea, prosecutors are essentially saying that they believe the defendant can be rehabilitated and reintroduced to society at some point in the future.

However, it is troubling that prosecutors can so easily change their tune and seek the death penalty, suddenly claiming that the alleged culprit is the worst of the worst and a great danger to society, when a defendant refuses their plea bargain. This suggests that their concern for rehabilitation and public safety is not genuine, but rather a tactic to secure a conviction. It also raises questions about the fairness and consistency of our justice system, as two defendants who commit similar crimes may receive vastly different sentences depending on whether they accept a plea bargain or go to trial.

Furthermore, it is important to note that the criminal justice system has historically failed to provide adequate resources and support for rehabilitation and reentry programs. Many defendants who are released after serving their sentences struggle to find employment, housing, and support, which can contribute to recidivism and further involvement in the criminal justice system. If we are truly committed to rehabilitating offenders and promoting public safety, we must invest in programs and resources that help defendants successfully reintegrate into society.

It is deeply concerning that the decision to seek the death penalty can often come down to not more than a prosecutor’s hurt feelings or desire for vengeance. By using the threat of the death penalty as a bargaining chip, prosecutors are essentially holding defendants’ lives hostage, coercing them into accepting a plea bargain rather than facing the possibility of a death sentence. The decision to seek the death penalty should not be taken lightly (my opinion here is that it should not be an option at all), it is unacceptable for prosecutors to use the death penalty as a childish form of vendetta, over someone who just told them no.

There have been several well-known cases in which individuals who refused a plea bargain were subsequently sentenced to death. In 2017, for example, a young man named Robert Lewis Dear was sentenced to death for carrying out a shooting at a Planned Parenthood center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Dear had rejected a plea bargain offer and instead opted to go to trial, where he was ultimately convicted and sentenced to death.

There have been several studies conducted over the years that support the idea that prosecutors are more likely to seek the death penalty in cases where a defendant refuses a plea bargain and decides to go to trial. One such study was conducted by the American Bar Association in 2007, which found that in states with the death penalty, prosecutors are more likely to seek it when a defendant rejects a plea bargain and goes to trial. Another study published in the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review in 2010 found that in some cases, prosecutors offered harsher plea deals to defendants who were facing the death penalty in order to coerce them into accepting the deal. These studies suggest that the use of the death penalty is not always based on the severity of the crime, but rather on the defendant’s willingness to accept a plea bargain.

In conclusion, it is impossible for humans to be completely impartial. We all act based on our emotions and biases, and anyone who claims otherwise is either lying or delusional. The example above and death sentences resulting from the refusal of a plea bargain is a perfect illustration of this fact. Our justice system is far from perfect, and the flaws in it can have devastating consequences when combined with human fallibility.

As the great philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “There are no facts, only interpretations.” We cannot escape our subjectivity and must acknowledge our biases and emotions when making decisions. This is particularly crucial in the criminal justice system, where people’s lives are on the line.

The death penalty has no place in a flawed justice system where human bias and error can lead to irreversible consequences. Instead, we must strive to improve our system, address its shortcomings, and work towards a fairer and more just society. Only then can we truly call ourselves civilized.

About the Author
Claudine Clark is president/founder of the French Coalition Against the Death Penalty. An abolitionist, paralegal and human rights consultant, her passion stems from her origins as the granddaughter of Warsaw ghetto survivors. She defends human values of forgiveness and tolerance through numerous actions.