Monday, November 5, 2007


Participating in this blog geared toward the social sciences has taught me to step back and look at all aspects of issues and try to see from others’ perspectives. In dealing with my issue, socio-economic status and the death penalty, some say that there is no bias because the state provides lawyers. However, it is widely known that these attorneys do not always do an acceptable job. When I began this project, I believed that all trials were fair because attorneys were provided for those who could not afford private lawyers. However, upon further research, I learned of the injustice being done to the poor. One example can be found with the West Memphis Three. Dr. Ofshe represented Jason Misskelley without any experience in criminal cases. I also believe that through this project I have come to understand the problems that exist within our justice system—there are still unacceptable biases that survive and that need to be done away with. “The US’s capital punishment process discriminates on the basis of socioeconomic status, race, and geography.” I have truly started to rethink my opinion of capital punishment and our entire justice system, and am starting to believe that ending the death penalty might be the only way to fix these inequalities.

Arguing With Stop Signs: Self-Analysis.

In the blog discussion, I have cited that personalites have affected the outcome of trials and that I believe it is in the country's best interest that this practice should be changed. In using the Ed Rosenthal, Richard Paey, West Memphis 3, and O.J. Simpson trials, I have ananlyzed and discussed this misfortune in our current society. In doing so; however, I have come to a standstill. The bias in society are far from being removed. I think that I am an example of how these bias exist because doesn't my opinion drive my argument to a degree? In seeing this I have realized that bias and personality cannot be withdrawn from society because the morals of society are created based on personality. I really don't think that there lies another side to the argument unless someone stands to tell me that the jury system, which became a large matter of evaluation in my research, is brilliant and shouldn't be tampered with. I doubt anyone thinks it is brilliant, but many probably believe that it is the only choice the courts have in keeping with the american ideal of democracy. I would agree with that.
I still think that personality plays a part in the verdicts and dismissals of some cases; however, I've finally seen the other side. In doing so, I have come to the conclusion that our jury problem doesn't relfect our constituition's preamble in complete good standing and that it is something that we can aspire to fix. Some think that we can. But to be honest, I now don't think that is feasible. I am able to understand, due to my research, why the jury is efficient. I have also come to the conclusion that the "personality influenced" jury might even be a very "American" instrument. This got me thinking because I realized that to a certain farfetched degree the prejudice embedded in American society results in the nonexistence of true impartiiality. While the presence of bias results in a departure from accuracy, it is our counrty's history and today's media presence that are fueling these bias. Therefore, the system may not be to blame, but instead the history is. Since time machines don't exist, one must conclude that it is inevitable, in a society based on diversity and vast cultures such as America, to have impartial accuracy. For the first time, I'd have to say that I basically concur. I disagree with the misfortune of the jury bias in many cases, but I accept that it is here and that it can't be changed tomorrow, if at all. With diversity comes prejudice. So, I guess you could say that having a jury fully drowned in prejudice is the American way because they reflect America's society. Therefore, I feel that I've been arguing with a stop sign because I was pushing for a change in a flawed system that cannot be changed because the fundation of the system is one of flaws. If America is a country derived from social prejudice and bias, then the prejudices are acceptable and potentially welcomed. I've been arguing that becoming truly impartial in cases, the court system will be a reflection of the American constitution. However, I see now that a true reflection of America lies in the behavior of the people, not a piece of paper. Therefore, I feel that I've argued with a stop sign because as much as I warrant change, I recognize that prejudice is an element of this diverse country. One might even say that social bias/prejudice are true American ideals.

Self Analysis of Media influence on trial

Throughout this project I found myself constantly developing as a student and a thinker. Every post brought new knowledge and a different style of thinking. In a way my argument changed its course drastically throughout this experience. When I first started this project I felt that the media was just an external source who feeds the general public a very biased perspective of a case. After researching my topic and reading comments posted by my peers I realized that I have underestimated the power of the media. I found the different avenues in which the media affected the trial prior to and post trial. It seems as if the media’s coverage of the case starts from the minute after the crime is reported, in some cases even before the crime occurs. I was intrigued that such a source could obtain so much information without any connection to the case. It seems as if the media is the middle man between the prosecution and the defense. Media is able to conduct interviews and converse with each party and “act” as a neutral figure. Yet, when it comes to reporting the story all this power is being abused. The media picks a side and pressurizes everyone else to it as well. This is one aspect of media’s role in court cases that upset me the most. The media is capable of so much, yet its power is put to waste. I feel that the media should have a social responsibility to provide its citizens with reliable and credible information at no one’s expense.
Upon more thought of the issue, I also began to delve into a few complications when I explored possible solutions to this problem in my implications and theory post. Every solution that I thought of began to explore seemed to only fit only in a perfect world. At first it seemed like there was no solution, but then I realized that through rigid regulation and elimination of pre-trial media a media tampering can be solved.
Also one of the most important changes in my thinking that I noticed is that I am now able to accept both sides of the argument and be less biased toward a certain side. When I first began working on this project I felt that the media was solely a bad influence to the public. Upon working with this project I have begun to realize that the media can also bring awareness to the public, which often sparks a fight for a good cause. For example, the media’s coverage of the Jena 6, OJ Simpson, West Memphis 3, and Dobbie Williams’ case all sparked activism across the country. As a result of this project I have also begun to understand the ramifications behind a good argument. I have discovered that some of the best arguments are ones that are balanced and use a variety of sources to make a point.
After much research and thought about media’s influence on the death penalty I find my knowledge about the issue to be scholarly, but by no means do I have authority over the issue. My opinions can be proven through credible sources and can help create a solution for the problem. I hope that my work will help inspire change and develop a social responsibility amongst all.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Self-Analysis after Researching Juvenile Justice

Throughout the blog project, my analysis of juvenile education has both changed and remained the same. I have strongly believed throughout the project that juveniles deserve a second chance and a right to be rehabilitated. However, this is not to say I have not been somewhat swayed occasionally by persuasive arguments. For instance, when a child purposely kills someone with a preplanned of course of action, it is hard to say he or she deserves another chance. But, as with all the postings in other blogs, I think an important learned factor in our justice system is that all situations need a line drawn so that individual cases are all uniform and fair. Because a juvenile court system is so different than an adult trial process, the children below a certain age should all benefit from this easier procedure at least once, no matter what the crime. The line must be drawn at a certain age for all states.

My reasoning behind this belief has, however, changed significantly. Before, I simply thought it a waste to throw away such a young life. Now, after extensive research, I realize not only is it a waste, but it is a scientifically proven mistake. Brains at this time in a person’s development are not through growing and maturing. Because of this scientific fact, can we as American citizens really hold the juvenile totally responsible for his or her actions? The reason his or her moral values are confused is probably not the fault of the child, but more the lack of guidance by the parents. Parents that allow such a young person to go down such a horrible path should be the ones to blame. A child must have guidance. The child is not to blame at his or her lack of guidance, but the government should know when to step in with parens patriae. Therefore, throughout my project my beliefs have remained the same, but the information about the developing brain that I gathered has really provided my beliefs with the support it needed.

I think throughout the blog project, the casual form of argumentation has encouraged my individual thinking and growth in beliefs. After reading people's comments, it has forced me to analyze and rethink my original beliefs. While I completely understand how people could believe that the same crime committed by a youth should receive the same punishment as if the youth was an adult, I also think this must be carefully considered. If a 1o-year old child makes a rash judgment and kills someone, should his or her life be over? No- the goal should be to help.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Liberty and Unjustice for All

Economic classifications cannot continue to play a role in capital court cases. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg claims, “I have yet to see a death case among the dozens coming to the Supreme Court on eve-of-execution stay applications in which the defendant was well represented at trial. People who are well represented at trial to not get the death penalty.” This is completely unjust and goes against everything that our country is based on. We are supposed to represent liberty, equality, and justice, yet this economic bias embodies none of these qualities. We lose credibility as a country because the implication of this bias is that the wealth of a person determines who is more important. Those, like Robert Nave, death penalty abolitionist advocate, who want to abolish the death penalty site socio-economic status and biased based on this as a main reason. It is a fact that a person is more likely to dodge the death penalty if they hire a private attorney. How is this fair? It is not fair at all and we should be doing something about it. It is not enough to simply realize it is a problem.
Poverty and the death penalty are tied together, and this tends to be the determining factor when deciding who receives the death penalty. What most often determines the imposition of the death sentence are not the facts of the case, but the quality of the legal representation. One of the most horrible examples rests with Calvin Burdine’s court-appointed lawyer. He was convicted and sentenced to death in 1984, however the Supreme Court overturned this decision because his lawyer slept through major portions of his trial. The ACLU also argued that his trial was tainted with homophobia from the jury, his lawyer, and the prosecutor. How can we, in America, allow something like this to happen? Then compare this to the O.J. Simpson trial. Of course he could hire any lawyer he wanted with his bank account. I personally believe that he is guilty, however, his lawyer was paid outrageous amounts of money, and he got off easy.
There are also stories of inexperienced lawyers. Dennis Fritz, for example, came within five days of being executed, but was released because of DNA evidence. Why was he convicted for a crime that he didn’t commit? A court-appointed civil liabilities lawyer, not a criminal lawyer, represented Fritz. Also, a study found that “a defendant in Virginia will on average be sentenced two years longer if he is represented by a court-appointed lawyer rather than a public defender or a hired lawyer.” There have been attempts at reform: the Furman v. Georgia decision placed a moratorium on executions in 1972. The justices sited the quality of court-appointed lawyers as part of the problem. Also, in 2002 the Florida Supreme Court “extended the minimum standard for court-appointed handling capital cases to all attorneys.” However, there have also been setbacks in the process. New York recently cut the pay of court-appointed lawyers. This could really hurt the inequalities in capital punishment, making them worse. This article also claims that court-appointed lawyers are paid $125 an hour in New York, but only $20 an hour in Alabama. This difference in pay also helps account for the problems with disproportions in capital punishment cases.
There are problems elsewhere with funding cuts. In Georgia, for example, there were cuts and now there is not enough money for court-appointed lawyers, making it impossible for defendants to find representation. This came up after Troy Davis’s case, and has set a precedent. This is becoming more of a major problem in our country. In a country of one million attorneys only about fifty work for private, nonprofit organizations. Also, a recent study at Columbia University found that “two out of three death penalty sentences were reversed on appeal, and about 37 percent were the result of incompetent lawyering.” This problem needs to be fixed immediately. The measures that are being taken right now need to be intensified to help those who can’t afford private lawyers.
The question that remains is what is to be done. The first step is improving economic status for all citizens. This would help considerably if we were able to make it possible for all people to hire private lawyers. However, this is far-fetched, and I think that we need something that the government can take part in more. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor thinks, “Perhaps its time to look at minimum standards for appointed counsel in death cases and adequate compensation for appointed counsel when they are used.” >“Although the American Bar Association has promulgated standards for the representation of indigent defendants charged with capital offenses, and although those guidelines have been endorsed by the Supreme Court, no death-penalty jurisdiction has implemented a system that meets these requirements.” Judge Boyce Martin of the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals says, “the death penalty in this country is arbitrary, biased, and so fundamentally flawed at its very core that it is beyond repair.” So perhaps now the only way to end socio-economic bias is to end the death penalty completely.

Analysis of Juvenile Delinquency

Obviously, I feel very strongly about allowing our youth to have the opportunity to reform by trying them in the Juvenile Justice System of America. How could we possibly think that the youths deserve tougher punishments, such as those faced by adults on death row? Having stated my opinion over the past few posts, I feel it is important to analyze the factors contributing to my reasoning, as well as what the United States believes and is doing to try to diminish the number of youth who commit crime. The government should force more money and time into the prevention of crime since this issue is so important to our country as a whole. More help from the government must be implemented. As stated before, prevention is vital. The future of America is at stake when we risk the moral development of our youth. Many doctors and researchers have discovered what kinds of programs will work, and the step by step process to take.

Certain issues, such as abandonment, social institutions and peer pressure all promote violence, but could be prevented through programs that implement their services within the school environment. In youth, the choices in life are numerous, and just one simple lack of judgment could send a juvenile straight to court; and, if placed in adult courts, could ruin his or her future. But, with juvenile services, the child is given the opportunity to reform. If, however, prevention is so vital, why does the video game and media industry keep marketing their violent programs to the youth of our nation? Video games especially increase the likelihood that a minor will perform violent actions, as stated by Dr. David Walsh whose theory includes: children imitate the people they identify and participate with, as well as those that give rewards and cause repetition. Video games, as well as television, encourage all these aspects that promote learning, in this case, of aggressive behavior. With such facts such as before leaving elementary school, the average American child has seen 8,000 murders and 100,000 violent acts due to television. How, then, can we blame the youth for their confusion in what is wrong and what is right? The world of a child is complicated enough as it is without bombarding their developing brains with immoral scenarios they might actually admire. Experiences and knowledge gained as a child may not necessarily be at the fault of the child, but will have a significant impact on their future lives. We must prevent these causes of negative behavior from invading the minds and actions of the young.

With all this violence in the media and in video games, there is no surprise that many children suffer from mental issues. The National Institute of Mental Health discusses a program that while extremely costly, may lower the amount of juveniles that are admitted into the juvenile delinquency programs. Also, one must analyze how it came to be that a six-year old boy nearly beat a baby to death. This article also discusses whether or not the impact of a poor family has a great deal to do with a young child who displays violence. I have no doubt that a child who grows up in a family or community in which violence is an everyday occurrence will unfortunately learn for his or herself that violence is accepted in that realm. This scenario is true because of Albert Bandura’s theory of observational learning in which the young child watches their authoritative figures and copies their actions (in this case, violent acts).

While prevention would be ideal, it may not occur in the next few decades. However, over four decades ago, the Supreme Court realized the importance of giving youth the same rights guaranteed to adults by the Constitution’s 14th Amendment. In in re Gault, the different punishments between what a 15 year old received and what an adult would have received are noted. The 15-year old boy was sent to an institutionalized school until the age of 21, while an adult would simply have gotten a fifty dollars fine and an imprisonment sentence of two month maximum. How is this fair? Why should a youth be punished more than an adult who theoretically should have more sense? In reality, this more severe punishment was actually intending to help the child never commit a crime again. The program was trying to reform the individual. Therefore, those people that think juvenile courts are too easy on criminals can see in this example that this is not the case. However, in re gault finally did take care of the lack of due processes for youth. In re Gault finally took care of this fault in our judicial system so that juveniles were not seen as “second class.” Now, juveniles get the same due process by law, even though their punishments remained more severe. Americans are realizing that the youth deserve the same rights, even though the goal of the hearing may be to provide correction, not punishment. If prevention cannot occur, the juvenile courts truly try to reform the child, because at this stage in their lives, most of them are open to change. As another example of a more successful harsher punishment given by the juvenile court system, we can analyze two kids, Michael and Jason, who were both 16 when they committed the crime. Jason was sent to juvenile court and received a long sentence in a reform school, while Michael was sent to adult courts and received a fairly short sentencing. Jason, after being released from his reform school, has not committed another crime, while Michael immediately committed one after his short jail sentence. Reform schooling in the juvenile system is exactly what children like Michael needed. With so many resources out there for juveniles to use, there is no excuse for Americans not reforming the youth.

The people of America are now seeing youth as equal under the law, in some aspects. With the scientific knowledge available proving that a youth’s brain is not as developed as an adult is enough information in itself to end the debate over whether or not capital punishment and serious punishments should be applied to America’s youth.

Analysis of the media's influence on the jury

Media has become the center to every aspect of daily life. According to a study conducted by researchers at the Center for Media Design at Ball State University, individuals spend 30 percent of their waking hours using media exclusively and another 39 percent using media while doing another activity. Amongst the media programs that the pubic views, approximately two-thirds of all prime-time television programs reference some sort of violence. The media’s portrayal of such issues has a great influence on how the public views society. According to professors across the country, the increase in support for the death penalty between 1979 and the early 1990’s can also be attributed to increased media involvement in such cases. The media has affected the criminal justice system in two respects: It has bolstered support for the death penalty by developing a fear of crime within the public and also influenced jurors’ verdict on cases by creating false perceptions about individuals involved with the case either through pre-trial media or previous media narrative.

Across the United States, crime rates have continuously been reported to decline. However, media sensationalism and exposure to crime creates the illusion that crime rates have increased. Such sensationalism has contributed to the Law and Order Syndrome. The Law and Order Syndrome states that “increasingly favorable support toward capital punishment is associated with rapidly increasing crime rates.” The syndrome also hypothesizes that there is a direct causal relationship between increased crime rates and fear of crime, capital punishment, gun ownership, and change in court system. This relationship is also supported by the Instrumental Response Hypothesis which states that “support for the death penalty comes from a desire to lower crime rates.”

Though the jury is not allowed access to media reports during the court proceedings, previous media narrative seems to influence their verdict in court cases. Instrumental Response Hypothesis and the Law and Order Syndrome show how jurors’ overall opinions of administering the death penalty are formed. Meanwhile, media’s influence on jurors’ thoughts does not have to come solely from news reports. A myriad of other sources such as television programs, radio shows, songs, video games, and newspaper articles also contribute to how the verdict is determined. For example, if a juror had previously viewed a similar case on television or knew how the verdict was determined, it may also influence the verdict on the current case. Judge Richard Baner’s order for scheduling rare late-night trial sessions in David Hendrick’s court case illustrates such an influence. Judge Baner chose to schedule the trial for this timing because he felt that the television show “fatal vision”, which depicted a similar story as the case would influence the verdict of the trial. Thus, in order to prevent the jurors from viewing the show, Judge Baner scheduled the trial for the same time as the program.

The way that the media presents information about a criminal case also seems to create support for capital punishment. The media is a market driven institution that constantly produces stories for public enjoyment. Unfortunately, court cases have also been included as a form of entertainment. It is astonishing to view the way in which the media can manipulate a serious issue such as a murder and make it into a story that the general public loves. For example, Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills is a spectacular film that shows the extent to which the media will fall to present an engaging court case to the public. One scene of the film, in particular, with a news reporter amazed me. The news reporter was shown practicing her lines over and over again so that her script will interest the viewers. This scene shows how morally wrong it is to create entertainment out of someone’s pain. It disgusts me to know that people have the courage to even publicize such controversial and personal cases without proper credibility. Sadly, many other cases such as these are also present in our society. Sister Helen Prejean shows this in her novel Death of Innocents through the case studies of Dobie Williams and Joseph O’Dell. However, the media in O’Dell’s case is very interesting because despite the amount of attention his case received through the media it was not enough to save his life. Thus often mass media coverage of court cases sometimes it does more harm than help.

Furthermore, pretrial media reports are another huge influence on case verdicts. Media publicity of the case and the defendant dramatizes far beyond what is necessary. Presentation of the case in this manner often causes prejudices and stereotypes to be developed within the juror’s. According to a study conducted by researchers Hedy R. Dexter, Steven D. Penrod, and Amy L. Otto the evidence presented at trial can lessen the prejudice that is developed by pre-trial media but cannot eliminate it completely. Thus, pre-trial publicity has a lasting influence on the juror.

The influence of pre-trial media can easily be seen in the OJ Simpson case. Newspaper articles, magazine covers, and headline news all presented this case with interesting bylines that captured public interest. The media buzz was so influential that it was also a factor that was considered during Voir Dire. In fact, Judge Ito removed four potential jury members just because they watched TV. Even though the individuals claimed that they did not watch any news related to the OJ Simpson case, he knew that it was extremely difficult to avoid hearing about the case if one watched television. The media “poisons” everyone’s thoughts about the issue; preventing citizens from have a fair trial under law. At one point, Judge A. Ito’s disappointment with media coverage even influenced him to attempt to prohibit media access to the trial.

Media role in the OJ Simpson case raises some interesting questions to the public. When is media coverage too much? When should it be limited and when is it useful? These are all questions that can only be solved with a clear set of statures explaining the role of media in law. Clearly, the way that we are dealing with this problem has not been successful. Some have even sued the media for libel, yet the powerhouse is still in action and affecting peoples lives each and everyday. There is no way to escape media’s report on high profile cases. It is constantly being broadcasted to the public wherever they go. For example, the cases of Anna Nicole, OJ Simpson, and Scott Peterson have been continually telecasted for months and sometimes even years. The media exaggerates such cases beyond necessary and barely ever reveal the truth. I feel that the ideal solution to such media reports would be to eliminate pre-trial media completely or solely remove jurors who have prior knowledge of the case through media from court proceedings. Much change needs to be made to find the ideal role of media in the criminal justice system, but with regulations and some limitations it can surely be done.