They blinded me with science. I've been hanging out on a political forum for the past twenty years, and it used to be that I'd have to go over to the library if I wanted to research some issue like gun control or capital punishment. That's so fifteen minutes ago; if you can't find it with Google, it doesn't exist.
And not just news or political issues. Let's say, for example, that you wanted to find out whether that marijuana joint a day is not only slightly addling your mind and making a bag of Doritos seem like the Holy Grail, but increasing the risk of your getting lung cancer. What you'd do is swing by the National Center for Biotechnology Information database, a search engine which allows you to download thousands of peer-reviewed papers on virtually any subject pertaining to "biomedical and genomic information." In fact, get a box of Oreos, put some Zeppelin on, and kick back and prepare to become informed. Because there's twenty thousand articles on marijuana alone. And you'll be relieved to know that while your habit may make holding a steady job more challenging, you don't have to worry about spending your end days coughing up chunks of your lung. The largest study ever done on the subject, which included people who'd smoked more than 22,000 joints over their lifetime, found that there was no association between Mary Jane and getting lung cancer. In fact, not only is there no indication of correlation between the two, but smoking an occasional doobie might actually have a protective effect. Just think: toking away so you can engage in those pointless hours-long debates about which was the worst rock group of the 1980's will also protect you from the Big C.
So here's the head of the National Institutes of Health, which runs the Biotech Information database, speaking at a dinner last week:
We don't know a lot about the things we wish we did [with respect to marijuana]. I've been asked repeatedly, does regular marijuana smoking, because you inhale deeply, increase your risk of lung cancer? We don't know. Nobody's done that study.
My cup runneth over. After weeks of trying to make a blog post out of yet another appellate decision on post-release control or consecutive sentencing, I hit the jackpot: a SCOTUS decision on complicity law, and four decisions from the Ohio Supreme Court, on the child enticement statute, pre-sentence reports, modification of lifetime driving suspensions, and wrongful imprisonment.
There was one other SCOTUS decision that came beneath the radar, the per curiam opinion in Hinton v. Alabama. As might be expected from a PC opinion - the case wasn't even argued -- there's no big question of law to be resolved here, but it's an interesting read nonetheless. Hinton was on trial for capital murder, and one of the key issues was ballistics evidence: according to the police, the bullets they recovered from the scene of the robbery/murders Hinton was charged with matched the gun found in a search of Hinton's house. There was no other evidence linking Hinton to the crime.
The issue in the case was ineffective assistance of counsel: the defense attorney thought there was a $500 cap for experts in death penalty cases in Alabama. The judge gave him $1,000, because there were two cases, and invited the defense to file a motion asking for more. The attorney didn't do that, and unknown to both him and the judge, the cap had been eliminated the year before, and the expenses could be reimbursed if they were "reasonably incurred" and approved in advance by the trial judge.
So what was the damage? Believing he was limited to $1,000, the only "expert" the lawyer could find willing to work at that price was Andrew Payne. The attorney had some trepidation about it; he'd found only one other lawyer who knew the Payne, and the lawyer didn't recommend him.
The trepidation was warranted: on cross-examination, the prosecutor got Payne to acknowledge that he'd only testified twice in the past eight years, with one of the cases involving a shotgun, not a handgun as had been used in the robberies Hinton was charged with. Payne admitted that he'd had difficulty operating the microscope at the forensic laboratory, to the point where he'd had to ask for help from one of the state's experts. The coup de grace was administered by the closing colloquy:
Q. Mr. Payne, do you have some problem with your vision?
A. Why, yes.
Q. How many eyes do you have?
The Court found that the expert was "badly discredited" -- ya think? -- and that if the lawyer had known of the raised cap, he could've gotten a better one.
The opinion doesn't mention whether Payne talked like a pirate, but I'm not discounting that.