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Thursday Roundup

Crime and... punishment?  Since the Supreme Court reinstituted the death penalty in 1977, Ohio has sentenced 419 defendants to death.  In the span of that near half century, it has executed precisely 52, about one in eight.  Another 136 still await their date with the gurney, but 231 -- nearly five times the number executed -- were removed from death row:  183 had their sentence or conviction overturned, 22 had their sentence commuted, and 26 died in prison before the sentence could be carried out.

That's not unusual, it turns out; nationwide, the chances of a capital defendant's sentence being overturned on appeal are more than twice the chance of them being executed, and when you throw in the two other outcomes, the chances of execution are one in four. 

Those are some of the details from a review of all death sentences handed during the "modern era" of capital punishment.  Actually, Ohio's about middle of the pack; California has executed just 13 of the 1,013 people it's sentenced to death, while Virginia has been much more efficient, executing 110 of the 152 who were given death sentences.

We often hear about how the death penalty affords closure to the victim's family, but the authors of the study make a good point in the Washington Post article announcing the results:

Ultimately, the American system of capital punishment arguably creates unnecessary suffering for both those defendants sentenced to death and the surviving family members of the victims of the crimes for which the defendants were convicted. A system that ensures prolonged court time, automatic appeals for the convicted inmate - most of whom are eventually successful - and only a small chance of actual execution is a system built on false promises for everyone, and indeed one that seems to verge on torture.

Sex offender restrictions.  Yesterday, I talked about the oral argument in the Supreme Court last week in State v. Blankenship, raising the issue of whether imposing a 25-year sex offender registration requirement on the 21-year-old Blankenship for having sex with a 15-year-old girl constituted cruel and unusual punishment.  A similar issue arose in California with regard to the Sexual Predator Punishment and Control Act:  Jessica's Law, which was passed by referendum in 2006 and made it "unlawful for any person for whom registration is required . . . to reside within 2000 feet of any public or private school, or park where children regularly gather."  Two weeks ago, the California Supreme Court threw out the law in a unanimous decision.

The court tossed it because they found no rational basis for the law.  The plaintiffs were registered sex offenders on parole in San Diego County; under the law's provisions, they were barred from living in 97% of the housing in the County, including several entire cities. 

As a result, many registered sex offenders on parole were homeless and transient, advised by their parole officers to sleep in riverbeds or alleys.  The Court agreed with lower court finding -- and the findings of a California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Task Force -- that this result impaired rather than improved public safety.  It is, of course, harder to monitor people who have no fixed address.  In addition, public policy as a whole, including state law, supported reintegration and employment of convicted persons, which was frustrated by their inability to find housing.

As is often the case with sex offender registration, the law's sweep went far beyond what most people contemplate it does or should do.  Each of the four named plaintiffs had been convicted of a single offense decades before, which didn't involve children.

I, robot-defendant.  I have a Facebook account -- two of them actually, and don't ask me how that happened -- and although I rarely venture onto them, I do keep track of what's happening with the company.  I saw The Social Network, and I kept abreast of the suit by Paul Ceglia, who claimed that he'd entered into a contract with Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's founder, which gave Ceglia half of the company's profits.

Turns out the contract was a fake, and a particularly poor one at that.  An original copy of a contract was found on Ceglia's computer, but it contained no mention of Facebook; the one attached to his lawsuit did name Facebook, but on a page with different fonts and spacing.  Facebook is now suing Ceglia's lawyers, claiming they knew the contract was bogus from the start. 

The consequences to Ceglia were more severe:  he was charged in Federal court with trying to defraud Facebook.  He was awaiting trial in two months, and was out on bail on condition that he wear an ankle monitor.  Then Ceglia went on the lam along with his wife and two kids and, just to show that whatever moral deficits he possesses, he is an animal lover:  he took the family dog along, too.

It was several days before his disappearance was discovered, and you might be wondering why it took so long.  If the monitor was broken, the authorities would immediately know that, and even if it was removed, it shouldn't have taken somebody too long to realize that the monitor wasn't moving, behavior unlike an actual human being.

Well, it wasn't an actual human being who was wearing the monitor.  Ceglia built a robot that moved around and strapped the monitor to it.    

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