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Friday Roundup

Going the extra mile.  A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the oral argument in the Supreme Court in Glossip v. Gross, which involved the latest development in the evolution of the death penalty in America.  We've come a long way, baby, since Gary Gilmore was executed by firing squad in 1977, the first person to suffer that fate after the Supreme Court re-legitimized capital punishment in Gregg v. Georgia, overruling its decision four years earlier in Furman v. Georgia.  (What is it about Georgia?)  Glossip presents an important issue.  Over 85% of all executions in America since 1977 have been performed by lethal injection, but the drugs which were commonly used for that purpose are no longer available, because the companies which manufacture them don't allow it.

That's prompted several states to look for other methods; in fact, Oklahoma's governor just signed a bill allowing the use of nitrogen gas should Glossip come out the wrong way for the State.  Let's just hope nobody who's in charge of making those decisions got any ideas from the story the other day:

North Korea's Defence Minister Hyon Yong-chol has been executed for showing disloyalty to leader Kim Jong-un, South Korea's spy agency has told parliament.

MPs were told Mr. Hyon was killed on 30 April by anti-aircraft fire in front of an audience of hundreds, the Yonhap news agency reports.

Now, I realize that over the past 60+ years North Korea has been run by dictators who make Joe Stalin look like Mr. Rogers, and Jong-un, the current one, takes bat-shit crazy to a whole 'nuther level.  But still:  anti-aircraft fire?  (And keep in mind that Yong-chol's display of disloyalty took the form of falling asleep during one of Jong-un's speeches, an understandable faux-pas since I'm guessing that "Jong-un" and "silver-tongued" has never appeared in the same sentence.)  But apparently in North Korea, when they're not coming up with different ways to cook bark, they're figuring out different methods of executing people who commit some real or imagined offense against the Supreme Leader.  Death by mortar fire is another favorite.   No, I am not making that up.  I think.

A year ago, Dennis McGuire's execution here in Ohio went seriously bad when it took him 23 minutes to die, with him spending his final minutes writhing on the gurney.  If Ohio's legislators had been willing to go a little more over the top, all that bad publicity could have been avoided.  Just sayin'.  

Surfin' the Net.  As always, one of the fun parts of doing a write-up like the preceding one is that you stumble across all kinds of interesting stuff.  Did you know that the first person to be executed in America was Captain George Kendall of the Jamestown Colony in 1608?  (And yes, you're welcome for helping you win your next bar bet.)  He was convicted of being a spy for Spain, but four years later the Virginia Governor seriously lowered the bar, mandating the death penalty for offenses such as stealing grapes, killing chickens, and trading with the Indians.  Even that paled in comparison to how it was earlier in Merry Olde England, where capital offenses included marrying a Jew and not confessing to a crime.

Of course, what do you think happened if you did confess to a crime?  That's some catch, that Catch-22.

A revelation.  I finally figured out the real problem with appellate work:  you can't plead the case out.  If you've got a bad case at the trial level, you can always try to work out a deal.  If you've got a bad case on appeal, you can't.  (You could file an Anders brief, but you know my feelings about that.)  I just wrote briefs on two cases that were hoooorrrr-ible.  In the 8th District, they grant you one 30-day extension as a matter of course, but an additional extension requires a showing of "emergency circumstances," which can include a very complex case (one of mine was an aggravated murder case with a 2,200-page transcript), or an extremely heavy workload.  I took the emergency extension in both.  (And the next date is the drop-dead date:  they advise you that "no further extension will be considered.")  I was tempted to include as a reason for seeking an emergency extension in my two cases that they were so bad I could barely bring myself to think about them, let alone work on the brief.

But the operative phrase in the first paragraph was "try to work out a deal."  In both cases, the attorneys had gotten a relatively decent plea offer, considering the circumstances, and in both the defendant had insisted on going to trial.  There are some people who go through life making very bad decisions, and criminal defendants constitute a grossly disproportionate subset of that group.  I have lots of stories of defendants who should have pled rather than go to trial, and now I have two more.

Happy birthday to me.  Yesterday was the 9th anniversary of this blog.  It all started in a small Iowa town with a boy who dared to dream big dreams...  Well, no, it didn't.  If you want to take a look at how it all did start, however, you can check it out here.


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