Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Bible v. Ryan (9th Cir. - July 1, 2009)

Judge Gould writes a 22-page, single spaced opinion that can probably be summarized in a single -- telling -- paragraph. Here's my synopsis:

"It's clear that Richard Lynn Bible killed a 9-year old girl for totally no reason. Given that fact, we all know that pretty much any judge or jury would vote to sentence him to death. So I don't care what errors might have been made. They're harmless."

Which, quite frankly, seems factually accurate. There's no extensive torture here. But if you kidnap a nine-year old girl who's riding her bike in a neighborhood, sexually assault her, and then bash her head in, there's not much more one needs to say. Anyone with a child -- or who has a friend or family member with a child -- is going to think: "That could easily have been my child or my friend's child." You're getting sentenced to death.

But isn't it a somewhat strange system that allows -- indeed, arguably compels -- such a facile result? For a heavily process-oriented democracy, it's a bit anomalous to me to say that even in the context of the ultimate state-sponsored penalty, we don't really care about process, since we already know what you'll receive.

We all understand, of course, why the system takes that approach. But it's still an interesting system.