Monday, May 05, 2008

People v. Williams (Cal. Supreme Court - May 5, 2008)

You can read the first ten pages of this 80+ page opinion if you'd like. But it can also be summarized by simply saying that Dexter Williams engaged in a series of events during February 1991 that constitute nothing less than a barbaric display of inhumanity.

Weirdly, though, then read the subsequent pages. In which you discover facts that are difficult to square with calling Williams a total sociopath. Facts that seem to show humanity, at least of a sort. Not remorse or deep feelings, perhaps. But something unexpected nonetheless.

Anyway, he's sentenced to death. And the California Supreme Court unanimously affirms. For reasons that are not at all surprising given both the nature of this institution as well as the facts underlying the sentence.

This is not to assert, by the way, that the California Supreme Court in the post-Bird era is totally incapable of exercising detached legal judgment in death penalty cases. It has that capacity. Indeed, on the same day the opinion in Williams came out (today), the California Supreme Court also published this opinion, in which it unanimously reverses a death sentence based upon the failure to produce exculpatory evidence.

That said, examples like the latter are relatively few and far between. And are largely limited to situations involving innocence -- either factually or as relevant to the penalty phase. Even there, the spectre of recall and electoral pressures are never entirely absent.

So an interesting duo of death penalty cases today.