Friday, July 25, 2008

People v. Cruz (Cal. Supreme Ct. - July 24, 2008)

Defendant's criminal history consists exclusively of being drunk in public. And in 1991, when he is again arrested for being drunk in public, in the midst of being transported to the main county jail (while handcuffed and still drunk), he inexplicably reaches under the front seat of the patrol car, obtains the fanny pack of the officer who's driving him to jail, grabs the backup pistol that is located therein, and shoots the officer in the head through the plexiglass, killing him. And is then sentenced to death, a conviction and sentence unanimously affirmed by the California Supreme Court.

Two reactions. First, why, why, why would anyone make that decision? It's one of the least "rational" -- if any murder case entails "rationality" -- elections I've seen. You're busted for drunk in public. You have no warrants or real criminal history. Why kill someone to escape?! Doesn't make sense.

Second, I also wonder about the rationality of the death penalty scheme as applied to cases like this. I've read many cases in which the offense and/or defendant was quite a bit more depraved and worthy of the death penalty that this one and yet was sentenced to life (or less). One could, of course, come up with differences between those offenses and this one. But as for applying the death penalty to the "worst of the worst" of offenders, I'm far from confident that our current system effectively accomplishes this objective.