You are a state legislator representing a district of about 100,000 citizens in the northern part of a state. You receive word that a death row inmate from your district is scheduled for execution in the next week. This inmate has been on death row for more than 20 years for a heinous crime involving the death of a 20 year old.
The crime involved two individuals who followed a 20-year-old man from his home to a convenience store about five miles away. When the man emerged from the store, the two offenders forced him into his truck with one of the offenders. One offender drove their car, while the other forced the victim to follow to an isolated location in the woods about 20 miles away. Once there, the offenders beat the victim, shot him, and set him on fire. They, then, buried him in a shallow grave.
The victimization was the result of another criminal case. The 20-year-old victim had witnessed the two offenders rape a young female at a party about four months earlier. The victim was set to testify against the two offenders in the rape case. The two offenders assumed that killing the victim would resolve the rape case (i.e., no witness = no case).
The offenders were identified because one dropped his driver’s license at the scene of crime. After hours of interrogation, one of the offenders confessed to the crime and led detectives to the shallow grave. He also implicated his co-offender. Both men were charged with malice murder, felony murder, kidnapping, aggravated battery, concealing a death, and stood trial later for the rape charges. The offenders received the death penalty in the murder cases. The conviction has been upheld by the state supreme court under appeals.
As is customary, once notified of the impending execution, the death row inmate filed a request for clemency with the state parole board. The board heard the case, and less than 24 hours before the time of the execution, they changed the inmate’s sentence from the death penalty to life in prison without parole. Jury members, the original prosecutor, defense counsel, or judge were not involved in the decision-making process of the parole board.
Citizens in your district are outraged as this was one of the most highly profiled murders in your area. By law, the parole board does not have to provide information regarding the decision—other than the result—the factors used to make the decision, or consult with any legal representatives in changing the sentence.
Questions for Discussion
As a state legislator, what options do you have available to you in calming the disgruntled citizens in your district? How can you use the law, politics, or cultural expectations to make changes to the parole board or the criminal justice system?
How does a decision like this impact the public’s perception of the criminal justice system as a whole? How can this decision impact policing or the corrections system on a day-to-day basis?
Identify future environmental changes that will affect the criminal justice system.