A miscarriage of justice

A cop makes an innocent mistake. The cop winds up dead, and an equally innocent homeowner winds up on death row.

It’s a shame when a cop who makes an innocent mistake dies as a result. It’s worse than a shame when the homeowner who was the victim of that innocent mistake, and who shot the cop in good-faith and reasonable belief that he was shooting an intruder, is sentenced to death for it.

It’s possible that there’s more to the story than advocates for the condemned man are letting us know, though Radley Balko is usually pretty careful and level-headed. I’d be more worried about that if it weren’t true that (1) the cop was the local police chief’s son; (2) the homeowner was black; and (3) the case was tried in Jefferson Davis County, Mississippi.

This is a case that puts liberals and gun-rights advocates on the same side. (I learned about it from Glenn Reynolds.) It’s only fair to remind the pro-gun folks that it was their Republican allies in Washington that passed the laws that will make it nearly impossible for Cory Maye to get justice from the Federal courts by limiting death-penalty appeals.

As for Haley Barbour extending executive clemency to a black cop-killer: asking sounds like a waste of breath to me. And Glenn’s suggestion that the Hollywood crowd divert its attention from Mumia and Tookie to Cory Maye, while it seems justified substantively, would, in practical political terms, certainly do more harm than good.

Footnote In principle, I’m pro-capital punishment. But cases like this one make me doubt that we currently have a justice system — especially in the ex-Confederate states where almost all of the executions take place — competent to handle it. On the other hand, if Cory Maye had been sentenced to life in prison without parole, we might never have heard of the case in the first place.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com