Former criminal defense lawyer Tim Armbruster writes from Tucson that he wonders what the victims’ families in capital cases think of the decade-long delays (Letters, August/September 2002). The answer is that they are disgusted by a system that seems to care only about the murderer and not at all about those murdered.
Armbruster claims that a high reversal rate in capital cases means the system 'gets it wrong.' Since not a single reversal in Oregon had anything to do with factual guilt or innocence, such a statement is an insult to the intelligence of anyone familiar with the realities of capital cases; furthermore, Oregonians overwhelmingly support capital punishment, but the academics and legal elite do not and will frustrate the efforts of prosecutors, juries, crime victims and the voters at every possible opportunity.
Finally, Armbruster seeks swift and sure sentences as the 'hallmark of justice.' He must subscribe to the Taliban school of jurisprudence, or more likely, he thinks that absent swift justice, we just ought to let the poor dears out of prison.
Those who, like us, were a continent away from the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, can hardly appreciate the horror and emotional trauma experienced by those who were more immediately affected. And it is impossible to express in words our feelings for those who lost their lives or their loved ones, either in the attack or in the subsequent rescue efforts. But we can be alert to the possible consequences if our government, either for vengeance or concern for security, takes measures that jeopardize the very freedoms of its citizens that we claim to be protecting.
Such actions as surveillance without probable cause, arrest on mere suspicion, detention incommunicado and without charge, denial of counsel and trial by executive fiat, bring to mind the words of a federal judge in setting aside the judgment in one of the World War II Japanese exclusion cases: 'As historical precedent it stands as a constant caution that in times of war or declared military necessity our institutions must be vigilant in protecting constitutional guarantees. It stands as a caution that in times of distress the shield of military necessity and national security must not be used to protect governmental actions from close scrutiny and accountability. It stands as a caution that in times of international hostility and antagonisms our institutions, legislative, executive and judicial, must be prepared to exercise their authority to protect all citizens from the petty fears and prejudices that are so easily aroused.' Korematsu v. United States of America, 584 F. Supp. 1406@1420 (N.D. Cal., 1984).
Randall B. Kester