Working With / For the Death Penalty


#1

Hey, all,

I hope you'll give this some consideration. It's something I've been thinking about a lot, and has a great deal of personal meaning for me. I'm a law student who plans on working as a prosecutor. I've already done a few internships as a federal prosecutor, and plan on doing more.

During this work, I have of course seen a great deal of evil (I know that's a dramatic term - but there is no substitute). And despite that, I do not waiver at all in my religious conviction that the death penalty (at least in America) is simply immoral. The federal law provides, however, for the death penalty in some cases.

One of my superiors this summer is a devout Catholic himself, and he discussed the issue with me somewhat. But we never got to have too lengthy of a conversation about it, partially because we were busy, and partially, I think, because he wouldn't want to say anything that might jeopardize his career (though I find this last bit somewhat implausible - still, it might have been a consideration).

He had worked on at least a few death penalty cases, and said that he found a way to reconcile his religious beliefs with his job. But he never told me exactly how.

I have thought about this a long time, but: how should I reconcile my profession (which I feel is a calling) with my religious beliefs?

First, let me say that I don't think it's possible for me to simply ask a supervisor, "Hey, don't put me on any capital cases." It's not professional, and not fair.

Second, the only thing I can think of is justifying work on capital cases is by simply giving in to agency. That is, 1) prosecutors enforce the law, 2) prosecutors do not let their own *personal *beliefs influence how they prosecute cases. So, I as a prosecutor should 1) enforce the law and 2) do not let my personal beliefs about the death penalty influence how I prosecute a case.

Still, I feel that this is sort of like passing the buck: "I'm just doing my job." I don't like that at all.

I appreciate your thoughts and prayers.


#2

My son is a cop and there is always the possibility that he will have to take a life to protect his or another's. If the death penalty is possible, it must be applicable. Beside, you are not the one giving the penalty, that would be the judge's job even if your asking for it. My son looks at it as the war on crime and killing in a war is permissible...but I'm not a lawyer, civil or cannon.


#3

You definitely have my prayers. You might want to consider exactly where you want to work. If you do go with prosecution, you might want to ask about being put on white collar crimes. These shouldn't be associated with the death penalty. And you might want to talk to someone higher up when you're doing another internship. If this is going to be an issue, you would need to know it in order to make a well informed choice.

Ok, I'm all over the place on this. I hope I'm making sense here. :o We need lawyers with morals these days. Don't give up on your faith. Be strong enough to make a stand here. You may not get to work in exactly what you want to do, but you could still be a good lawyer.


#4

As a prosecutor your job is to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty of X offence.

The job of the defense attorney to to argue that there are grounds to believe that the accused is not guilty.

The job of the Jury is to apply the evidence and arguments and pronounce someone guilty or innocent.

The job of the Judge is to make sure correct procedure is followed and to pass sentence.

Disclosure: I quit law after getting my degree and entered religious life, left after 6 years and worked as a prison chaplain and then as a teacher of street and gang kids in great part because of the interior struggle about the best way to build a just society.

Perhaps you are not called to be a lawyer;)


#5

[quote="seakelp, post:1, topic:318604"]

Second, the only thing I can think of is justifying work on capital cases is by simply giving in to agency. That is, 1) prosecutors enforce the law, 2) prosecutors do not let their own *personal *beliefs influence how they prosecute cases. So, I as a prosecutor should 1) enforce the law and 2) do not let my personal beliefs about the death penalty influence how I prosecute a case.

Still, I feel that this is sort of like passing the buck: "I'm just doing my job." I don't like that at all.

I appreciate your thoughts and prayers.

[/quote]

As a former cop from a family of cops and lawyers, I have thought about this and had experience with it.

Is it possible for you to represent the government, the interests of the people in a case as well as you can, for the judge to advise a jury that the death penalty is one of the options, but not ask for it, yourself?

I doubt it. I doubt it, not because you cannot, but because you will not be allowed to by your bosses. That is, you'll do it or be fired.

Having said that, you also won't be handling any death penalty cases on your own for a long time. So you'll get more experience with the politics and with the process and with your own conscience.

I'll share a story of how I dealt with being a cop and knowing that as part of my job, shooting someone was a definite possibility and there is no such thing as "shoot to wound."

Guy stuck up a drugstore for drugs at gunpoint. I was the lead car in the chase (close when the alarm went) and we were at it for almost 30 minutes, chased him right out of town into the hills. Now, all the other cars just dropped out, he'd tried to swerve around some cyclists so I would hit them, he had taken fire from another cop and was known to be armed. So it was all background music and helicopters overhead and very very dangerous at speeds over 90 mph.

But here's the thing. When the last police car dropped behind and I was the only one with him, and I was close, I knew that at some point there'd be a confrontation between myself and this guy. No chopper was going to be setting down in the place we were. It was clear to me I would very likely have to kill him or he would be killing me.

See, usually things happen so fast you don't have time to think about it. But this was one heck of a long ride, so now I did. You will, too. Have all this time. You'll learn to hate them, to dehumanize them, to want to kill them yourself. This work is hard on the soul.

The thought that came to me in the car was this:. It really isn't me, Julia, killing Fred, it really is a cop doing a job in a circumstance I did not create. I had two choices: stop chasing him or do my job. The man made a lot of choices and I made a commitment to my people who worked behind the counters of 7-11s and drugstores and banks. My job was to apprehend him. To stop him. And if he made it necessary, I'd kill him. And I never worried about it, again.

"That's my job" isn't a cop-out. Not in my opinion.

You can specialize in other kinds of prosecution. You can become a fraud specialist or a financial crimes analyst. But if you are going to pursue violent criminals, you'll be asking as effectively as you can for some of them to be put to death because it's your job. So, yeah, you need to decide if this is a job you want to do. You need to also decide if you can stand looking at the evil every day for the rest of your life. It will change you. It changes everyone.

I left that job not because I wasn't willing to kill, but because I was becoming like them. I wanted to kill them, a rather large number of them, my own better dead list. I am not convinced to this day that everything that walks on two legs and looks human actually possesses a soul. My Faith says they do, but...

I'm glad you are thinking about this. Maybe get a spiritual director if you can. Be careful of yourself. God bless you abundantly.


#6

I retired from NYPD after 20 years. I do not believe in the death penalty. When I first started out, I did. In this line of work you find that witnesses lie or are mistaken. In a simple traffic accident you can ask four people what happened and you get four different stories. Too many innocent people go to jail, the system is imperfect, but the only one we have. I believe in life in prison w/o parole, where your life is considered on "borrowed" time. I feel if someone is convicted of a capital crime, if they assault a correction officer, they should be able to shoot them. There is nothing worse than someone convicted of murder who has nothing to lose.

As a cop or a prosecutor, you have to do things you do not believe in. You may feel in your heart that a complainant is lying, but you have no proof and have to make the arrest. I do not believe in drug enforcement, but you take an oath to enforce laws. As a prosecutor, you are compelled to charge the highest charge you can fitting the crime. If a judge or jury sentences them to death, it was them, not you. If you still cannot accept that, then you have no choice but to seek another line of work.


#7

CCC 2267 Assuming that the guilty party's identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.
If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.

Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm - without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself - the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity "are very rare, if not practically non-existent."


#8

Not all States have the death penalty, and some of them that do never put anyone to death. Here in California a death row inmate has a better chance of dying of old age. :smiley:


#9

[quote="baptismal, post:8, topic:318604"]
Not all States have the death penalty, and some of them that do never put anyone to death. Here in California a death row inmate has a better chance of dying of old age. :D

[/quote]

I think the OP mentioned Federal prosecution and there is a death penalty. One case would be for treason. Not sure if that's where your interests lye but I'm pretty sure that penalty is rarely, if ever used in Federal court. However there are 33 states that could use the death penalty.
IMHO, Triuphguy gave the best information. You'd have to work the CCC out with your conscience but I would think that prosecuting and asking for the death penalty as a lawyer is one thing but there is still the jury who has to determine guilt and the judge who would assign the penalty. His job is the one I would not have.


#10

Let's boil it down to simple statements:
1) A has a conviction that the death penalty is wrong.
2) The extra specific work A does as a prosecutor in a death penalty case becomes a work that certifies that person B is eligible for the death penalty.
3) Person A provides direct material assistance to the wrong A understands is completed by the State.

If 1) and 2) is correct I don't see how I could say 3) isn't true. I think this is very different than the police work of defending people (including himself) on the street with appropriate force that may include using a side arm. The meaning of "wrong" has a very wide range. I'd not say this wrong is tremendous, but if it is even a little wrong no one should be willing to do it that has the conviction the death penalty is wrong.

I myself have built nuclear weapon systems before the end of the cold war. I was told by many of my fellow Catholics that it was wrong. My conviction was that the nuclear deterrent has helped reduce warfare in much of the world. Still, I became unsatisfied with working on something that I hoped just sat there until it was time to dismantle it and changed jobs. I add this to say that even in cases where the above statement 1) isn't strictly true you need to feel that your work is more than a negative.


#11

I have never tried a case in Federal Court (although I did criminal defense for 6 years in state court). However, if Federal Court is similar to state courts, you are not just going to work for the conviction; you are also going to argue for the penalty.

There seems to be a certain amount of “glory work” in death penalty cases. There may not be anywhere near as much “glory work” in "white collar crime’ cases, unless you happen to get on a Madoff case. However, there is lots of room within the justice system for a prosecutor, and you may have more choices than you think, and not necessarily with career hazards built in.

You need to talk to someone either outside the system who knows it well, or someone in the system who would not be a supervisor, to find out if you can fit in without compromise. As to someone outside the system, look for someone who is a defense attorney who was a federal prosecutor before.

And the FBI is always looking for attorneys. I know one attorney reasonably well who worked for the FBI after law school, and then went into the Department of Justice. I will have to ask him what he did there.


#12

[quote="seakelp, post:1, topic:318604"]
I do not waiver at all in my religious conviction that the death penalty (at least in America) is simply immoral

[/quote]

You identify yourself as a Catholic so I think it would be good for you to investigate more deeply what the church's position is and how it was developed. I am Catholic also, have rather extensively searched church documents (on line), and strongly believe that capital punishment is in no way immoral nor opposed by the church.

If your knowledge of church teaching in this area is based solely on CCC 2267 (and EV 56) then I would suggest you could profit by reading earlier catechisms and statements from earlier popes, not to mention the writings of the Doctors of the Church and the Early Fathers, who were nearly unanimous in their support of capital punishment.

Ender


#13

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