FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Ashcroft Demands the Death Penalty in Puerto Rico

Only the hypocrite is really rotten to the core.

Hannah Arendt,
On Revolution

Once again the death penalty is prowling around the halls of justice looking for work.

Found in the interstices of the local papers was a story that Puerto Rico is the latest beneficiary of Mr. Ashcroft’s gentle importuning on behalf of the friend on whom he relies to dissuade criminals from doing the sorts of things that give the death penalty license to continue with its life’s work.

Mr. Ashcroft’s penchant for overriding his own U.S. attorneys and mandating that they seek the death penalty even when they, in their considered wisdom, have concluded that it is not appropriate in a given case, is well known. According to the Federal Death Penalty Resource Counsel, there have been 30 cases in the last two years in which Mr. Ashcroft overrode the judgement of local U.S. attorneys and demanded the death sentence. In at least one or two cases the demand was made after the U.S. attorneys had already agreed to a plea bargain for a lesser sentence. (Former Attorney General, Janet Reno, by contrast, only overrode local prosecutors 26 times in eight years.)

According to the death penalty’s spokesperson, Barbara Comstock, Mr. Ashcroft wants to establish “one standard” for death sentences and eliminate the present disparity between states. New York and Connecticut, for example, despite being the home of many of our most enlightened citizens, execute fewer people than places like Virginia and Texas. In a perfect world those states would execute the same number of criminals as those two.

John Muhammad and Lee Malvo, the snipers who terrorized the Washington, D.C. area for most of October, were examples of Mr. Ashcroft’s interest in the death penalty’s welfare. The shootings started in Montgomery County, Maryland, and ended there with the arrest of the two men. That was an unfortunate coincidence, as far as Mr. Ashcroft was concerned, because Maryland had a moratorium on hiring Mr. Ashcroft’s friend and before the existence of the moratorium, had permitted the death penalty to work its will on only three people in the preceding twenty-five years, a dismal record indeed from the perspective of the death penalty and Mr. Ashcroft. (He helped the death penalty in that case by taking steps that resulted in moving the trial to Virginia whose enthusiasm for the death penalty is exceeded only by that of Texas.) Having worked his magic in Maryland, Mr. Ashcroft has now turned his attention to Puerto Rico. That benighted place which is less sophisticated than its cousins on the mainland, enacted a constitution in 1952 that has this bizarre sentence: “The death penalty shall not exist.” That is a palpably absurd statement and one which the death penalty finds demeaning. Everyone knows it both exists and performs a useful function. People know what the Puerto Ricans meant is that they don’t want the death penalty to take up residence in their fair island. For them the attorney general has news. His friend exists in Puerto Rico notwithstanding the Puerto Rican constitution.

A federal trial is taking place in Puerto Rico as this is written in which the Justice Department wants to enlist the aid of the death penalty when it’s time for punishment. According to a report in the New York Times, everyone from local politicians, to lawyers, scholars and just plain folk have denounced the trial. They call it a betrayal of their constitution which was approved in its entirety by the U.S. Congress in 1952.

The Justice Department didn’t see it that way. Court filings by the U.S. attorney say that federal criminal laws override local laws irrespective of their genesis. The law establishing Puerto Rico says, among other things, that federal laws that are “not locally inapplicable” are in force on the island. Whether that prevents the death penalty from plying its trade is a matter of conjecture and inconsistent decisions.

Commenting on a Puerto Rican capital case being tried in front of him some years ago, Salvador E. Casellas, a federal judge said: “It shocks the conscience to impose the ultimate penalty, death, upon American citizens who are denied the right to participate directly or indirectly in the government that enacts and authorizes the imposition of such punishment.” The First Circuit in Boston said it understood that Puerto Ricans were not friends of the death penalty but nonetheless permitted it to compete in the trial saying the argument about the death penalty is “a political one, not a legal one.”

William Matthewman is the lawyer representing Acosta Martinez, the defendant in the case now being tried. He is under court order not to discuss the case. In his only reported public comment he said: “It seems a waste of time and resources for the federal government to go into any jurisdiction where it’s not wanted.” Mr. Matthewman has not met John Ashcroft.

As observed above, Mr. Ashcroft likes nothing better than to go into a jurisdiction where he’s not wanted, if in so doing he’s helping out the death penalty. That has not, however, been as helpful to his friend as he might have hoped. The Death Penalty Information Center reports that from 1988 to 2000, 46% of the federal capital trials resulted in death sentences. Since John Ashcroft has been attorney general, only 15% of the capital trials have produced that result. Juries in 15 of the last 16 cases tried have declined to impose the death penalty. That might tell the meddlesome Mr. Ashcroft something were he listening.

CHRISTOPHER BRAUCHLI is a Boulder, Colorado lawyer. He can be reached at: brauchli.56@post.harvard.edu

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
August 17, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Nick Pemberton
Donald Trump and the Rise of Patriotism 
CJ Hopkins
Where Have All the Nazis Gone?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Running Out of Fools
Joseph Natoli
First Amendment Rights and the Court of Popular Opinion
Andrew Levine
Midterms 2018: What’s There to Hope For?
Ajamu Baraka
Opposing Bipartisan Warmongering is Defending Human Rights of the Poor and Working Class
Paul Street
Corporate Media: the Enemy of the People
David Macaray
Trump and the Sex Tape
Daniel Falcone
The Future of NATO: an Interview With Richard Falk
Robert Hunziker
Hothouse Earth
Cesar Chelala
The Historic Responsibility of the Catholic Church
Ron Jacobs
The Barbarism of US Immigration Policy
Kenneth Surin
In Shanghai
William Camacaro - Frederick B. Mills
The Military Option Against Venezuela in the “Year of the Americas”
Nancy Kurshan
The Whole World Was Watching: Chicago ’68, Revisited
Robert Fantina
Yemeni and Palestinian Children
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Orcas and Other-Than-Human Grief
Shoshana Fine – Thomas Lindemann
Migrants Deaths: European Democracies and the Right to Not Protect?
Paul Edwards
Totally Irrusianal
Thomas Knapp
Murphy’s Law: Big Tech Must Serve as Censorship Subcontractors
Mark Ashwill
More Demons Unleashed After Fulbright University Vietnam Official Drops Rhetorical Bombshells
Ralph Nader
Going Fundamental Eludes Congressional Progressives
Hans-Armin Ohlmann
My Longest Day: How World War II Ended for My Family
Matthew Funke
The Nordic Countries Aren’t Socialist
Daniel Warner
Tiger Woods, Donald Trump and Crime and Punishment
Dave Lindorff
Mainstream Media Hypocrisy on Display
Jeff Cohen
Democrats Gather in Chicago: Elite Party or Party of the People?
Victor Grossman
Stand Up With New Hope in Germany?
Christopher Brauchli
A Family Affair
Jill Richardson
Profiting From Poison
Patrick Bobilin
Moving the Margins
Alison Barros
Dear White American
Celia Bottger
If Ireland Can Reject Fossil Fuels, Your Town Can Too
Ian Scott Horst
Less Voting, More Revolution
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
We Are Winning
Graham Peebles
Climate Change, Extreme Weather, Destructive Lifestyles
Peter Certo
Trump Snubbed McCain, Then the Media Snubbed the Rest of Us
Mel Gurtov
Saving Democracy
Dan Ritzman
Drilling ANWR: One of Our Last Links to the Wild World is in Danger
Brandon Do
The World and Palestine, Palestine and the World
Negin Owliaei
Toys R Us May be Gone, But Its Workers’ Struggle Continues
Chris Wright
An Updated and Improved Marxism
Daryan Rezazad
Iran and the Doomsday Machine
Patrick Bond
Africa’s Pioneering Marxist Political Economist, Samir Amin (1931-2018)
Thomas Knapp
Murphy’s Law: Big Tech Must Serve as Censorship Subcontractors
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail