Indian Country Today
by Steve Russell
Capital punishment, the saying goes, means that those without the capital get the punishment, and in more than 35 years of labor in criminal law, I’ve yet to see a case that disproves it. Capital cases are usually defended by court-appointed lawyers, because prosecutors do not typically choose to seek the death penalty against defendants who can afford the stratospheric legal fees of a capital defense. The only capital case I defended in private practice was one of the very few I’ve seen where the lawyers were hired rather than appointed, and we won—victory being defined in that instance as the government not being allowed to kill our client.
Death row, like most poor neighborhoods, has a disproportionate number of minority residents. Those of us who come from poor neighborhoods know that there are mean people there, and plenty of conditions that make even good people mean. We also know that the vast majority of poor people survive those conditions without becoming mean.
Good or mean, the hearty survival rate of poor people justifies in the minds of some what they call “putting down the mad dogs,” in spite of the fact that it is much more expensive to kill sociopaths than it is to lock them up without the possibility of parole. Those are the two choices for dealing with the people who have become too dangerous to live among us, and such people do exist—in all my years of practice, I have had contact with three of them; three out of the thousands of criminal defendants with whom I have dealt.