Thursday, March 24, 2005

Saudi Justice and the Death Penalty

A couple of nights ago I was flipping through channels and chanced upon the Dennis Miller show. Dennis was talking about applying Saudi justice to the case of Scott Peterson.

I lived in Saudi Arabia for about 8 years and am always amazed at how often people here, when discussing the Saudi’s and their customs, get it wrong. But in this case, Dennis was spot-on. He described Saudi justice, in capital punishment cases as being thus; the family of the victim gets to decide if the perp lives or dies. If they decide that he lives, they can demand “blood money” from the perp’s family (~$100,000K, when I was last there) for the perp’s life. If they decide he dies, he gets taken down to the local “chop-chop” square, adjacent to the central mosque. This happens on Friday, the Muslim holy day (analogous to Christian Sunday) just after the noon prayers. His hands are tied behind his back. He’s put on his knees and bent over so his body is parallel to the ground. A proclamation is read to the audience detailing the crime, the fact that the perp is guilty and that the King has approved the execution (the King has to approve all executions). The local executioner comes out with a royal sword. The perp is prodded with a stick or another sword to force his head up and, as soon as it is, with a single quick stroke, the perp is beheaded. The crowd cheers (punishments are done in public). And that’s that. Quick, efficient, final. And quite a crowd-pleaser.

These beheadings are also announced in the local newspapers. I don’t have a copy of an Arab News in front of me, but the story would read something like this;
“On Friday, April 17th (in the Arabic newspapers, the date would be the Hejira date), Mohammed El-Loser was beheaded for the crime of killing the son of Abdullah Alhusseini. The Alhusseini family chose execution rather than taking the blood money. In accordance with Islamic law, HRH King Fahd has approved the sentence. The Ministry of Justice carried out the sentence and takes this opportunity to reiterate its intentions to do whatever is necessary to maintain public safety and security.”
A couple of additional twists; First, if the immediate family of the victim are all minors (for example, if the parents of one or more under-aged children are murdered), the killer is kept in jail until the minor turns 18. At that time he or she is asked if they want the blood money or the killer to be executed. Second, the crimes for which capital punishment is meted out? Murder, Rape, Arson (or other crime) which results in the loss of life or apostasy (renunciation of the Islamic religion). Third, it doesn’t matter what Nationality you are. If you did the deed and are caught, you will be punished. The American consulate is careful to tell Americans living in Saudi Arabia that the only thing they can do if you are caught up in the Saudi Criminal Justice system is to try and ensure that you are treated fairly according to Saudi Law. And fourth, their court system works a bit differently than ours. Both sides have their own attorney. However, the attorneys work for the judge not the client because they are there to determine the truth, not to "win the case".

So I’d like to propose a variant of Saudi justice be applied to American capital cases. If someone is convicted of a capital crime, the immediate family of the victim gets to choose if the prisoner is executed or imprisoned for life (I don’t ever want a killer to be able to buy their way out of justice). And if the family opts for execution, they get to choose between lethal injection, hanging, or the electric chair.

This should satisfy most everyone. The people who want revenge / vengeance / justice (pick your own term) would be able to get it. And those immediate families who truly are against the death penalty would be able to spare it in their case. And they and the public would have the satisfaction (and comfort) of knowing that the killer is locked up for life.

The caveat in all of this is that we simply have to do a better job of determining if someone is guilty of a capital crime or not. I’ve blogged about this before. For example, I don’t think that Scott Peterson should be eligible for execution because ALL of the evidence in his case is circumstantial. But in the case of John Couey? I want all of the i’s dotted and t’s crossed. But unless this guy turns out to be one of these nuts who will confess to anything (just for the publicity), then I say let Jessica Lunsford’s dad get his wish and fry the bastard.

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