Friday, June 21, 2013

Can't Win for Losing (Or Is That Lose for Winning?)

It would seem to be over.

Those whose job it is to have the last word have had it.

The condemned man loses again.

Sorry, guy.  And may God have mercy. . . .

Wait.  Cancel that last sentence.  I mean, maybe.  God might yet have mercy, but the court won't. The governor won't.  It's all over but the hand wringing and the wailing of the condemned man as he's led back to his cell.

His name is Gary Haugen, and he can't win for losing.  Which he did, Thursday, in the Supreme Court of the State of Oregon which unanimously said that he has no right to die.  More precisely, they said he has no right to be executed.  More precisely still, they said he has no right to insist on having his death sentence carried out despite the Governor having granted him a reprieve.

A brief review of the plot (which you can follow in more detail by reading through prior posts here) seems in order.

Haugen was sent to prison for life for the murder of his girlfriend's mother.  While he was in prison, he killed another inmate and was sentenced to death.  He refused to appeal and as the date of his execution came closer, Governor Kitzhaber granted him a reprieve to last as long as Kitzhaber remained in office. To which Haugen said something like,
Thank you, but I decline your kind offer.
or maybe it sounded more like
Fuck you and the horse you rode in on.  I ain't taking no fucking reprieve.  And you can't make me.
Which, Oregon being part of the good ol' US of A, naturally meant litigation.  Haugen won the first round, the judge declaring that although he wasn't particularly happy to rule that way, the governor can't just grant a reprieve.  All he can do is offer one.  If he does, the prisoner can accept or reject it.  And so the Governor appealed and now the Ohio Supemes have spoken  And they told Haugen to shut up.  Oregon's constitution gives the prisoner no say in whether to accept a reprieve.  The governor can just do it.  And he did.

As for Haugen's claim that the uncertainty of what will happen next is cruel and unusual punishment, well, you can pretty much guess how that came out. "We do not doubt," wrote Chief Justice Balmer,
that being on death row, awaiting possible execution and facing uncertainty as to if, and when, that sentence might be carried out, exacts a toll on people.
But the toll is not so great as to violate the Constitution. Besides, the Eighth Amendment prohibits imposing punishment.  Suspending a punishment isn't imposing one.

So Kitzhaber wins.  Reprieve remains.

Haugen is undaunted.  Per Helen Jung in the Oregonian.
In a phone interview, Haugen vowed to keep fighting, although he acknowledged the chances of success are slim.
But it is important to keep challenging Kitzhaber, Haugen said, questioning why the governor has not convened a committee to examine the death penalty or taken other action to change Oregon's capital punishment system since issuing the reprieve. 
Of course, had Kitzhaber done that, the reprieve might have turned into a permanent commutation. And then where would Haugen be?
Oh, yeah.  He'd be off death row.  Wouldn't that be a bitch.

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