Saturday, June 23, 2012

Two Different Trials

This past few months two criminal cases have riveted my attention. Both involve allegations of unspeakable acts. Both have received huge press coverage all over the world. And both are now in the hands of those who must make the decision. What is so interesting to me is that the two are taking place in different countries, each with their own system of jurisprudence and penalties.

The first is the trial of former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky for allegedly molesting young boys for decades. He has pleaded innocence. He is facing 48 counts, and the case went to the jury (which was immediately sequestered) on Thursday. Shortly after the sequestration, a report that Sandusky's adopted son had come forward and volunteered to testify as to his own molestation by his adoptive father. After several weeks of devastating testimony from other victims and a 'trial balloon' defense of mental illness, the defense was reduced to attacking the veracity of the prosecutor's witnesses and suggesting they were only in it for the money they could receive by suing Penn State.

Last night the jury issued its verdict: guilty of 45 of the 48 counts. Sentencing will be done several weeks from now. Sandusky is 68. After appeals, if he loses, he will in effect have a life sentence.

The second is the trial in Norway of Anders Behring Breivik for the killing of 77 people in that country. Breivik has admitted that he killed all of those people, claiming that he committed these acts to save his country from the ravages of multiculturalism and Islam.

From the Los Angeles Times:

Final arguments in the trial of Anders Behring Breivik, the self-confessed Norwegian killer of 77 people, ended Friday, and the question of his sanity was in the hands of a five-judge panel expected to rule in August.

Breivik has admitted that he carried out last July's bombing of a government building in Oslo that killed eight people and later the same day shot 69 people to death at an annual gathering of the Norwegian Labor Party's youth group on the nearby island of Utoya.
[Emphasis added]

Now, here is where it gets interesting for us Americans. Norway does not have a death penalty, so that is not in issue. What is in issue is Breivik's sanity, only instead of it being raised as a defense by his attorneys, it is being raised by prosecutors because of the penalties which apply.

He faces a maximum allowable sentence of 21 years in prison, which can be extended indefinitely if he is considered a danger to society, or commitment to psychiatric care until deemed safe for release.

Breivik claims he acted out of political idealism to defend ethnic Norway from multiculturalism and Islam and should be judged as a sane human being.
[Emphasis added]

If he judged sane, the most Breivik would be sentenced to is 21 years, with a hearing thereafter to determine whether he could be safely released. If he is judged insane, he could be held longer, even indefinitely, until he is deemed safe to release. His attorneys argued for his sanity and for a minimum sentence.

But the point is that the Norwegian system leaves room for rehabilitation, something which does not often (if ever) enter into sentencing decisions in this country. While I must admit that I doubt that Breivik will ever be safe to return to society, I think there is always a chance that he might actually be rehabilitated. That's not an option in the US. With this many murders, in a state with the death penalty, he would receive it. In a state which no longer has the death penalty, he would receive the sentence of life without the possibility of parole. That's because our system has devolved to one of retribution, of revenge.

I think I like the optimism of the Norwegian system better, but then I'm a soft-headed old woman.

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Anonymous Marcellina said...

I'm not entirely sure what the maximum sentences are here in Austria, but I think it's similar. I have often wanted to write about this difference from America but the whole thing is way over my pay grade. Not knowing current crime statistics, there seems to be much less crime. From personal experience I can say that there is much, much less general aggression among ordinary people. Whether that's cause or effect, I don't know. May be tied to being able to communicate with each other.

3:19 AM  

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