Begging The Question

Friday, January 06, 2006

God I Love Being Right
Stem cell discovery could help fight breast cancer

Of course this is a long way from a cure, but it's encouraging news none the less. Being a history major, science like this amazes me. The things that are possible, or close to becoming possible, that weren't even fathomable to laymen like me just a few years ago is incredible. This point was driven home at a doctor's visit a couple months ago.

For everyone here who doesn't know (and that list probly includes all but Milbarge), Mrs. Haff and I are expecting our first. (Please send cash in lieu of congratulations) At the first doctor's visit we were giving a kit with the option of having the baby's cord blood collected and stored, in the event either it or the Mrs. needs stem cell treatment for something in the future. Prior to Bush's national speech a few years ago on funding for stem cell research, I'd never heard of it. Now I'm about to write a check to help insure the future health of my child. Weird.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

DNA Testing and True Believers
Via How Appealing, I see that Virginia's Governor is going to order DNA testing to provide a final, final resolution in the Roger Coleman case. I've followed the Coleman saga ever since I read the Supreme Court case rejecting his appeal, essentially because Coleman's attorneys filed a state motion one day late. I've just never been able to shake Justice O'Connor's opening line, "This is a case about federalism."

I don't know whether Coleman committed the rape-murder he was convicted of. I do know that it's hard to read the book about the case, May God Have Mercy, and not come away with reasonable doubt. Coleman supporters have been saying since before the coal miner's 1992 execution that he was innocent, but earlier DNA tests (and a lie-detector test) were inconclusive. Now, they claim, technology has advanced enough to allow for definitive testing. (Don't let Steve Minor hear you if you joke that the gene pool isn't that diverse in that part of the world!)

The state prosecutors and Attorney General's office have consistently opposed new testing in the Coleman case, on the grounds of finality. The problem with the finality argument is that cases like this are never really final. While Coleman's legal recourses ran out in 1992, it's not like that ended all the controversy over the matter. And the family of the murder victim has had to deal with that ever since. So at least new DNA testing offers the prospect of finality for them.

Supporters of Coleman's execution also express confidence that new tests will confirm Coleman's guilt. In the past, though, they've sometimes hedged their bets by claiming that Coleman could still be guilty as an accomplice of whoever left the DNA at the scene. So even if the new tests are exculpatory, don't expect anyone with a vested interest in Coleman's guilt to give up the ghost.

By the same token, death penalty opponents seem overly confident to me. The Post story quotes a law professor who says that DNA tests exonerating Coleman "could be the biggest turning point in death penalty abolition." I suppose there might be some people at the margins whose support for capital punishment hinges on its certainty, although I'm dubious there are that many people who (a) tentatively support the death penalty (b) as long as it is 100% accurate and (c) believe it to be so now. Given the well-publicized rash of exonerations of convicted inmates in recent years, I'm skeptical that anyone could still believe the system works perfectly.

As the statements from Coleman's prosecutors show, some people will keep pushing for death no matter what. (link via Lammers) I don't have poll numbers handy, but a sizeable portion of death penalty supporters back that punishment despite the chance that innocent people might sometimes be executed. These are the type of people who argue we should be executing more prisoners in order to increase the deterrent effect of the death penalty. Nothing in the Coleman case is going to change their minds. They'll just chalk him up to the unfortunate eggshell that allowed us to make our criminal justice omelet.

Death penalty abolitionists aren't going to let the facts of the Coleman case get in their way, either. The law professor quoted by the Post argues that even if the new DNA tests prove to a scientific certainty that Coleman was guilty, that result could lead to more such testing nationwide. But the Coleman prosecutors' obstinance disputes that. They've fought further testing for over a decade, despite their professed certainty about Coleman's guilt. I haven't noticed any eagerness on the part of prosecutors nationwide to confirm their victories in a laboratory.

If the new DNA tests clear Coleman, I expect abolitionists to say "I told you so" and supporters to say "It doesn't change our overall need for capital punishment." If the tests inculpate Coleman, I expect supporters to say "I told you so" and abolitionists to say "It doesn't change the systemic problems with capital punishment."

I will say that one set of minds that could change depending on the test results is the not-insubstantial cohort that opposes the death penalty when life imprisonment is the other option. If Coleman were still serving a life sentence, the tests could get him out of jail. (Note, of course, that the push for testing would have been a lot less fervent if Coleman's penalty hadn't been a death sentence.) If the tests clear Coleman, conceivably it could lead more people to want to trade the death penalty for life imprisonment. This "safety valve" argument seems to be the most death penalty opponents can reasonably hope for from the Coleman case: an incremental change rather than the death-knell for the death penalty.

An Explanation, Not An Excuse
I have two reasons why I haven't been posting lately. Well, three. First, I was so sick for a few days that I was horizontal for the better part of a week. And not in a good way. And I haven't figured out how to blog horizontally yet. Second, I sustained a very painful index finger injury (I am not making this up) while closing a window, and that made it painful to type. Third, I'm kind of hurting for content. I have some thoughts about some things, but not enough that feels bloggable. (Yes, Prof. Berman, I'm thinking about Booker, but drawing blanks for now.) So feel free to REQUEST something. After a stint in rehab, I'll pull some of my jumbled thoughts together. I'm hoping to have more content in my post-holiday push than Bill Simmons. Or maybe I should just pretend I'm David Lat and quit my job to blog full time....

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

How I Spent My Christmas Vacation
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I'm trying to learn origami. I found an origami-a-day calendar on the discount rack and picked it up on a whim. The figure above is supposed to be a swan. Who knows? If this law thing doesn't work out, maybe I can go from pushing paper to folding it for a living.

Monday, January 02, 2006

E Pluribus Unum
I went by my Mom's office the other day for a few minutes. There's the friend of hers there, a young woman about my age, whom Mom has long wanted me to meet. We'll call her Becky. I've heard a lot about Becky and how great she is to work with and how nice she is and etc. And sometimes Mom would even say something like how I needed to find a girl like Becky, who has such a good head on her shoulders. I never thought too much of it until the other day.

While I was at Mom's office, she took me to see if Becky was in and introduced us. We had a brief chat that was pleasant but unremarkable. She seemed perfectly nice but it's not like I saw angels and bluebirds when our eyes met. I guess she was cute, but I didn't really find her attractive. And I just got this sense that she wasn't my type. For example, she was wearing a cross on a chain around her neck. Now, it's not that I'm anti-religious, but I don't think I'd be compatible with someone religious enough to wear a cross. And she had all these pictures of kids and cartoon puppies around her desk. Not a good sign. But it wasn't like I was expecting anything to happen; I just figured I was meeting someone Mom worked with.

Well, that's not what Mom had in mind, apparently. As we were leaving a few minutes later, Mom said, "She's the one." I assumed she meant that Becky was the girl she was always talking about, so I mumbled something like "Mh-hm." Mom said, "No, I mean she's The One. For you." I looked at her and said, "No. She wasn't." Mom looked crushed. "Why not?" I didn't really want to sound like I was insulting Mom's friend, so I stammered something about how Becky just didn't seem like my type and I didn't feel any spark and besides, we live far away from each other.

But I started to feel kind of bad. My Mom probably hoped this little meeting would start bells ringing and lead directly to a passel of grandkids. I didn't feel bad enough about my Mom's disappointment to fake some kind of attraction to Becky, but I was sorry my Mom's hopes were dashed. However, it made me wonder how well she really knows me to think Becky could have been "The One." To be fair, I haven't exactly spelled out to my mother what it is I'm looking for. Still, it was kind of weird to come face-to-face with my Mom's expectations for my future.

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    The views presented here are personal and in no way reflect the view of my employer. In addition, while legal issues are discussed here from time to time, what you read at BTQ is not legal advice. I am a lawyer, but I am not your lawyer. If you need legal advice, then go see another lawyer.

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