Future Danger

In the Philip K. Dick short story (and Steven Spielberg / Tom Cruise film) The Minority Report, a special agency known as Precrime relies on psychic “precogs” to anticipate and thus prevent murders before they happen.   

It is an interesting and thought provoking scifi premise, but, disturbingly, we’re actually sort of really using it to decide who should be executed … In the all too real non-scifi world of Texas Capital Punishment, prosecutors hire psychi(atri)c experts to enlighten juries about convicted murderers’ “future dangerousness”.  In Texas, “future dangerousness” is an aggravating factor that juries must consider in deciding whether or not to pass a sentence of death. 

In a dissent Wednesday in the case of Noah Espada, Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Paul Womack, joined by Judge Cheryl Johnson, states bluntly that there is “no evidence at all, anywhere, of the reliability of these predictions of future dangerousness.”  Justice Womack challenged the scientific validity of psychologists’ and psychiatrists’ future danger prognostications, and concluded that: “Before we accept an opinion that a capital murderer will be dangerous even in prison, there should be some research to show that this behavior can be predicted.”

This casts the whole notion of “future dangerousness” onto thin ice, where it belongs.  Unfortunately, this was only a dissent (or, a “minority report”), so for now Texas jurors will still be required to function like the science-fictional “precogs” – Wikipedia portrays “precogs” as being “kept in rigid position by metal bands, clamps and wiring, which keep them attached to special high-backed chairs”, a not wholly inaccurate description of jury duty – and they will still be asked to gaze into the mists of future time to decide whether someone lives or dies.

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5 thoughts on “Future Danger

  1. I use to be skeptical about psychic readings until I went to a psychic myself. For all those who are still skeptical, I would recommend to give it a try once.

  2. This article is misleading at best. The phychcologist in this case made his predictions not just on his opinion,but his professional opinion based on the crime the murderer confessed to,and his violent behavior towards other inmates and guards in the 18 months in "gen pop" while awaiting trial.
    Of the two murders he confessed to committing,one was a complete stranger,who's home he broke into,mistaking it for his intended victim. She was an unarmed female,who posed no threat,other than foiling his plans to murder someone else. For her "crime",she (Sandra Ramos) was beaten over the head with a gun, bound with duct tape, and suffocated with a garbage bag. Two days later he returned to the same location,with the correct apartment this time,where he proceeded to lie in wait for his target. This man he did know. It was his former boss,whom he blamed for being "wrongfully terminated" from a $2.50 p/hr. job as a bar-back. Nevermind,that he had been written up 12 times,and was not even fired by the victim (Luke Scott). He, snuck up on him before he could even get past his front entry and shot him point blank in the neck and head. He was caught after brazenly parading Scott's vehicle around town. Most notably, chauffeuring his girlfriend to and from church. I am no "precog", nor a forensic psychologist (like the one who rendered his opinion on this case), but the totality of this murderer's self professed crimes,and his violent behavior once apprehended leads me to believe the likelihood of his being a future threat profoundly certain. The danger here is making sweeping judgements skewed by a personal belief system.