“Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” That’s what Lord Acton, an English baron and historian, said back in the 19th century. A century earlier, and on this side of the pond, Thomas Paine famously wrote: “An avidity to punish is always dangerous to liberty. It leads men to stretch, to misinterpret, and to misapply even the best of laws.”
One of the most absolute powers the state can have is the power to kill its prisoners. There are two death penalty cases featured in this years’ Write for Rights that illustrate how enthusiasm for this ultimate punishment can corrupt the application of otherwise good laws.
Murder is a terrible crime, and making it illegal is a good law. But in the cases of Reggie Clemons in Missouri, and Fatima Hussein Badi in Yemen, police brutality during the investigations, and over-aggressive prosecutions and inadequate defense during court proceedings have thoroughly derailed any legitimate quest of justice.