Now that Jury of One has been out for a month, I’ve had feedback from readers I want to share, plus get your thoughts on an issue that is getting lots of discussion.
First, the feedback. Every author of legal thrillers listens for a few key phrases: “page turner,” “thought provoking,” “kept me up at night.” I’ve heard lots of all three, so I’m encouraged.
Next, the issue. As you know by now, my fictional judge, Dan Borders, puts himself in line for chief justice of the state supreme court with his controversial proposal for those felons sentenced to life without hope of parole. As a reminder, here is what the judge wrote:
The decline in executions, both in this state and nationally, represents a growing awareness of the difficulties presented by these cases. The present system’s failure stems from the inability of any judge or jury to decide, with God’s unerring certainty, whether a convicted defendant should live or die.
For those found guilty of society’s most abhorred crimes and sentenced to life without hope of parole, I would provide a means to take that final decision which increasingly conflicts us as a civilized people. In our maximum-security facility, I would build a small chamber into which a prisoner could be admitted upon reasonable notice. In this room, I would make available the pharmacological means to end life with as much speed and little pain as possible. In such a chamber, a jury of one will decide what our juries of twelve should not.
Dan’s solution amounts to assisted suicide, a practice legally approved in a number of European countries and in several states in the U.S. Prior to writing the book, I had never heard it discussed in the context of incarcerated prisoners. Then, a few weeks ago, my attention was brought to an article in Bioethics: “Assisted Suicide for Prisoners: An Ethical and Legal Analysis from the Swiss Context”. You can read it here. Swiss law is quite different from U.S. law, but many of the moral and ethical issues are the same as those raised in the article.
Some readers of Jury of One have reacted positively to Dan’s idea. Like Dan, they believe that fallible humans should not make life-or-death judgments on their fellow human beings. The idea that someone, later proved innocent, could be put to death for a crime they didn’t commit shocks and offends them, as it should. And, to be coldly practical, they point out that maintaining a prisoner in a maximum security facility costs over $60,000 per year, money the state could save if the prisoner took an “early out.”
On the other hand, many oppose this concept as contrary to the decision of the judge or jury that sentenced them. To these folks, an inmate who takes an “early out” is cheating the system. The most recent reminder of this dilemma is Alex Murdaugh, who will spend the rest of his days behind bars absent a successful appeal. Many think it only just that he grow old and die in confinement.
Should he and others like him be provided with an “early out”? What do you think? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your opinion. I'll post the best responses on a future blog.