Monday, May 16, 2011

Castille reignites dispute over Pennsylvania death-penalty appeals | Philadelphia Inquirer | 05/16/2011

Castille reignites dispute over Pennsylvania death-penalty appeals | Philadelphia Inquirer | 05/16/2011

Federal habeas petitions have been receiving some national press lately. The New York Times ran an op-ed about federal habeas reform a few weeks back. And now the Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has weighed in on the issue at the state level in a very big way, even going so far as to accuse the federal habeas unit in Pennsylvania of malfeasance.

It's important to note first of all that the Hoffman editorial from the Times and Chief Judge Castille raise very different issues. And Hoffman's criticisms, while severely misguided, are on a much different level than Castille's outright hostility toward the federal defenders.

But both Hoffman and Castille argue essentially that the capital habeas process is an expensive waste of taxpayer resources. In the case of Castille, this criticism is extremely dangerous for a number of reasons. First, it is extremely unethical and unbecoming of a judge to level this sort of broadside against the indigent defense community. Castille is also using his office to lend an aura of judicial authority to what is explicitly a political, partisan argument. (It should be noted that Pennsylvania supreme court judges are elected positions, and that Castille, a Republican, ran in 1994 on a "tough-on-crime" platform that touted the 45 death penalty verdicts he obtained as a prosecutor.)

Finally, and most significantly, Castille's argument completely misrepresents the motivation behind the federal defenders' efforts in state court. The defender's exhaustive practices in state court are motivated by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act ("AEDPA") passed by Congress in 1996. The AEDPA imposed a host of stringent jurisdictional limitations on federal habeas corpus petitions, one of which is "exhaustion": any claims raised in a federal habeas petition must be raised first in a state proceeding, either on direct appeal or in a post-conviction relief petition, or they are barred. So by necessity, federal defenders are forced to raise every colorable legal argument at the state level by whatever means available (usually by post-conviction relief petition) before they may be heard in federal court.

So the blame for all this costly death penalty litigation lies ultimately with Congress, not the federal defenders who must comply with its dictates. If state courts feel themselves burdened by the responsibilities placed upon them, perhaps they should take up the issue with Congress itself. Or perhaps they might simply outlaw the death penalty itself.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Favorite Interactive Media Experience

I enjoy watching movies for their own sake, but I also particularly enjoy watching them with other people. Certain movies I remember as much about the people I experienced them with as much as I remember the movies themselves: Return of the Jedi, Au bout de souffle (Breathless), the Phantom Menace, the Star Wars rerelease, the Matrix, L'Ascenseur pour l'eschafaud (Elevator to the Gallows), Knife in the Water, The Hudsucker Proxy, Independence Day, The Shawshank Redemption, and La Lectrice (The Reader -- not the Kate Winslet one) are but a few examples. I could tell a short story about the first time I saw each of those movies, and the people I saw them with.

But it's even more fun sharing interactive media with other people for the first time. Mostly 'cause, well, it's interactive. And if it's something like Chrono Trigger, it reminds you of how excited you were the first time you played it when you see someone else enjoy it for the first time.

I was thinking about this when I picked up Chrono Trigger again last night. A friend of mine just got into video games, and now we want her to play Chrono Trigger to further stoke her interest in RPGs. And I was reminded just how immediately engaging the first half hour of the game is. Just a crazy mix of the giddy enthusiasm of Back to the Future mixed with the earnestness of Dragon Quest all thrown into the fun atmosphere of a county fair.

What's interesting about it is that the game gives you quite a bit of freedom right from the get go. You wake up in your bed and then your mother suggests that you check out the Millenial Fair where your friend Lucca is going to debut her latest crazy invention. But you can take your time, talk to your cat, bet on the races, earn some Silver Points to spend on events at the fair, play some minigames, enter a soda drinking contest, talk to people, help a little girl find her cat. You (literally) bump into the heroine, who asks you to show her around the fair. By the time you check out Lucca's invention, about fifteen to twenty minutes in, the game's big plot hook drops, and the adventure begins. It's so much more engaging than simply watching some overheated CGI cutscene. Plus, the game's already filled you in on the main characters and given you a taste of its intuitive controls and unique sense of humor.

So, this is all a roundabout way of me asking you:

Do you have a favorite interactive media experience? One that you enjoy sharing with other people?

I'm particularly interested in video games, but stretch the definition in whatever direction you like. It could be movies, or music, or whatever.