Saturday, March 08, 2008

Reflecting on some judicial campaign ads, part 2.

The Coalition For America's Family also runs an ad on the Court's decision in State v. Armstrong. Armstrong was convicted of raping and murdering a young woman in Madison. The ad correctly notes that there was a great deal of evidence linking Armstrong to the crime, but that Justice Butler joined an opinion overturning his conviction. In fact, there appears to be nothing in the ad's discussion of Armstrong that is not true. (NB: There was a change in the initial ad that had to do with what it said about Armstrong himself.)

As for the Armstrong case, my initial reaction to the case was that I might well have voted to overturn as well although, after a more careful reading, I am now doubtful. Armstrong was not one of those cases where later DNA evidence proves that the defefendant could not have done it. The testing here simply established that two hairs at the crime scene could not have been Armstrong's (at trial, the state presented evidence that they may have been, although Armstrong conceded that he had been in the victim's apartment that night) and that semen stains on the victim's bathrobe could not have been Armstrong's (at trial, the state presented evidence that they could have been, althought he defense argued that they also could have been from the victim's fiance, as turned out to be the case.)

That is significant, but, as Justice Roggensack points out in a dissent joined by Justices Prosser and Wilcox, there was plenty of other evidence pointing to Armstrong's guilt and the DNA evidence did not undercut any of it. She expressed concern that the majority was applying the standards for a new trial in a way that t would threaten to "reopen convictions statewide every time a scientific improvement occurs, regardless of the lack of a probable effect on the issues underlying the jury's verdict."

So the substance of the ad seems to hold up, although, as always, there is much more to say on both sides of the question.

But I still have a problem. I just don't like the shot of the victim's body followed, not immediately but soon, with a shot of Justice Butler laughing. I make no secret of the fact that I often disagree with Justice Butler on legal issues, including some involving criminal law, but I would never suggest that he is indifferent to the plight of victims.

I know that politics is a tough game. It's a safe bet that no one will ever mistake me for a political consultant, but I think this goes a bit too far.

Of course, I also don't like the Gableman bobbing head ad either. Surprise over the idea that a Governor might appoint a political supporter strikes me as a bit like Captain Renault being shocked that there was gambling going on at Rick's. There is absolutely no evidence that Judge Gableman did anything wrong.

But, no, I am not willing to blow up the First Amendment because of it.


Dad29 said...

Gambling? At Rick's?

Anonymous said...

The Jensen and Armstrong adds are both very good adds. They create interest and they imply who is the conservative and who is the liberal. People are starting to actually know that there is a campaign going on because of them.

I really don't believe that they are meant to influence the public regarding the decisions made, albeit they're a warning that decisions will come up that Butler is predisposed to rule against conservatives on.