A couple of rants back I lamented our society’s move away from results to processes, as delineated in Philip K Howard’s The Death of Common Sense. Nowhere is this better illustrated in our handling of the tragic recent killing spree in Aurora, Colorado.

In a simpler time, James Holmes, the “alleged” perpetrator, would have been hanged, hopefully after having a summary trial. After all, in this instance there is no doubt who the killer is and what he did. Cost to the taxpayer? Probably a few hundred bucks and a 2-bit rope (all right, a few thousand and half a sawbuck by today’s reckoning).

Today, we need to investigate every aspect of the suspect’s life, do detailed forensics on everything in his home and interview anyone he may have known since he was in diapers. He will have multiple psychiatric evaluations, first to ascertain if he can stand trial, and then to see if he meets the legal definition of criminally insane, with a trial beginning several years hence, during which time we’ll feed him, clothe him and provide him with all manner of medical care.

When the trial starts, crack legal teams will toil for days or weeks, first establishing his guilt, then wrangling over the insanity issue, after which, barring an O.J. or Casey Anthony moment, he will be a) sent to a facility for the criminally insane for life, b) sent to prison for life, or c) sent to death row. If the latter, there will be a series of mandatory appeals stretching over years or decades during which crack legal teams will wrangle over whether he really, truly deserves execution. All this time we will feed him, clothe him and provide him with all manner of medical care.

How many millions of dollars will this cost? I’m not sure we’ll ever be told, assuming anyone really even tallies it. After all, it’s only taxpayer money, fluff, fairy dust, the ethereal green that comes off the magic printing presses in Washington. How many of the victims’ families could be supported through hard times for that same amount of money? I suppose we’ll never know that, either. At least we’ll be stimulating the dark part of the economy inhabited by corrections officials and criminal lawyers, along with a score of gnomes and goblins.

Forgive me. I’m being cynical again. And unfair to gnomes and goblins.


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