On July 16th, the 9th Circuit Court denied Brandon Hein's final request for a rehearing. This was Brandon's last chance so, after 15 years of passionate pleas and legal jockeying; Brandon is now destined to spend at least 10 more years in prison before he becomes eligible for parole. I can now say, without hesitation, that in all my years of studying and witnessing our judicial system, I have NEVER seen a greater miscarriage of justice.
What has become of our great nation? The fact that our country, the one that has been perceived to be the model for humanity, tolerance, and fairness, can allow such a travesty is terribly disconcerting. While we sit in judgment of the atrocities perpetrated by other nations, a young man in our own country will spend at least 25 years of his life for doing nothing more than being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Yes, it's that simple!
When I was first contacted regarding this decision, my first reaction was a physical one. The next was emotional as I hung my head in shame. Having lived through the Vietnam era, Watergate, the Iran-Contra affair, the invasion of Iraq, Abu Ghraib, and Gitmo; I can honestly say that this is the first time that I was ashamed to be an American. While some may view that as hyperbole-I can assure you that it is not.
Recently, the Supreme Court has made some rulings that I found to be contrary to the values instilled in me as a child. The two that immediately jump out are the ones dealing with post-conviction DNA testing and the decision to allow corporations to be granted the same rights as an individual in regard to campaign funding. While, in my estimation, they pale in comparison to the ruling handed down by the 9th Circuit Court; I find them to be quite disturbing nonetheless.
As a liberal, I am forever accused of ignoring both the intent of our founders and the sanctity of the Constitution. Truth be told, while I believe the founders to have been men of incredible courage and forethought; I also believe they were human beings with human flaws. And while I see the Constitution to be the foundation for the greatest nation on earth; I also see it as a document that needs to adjust with our forever changing times. How else does one explain the need for it to be amended 27 times since its initial ratification in 1787?
At the root of Brandon Hein's situation is the Murder-Felony Rule, an abomination that I have addressed in previous articles. I daresay that our founders never intended for our judicial system, at any level, to be granted the power to enact and employ such a hideous and inflexible law. The same can be said for the detention and treatment of a number of the prisoners still being held at Guantanamo Bay. Many of the detainees were deemed to be "non-combatants" and posed no threat to our country years ago (i.e. Ighurs). Yet, they still remain imprisoned. Two of the primary tenets of our judicial system, "due process" and "habeus corpus", have been all but ignored by our government-past and present.
Make no mistake about it; the American flag will still fly proudly from the porch of my home but our feeling of "exceptionalism" may require another look. Brandon Hein now faces the very real possibility of entering prison at the age of 18 and not leaving it until, at least, the age of 43! His fate now rests solely on a commutation of sentence by Governor Arnold Schwarnegger, who leaves office in January of 2011. It's important to note that were it not for Governor Schwarznegger, Brandon would not have a chance at parole at all. The Murder-Felony Rule offers only two options upon conviction: death or life without the possibility of parole.
I urge all of you, as both Americans and human beings, to write to Governor Schwarznegger pleading that this terrible injustice be minimized by commuting Brandon's sentence all together, before leaving office. For information on how to contact the governor and to learn more about Brandon's case, please go to: http://blog.brandonhein.com/