Tuesday, April 3, 2007
This NYTimes story focuses on the efforts to two researchers to develop a framework with which to objectively gauge the culpability of particularly cold-blooded killers. The article explains how the work of one the researchers, Dr. Michael Wellner, a clinical associate professor of psychiatry, who developed the so-called "depravity scale," could apply in death penalty proceedings. He is at work on the “depravity scale” to aid juries in separating the worst of the worst from the really bad. It is based on an Internet survey that asks respondents to rank various acts in order of heinousness.
From TheDepravityScale.org: "To minimize the arbitrariness of how courts determine the worst of crimes, and to eliminate bias in sentencing, the Depravity Scale research aims to establish societal standards of what makes a crime depraved, and to develop a standardized instrument based on specific characteristics of a crime that must be proven in order to merit more severe sentences.
This research will refine into the Depravity Standard, an objective measure based on forensic evidence. This instrument distinguishes not who is depraved but rather, what aspects of a given crime are depraved and the degree of a specific crime's depravity."
According to the reasearchers, the depravity scale research will enhance fairness in sentencing, given that it is race, gender and socio-economic blind. But, CrimProf Robert Blecker, an authority on the death penalty at New York Law School who sits on an advisory board assisting Dr. Welner, is worried about how a numerical scale would be used in practice. “Would it remove the arbitrariness?” he asked. “Or merely give the illusion of objectivity?” Story here. . . [Michele Berry]