You are probably familiar with Sir Isaac Newton’s third law: “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Although you may not understand where the quote came from, you might have used it to describe certain events in your life. And even if you are not a physicist, you probably know that every action you take can have consequences.
As a child, perhaps your parents spanked you or put you in a “time out” for disobeying. As you got older, maybe your grades suffered as a result of not properly preparing for exams. Your actions had reactions. But as an adult, your behavioral consequences can be life-altering. And when criminal accusations are involved, the related penalties could draw your experience to a close.
If you cannot remember, should you still be accountable?
An inmate in Alabama, cannot recall the circumstances which led to his 1985 conviction for the murder of a police officer. Suffering at least two strokes since his conviction, his lawyers made a case for a resultant cognitive decline. But is that reason to overturn a capital punishment ruling?
A Supreme Court’s recent 5-3 decision sided with the inmate. The court brought into question the inmate’s ability to rationally understand why he faces execution. The case has been sent back to lower courts. However, since capital punishment is legal in Texas, you might be curious about how such sentencing works in the Lone Star State.
Does someone represent a future danger to society?
Most people agree that “equal and opposite” applies in physics, but in terms of deciding on a punishment equal to a crime, Newton’s law is not so clear-cut.
Controversial though capital punishment may be, each state determines its own laws. During sentencing in Texas courts, jurors must “determine whether the defendant represents a future danger to society.”
Although a jury must unanimously agree, some potential issues with this process exist. These include:
- Persuasive tactics may outweigh science. A jury could make a determination based on mere testimony.
- Specific definitions do not exist for the key terms. In a capital punishment trial, you would rely on jurors’ comprehension related to your probability of posing a threat to society.
- The only alternative is life without possibility of parole. Even if you were convicted of a capital offense, you would pose no threat to society, as parole would not be optional.
There are consequences for your actions, to be sure. However, while an equal and opposite reaction may very well be a law of the natural world, you might give some thought to its application in the justice system.