I am writing in response to The Hatchet’s editorial “Balancing Justice,” which argues against the death penalty in the case of Gary L. Sampson.
You wrote that “State officials handing over criminals who commit state crimes to their federal counterparts are blurring an important distinction between state and federal power,” but what has occurred in this case is precisely the opposite – it demonstrates the difference in federal and state power.
While Massachusetts does not provide for capital punishment, federal law does. The heinous actions allegedly committed by Sampson may indeed meet Massachusetts’ definition of murder – yet those same actions may also be criminal under the federal anti-carjacking statute.
Just as Massachusetts can prosecute someone for violating their laws and seek any authorized punishments, the federal government can likewise prosecute violations of federal laws, and seek available recourse.
Next, you wrote that “Part of the concept of justice and the rule of law is the idea that laws in effect at the time of a crime cannot be manipulated to fit circumstance or increase a punishment,” but no manipuation has occurred here.
The anti-carjacking statute was in place before the horrible events of this crime happened, and thus Sampson (or anyone else) had fair notice of the potential consequences before committing acts like these. If Sampson did violate both state and federal laws, then he can and should face possible punishments by either government.
Your statement that murder is a state crime, while accurate, is irrelevant for the discussion of whether Sampson violated the federal anti-carjacking statute. If he did, and that law provides for capital punishment, then that is a penalty for him to face.
Finally, your opinion would lead to an even worse manipulation of federal law throughout the country. The anti-carjacking statute was passed by Congress and signed by the president.
It would be an infringement on federal power to let states decide whether the death penalty is available to U.S. attorneys prosecuting federal offenses. Under this scenario, an individual who violates a federal law would face the death penalty in a state like New York or Texas, but not in Massachusetts, even though in both cases the same criminal statute was violated.
In our system of federalism, such state influence over federal criminal statutes cannot be permitted.
-The writer is a third-year law student.