Thursday, April 17, 2003
Don't Mess With Texans More Than One at a Time

I mean, the crime is harrowing enough: two parents strangle and then decapitate their four children, either because they're too poor to afford children, or because the children are possessed by the devil, or because Hollywood called for "Andrea Yates meets Selena." Bad juju, no doubt.

But buried within the story, hidden in the plain sight of the second paragraph, we find this nugget:
    A grand jury indicted Maria Angela Camacho and her common-law husband, John Allen Rubio, on three counts of capital murder, and a fourth count was filed against them Wednesday under a state law allowing an additional charge if two or more people are killed at the same time.
In Texas, it's not only illegal to murder people, but it's even more illegal to kill them more than one at a time. I expect this is a well-formed law, too, with exact standards that describe the cooling off time period you must wait between homicides to not trigger the additional penalty, which I assume is something along the lines of desecrating the body as it's unbuckled from the lethal injection table.

I can only assume this is not what legal experts call a Deceased Equidae Cudgel (DEC) law. The goal of these laws is twofold. First, to rationalize the need for a full-time legislature, or a nine-month-a-year-for-more-than-a-working-man's-salary legislature, legislators need to pass laws. Factories are judged on their productivities, and bicameral representative bodies are, too. Publish or perish, legislate or languish, but show the People they're getting something for the money. As a result, we get more laws upon laws covering the same basic acts.

Secondly, DEC laws give prosecutors a Old Country Buffet from which to choose which felonies go with their appetites when confronted with a given act and criminal. This end run around Double Jeopardy protections ensures that prosecutors have plenty of statutes with which to prosecute for the same misdeed, for a different "crime," until they receive a conviction. Let's see, killing three people with a handgun used illegally in the commission of a felony on a Sunday while washing your horse with a garden hose--a prosecutorial pentathalon. Commit three crimes, get the fourth charge free! Yankee ingenuity overcomes the obstacles of starchy old English common law traditions.

Of course, this law serves not so much a retributive value--Texas executes killers with satisfying regularity--but a deterrent value. Thoughtful and legally-savvy mass murderers will choose less mass-murder-friendly states, like Oklahoma, Louisiana, and New Mexico, when planning getaways to the American South by Southwest.

Here's a motto for license plates in the Lone Star state (with apologies to Rachel Lucas): Ordnance AND Ordinance.

To say Noggle, one first must be able to say the "Nah."