Tuesday, October 22, 2013

LAST MEALS FOR CONDEMNED PRISONERS

I get calls from the media on all sorts of legal issues relating to criminal law, and I'm always glad to try to help promote a better understanding of the criminal justice system. When I was in active practice as an assistant state attorney, I dreaded calls from the media. Some people are very "mediagenic," and some are not. It seemed like I always managed to come off looking like a dunce when I spoke to the media. I suspected that there were certain members of the media who enjoyed making me look like a dunce, but that's another story.

The other day I got a call from the Orlando Sentinel asking about the custom of last meals for condemned prisoners.  I made some remarks, and they found their way into print. You can read the full text of the article at "The 'last meal': Part of death row lore."  Nobody really knows where the custom of the last meal comes from, but the article reports the various conjectures about how it came to be. One conjecture is that the custom comes from the Bible passages Isaiah 22:13 and 1Corinthians 15:32. When read in isolation, the verses seem to support the custom, but when read in context it becomes clear that the authors of those two passages were definitely not thinking about executions.

Although there is some sentiment that the last meal is unnecessary and unseemly, I think it is an important custom if kept within reason. Murderers, because they often act from malice, seldom dispatch their victims in a humane fashion. When we inflict the death penalty, we take great pains to be as humane as possible. In order to show that we are being humane, we take care to inflict the death penalty without malice. The last meal is a part of the process which demonstrates that lack of malice.