No. 32961 State of West Virginia v. Jeffrey L. Finley
Benjamin, Justice, concurring:
Why in the world would the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia ever
accept this case for review? After all, Jeffrey Lee Finley is a convicted murderer. What he
did to Mabel Hetzer on March 22, 1999, is almost beyond imagination. Not only did he kill
Ms. Hetzer, he brutalized her and sexually assaulted her. He broke her back. He strangled
Jeffrey Lee Finley does not deserve the rights which our society bestows on
its citizens. Indeed, Jeffrey Lee Finley is such a bad person, there would be no harm if the
State ignored the law and quietly tipped the scales of justice against Jeffrey Lee Finley and
'helped' the jury to 'do the right thing.' These sentiments, no doubt held by many, may also
be stated as: Bad people don't deserve the rights which law-abiding citizens have. Primary
to such a statement is the belief that the rights to which a person is entitled may be
determined by considerations of popular sentiment or political convenience. In other words,
rights are conditional and dependent on what the State or some other arbiter believes they
should be. It is an unfortunate truism that many people today believe the statements above
to be accurate. Whether that means advocating for censorship of the press when someone
doesn't like what is written, arbitrary restrictions on gun ownership by law-abiding citizens,
or feeling that bad people like Jeffrey Lee Finley don't deserve any constitutional rights, the
slippery slope of limiting individual and constitutional rights based on current notions of
popularity and emotion is a tempting siren. We forget too easily that constitutional rights
were preserved for the popular as well as the unpopular, the wealthy as well as the poor, and
the good as well as the bad.
The establishment of Jeffrey Lee Finley's rights during the sentencing phase
of his trial were set forth by the United States Supreme Court in Deck v. Missouri
, 544 U.S.
622, 125 S.Ct. 2007, 161 L.Ed.2d 953 (2005). I must disagree with my dissenting colleagues
is not applicable herein. It is. As the majority decision explains, limitations on the
State's presentation before a jury of a criminal defendant were considered by the United
States Supreme Court in Deck
both at the guilt and the penalty phases of the defendant's trial.
Such limitations are subject to exceptions as justified by an essential state interest. Id
624. What possibly the state's interest here was in the use of prison garb in the sentencing
phase of Jeffrey Lee Finley's trial is uncertain _ though its affect is certainly palpable.
Here, the jury needed no help from the State in doing what it needed to do.
Our system of criminal jurisprudence is unique in putting the determination of whether an
individual will be incarcerated in the penitentiary in the hands of a jury of peers, not in the
hands of the State. Furthermore, it is the jury which decides between mercy or no mercy.
The dissenters argue that prison garb conveys to the jury nothing more than what the jury
already knows _ that the defendant is a convicted defendant. The dissenters attempt to
distinguish the rationale of Deck
by claiming that shackles would have a different effect on
the jury because such restraints would convey to the jury that the defendant was dangerous.
That argument simply is not credible. The dissenters go to considerable lengths to identify
the many bad acts of Jeffrey Lee Finley. The jury which convicted Jeffrey Lee Finley was
acutely and personally aware of each such act _ much more graphically than can any reader
of the record herein. How the dissenters believe that the same jury which convicted Jeffrey
Lee Finley of such horrendous acts could not appreciate him as dangerous absent shackles
is beyond credulity.
The difference here is the mandate of a dignified judicial process required by Deck
. The sad fact is that the jury needed no subtle help from the State to do the job entrusted
by our system to it and specifically kept from the State. (See footnote 1)
By improperly involving itself in
the province left exclusively to the jury, the State committed error. Jeffrey Lee Finley is
entitled to a new sentencing phase, but not a new trial on guilt.
Why should the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia take a case like
this? Because we must. The public must be able to take the Court's impartiality and
dedication to the rule of law and the protection of the People's rights as a certainty, even
when it might be easier or more popular for the Court to simply ignore the error. We ought
to be judges, not politicians. As judges, we must choose the path which safeguards all of our
protections and breathes vitality into our rights. When we uphold the law on an issue such
as that before us, despite public sentiment to go with a more palatable result, we are not
siding with the criminal, we are protecting the system from the excesses of the State. Justice
is not a rush to judgment. We do justice when we support, protect, defend and enforce the
federal and state constitutions and the rule of law _ as difficult as that sometimes may be.
I concur in the majority decision.
Although the dissenters also reference certain cases in an attempt to bolster their
arguments, I note that all such cases predate the United States Supreme Court's
pronouncement in Deck and none are cases decided by the United Supreme Court.