In the latest example of the growing use of the Internet as a forum for public opinion, New York Attorney General Dennis Vacco has asked the public to weigh in on the proposed parole of a convicted killer, via the Internet.
Joel Steinberg was convicted for the 1987 death of his never-adopted daughter, Lisa, and sentenced to 25 years in prison. He was denied parole for the first time in 1995, and is scheduled to plead his case for parole for the second time next month.
Vacco has added an interactive survey to his official site to give New Yorkers an opportunity to weigh in on Steinberg's parole. The site includes the text of a letter from Vacco to the parole board and the responses of those who have already voiced their opinion.
If the responses listed on Vacco's site are an indication of the feeling of the parole board, Steinberg probably will not be coming home any time soon.
"As a New Yorker and a parent I strongly believe the parole board should unanimously reject any attempt for early release," wrote one citizen from Long Island, in one of the calmer responses. "His 25-year sentence is lenient as far as the punishment he really deserves."
Although parole boards do consider public opinion when determining whether to grant parole, along with whether the prisoner would be a danger to society if released, how the prisoner has behaved while in prison, and whether they have been rehabilitated, some question whether the survey is a political maneuver, rather than a legal one.
"It might be a good exercise in catharsis," said Gil Silberman, a lawyer with Britton & Silberman who specializes in Internet-related law, "and that seems to be a role of the criminal justice system these days."