Saturday, September 05, 2009

The Death Penalty

I read this article in The New Yorker magazine. It's seventeen pages long. I don't expect you'll want to read it but it's a good one. I am a sceptic and do not believe the subject of this article has been proven innocent but neither would I condemn him to death. What do you do in a situation like this? In the State of Texas, they fry them anyway.

It brings up a topic I've written about before and will write about again, the death penalty.

I don't have a problem with the death penalty, for crimes that as a society, we agree it is appropriate for. I have a problem with the execution of the innocent, for crimes which they did not commit.

There should be a higher standard for imposition of the death penalty, than simply no reasonable doubt. There should be no doubt at all. Certainly many who commit horrible crimes will escape the death penalty if this becomes the standard but even one innocent person saved from execution would justify it.

A lot of people tried for capital crimes receive shoddy trials in communities where there are few resources to spare investigating what really happened. Once convicted, inmates awaiting execution have so many opportunities for appeal that tremendous resources can be expended in an attempt to exonerate them and even if proven innocent, an overburdened system often ignores the proof and they die anyway.

Some people sentenced to die have been proven innocent and released. Even more have their innocence made public after they are already dead. This is not acceptable. 75% guilty is not a passing grade for capital punishment but in many jurisdictions, the record of the courts is not much better than that. Our current system has proven to not be a just one. There is a lot that can be said about the system being unfair to people by virtue of their race, class, wealth, education and other factors. That's the subject of another rant. It's not pertinent here.

My only other strong feeling about the death penalty, is that it should be carried out in public view, before all who wish to attend and as close to the community in which the crime was committed as possible. Carrying out the sentence in some remote location, hidden away from view, sends the wrong message about the death penalty to those of us who live in a society that endorses it.

1 comment:

Buck said...

I'm against the death penalty for the reasons you note (innocents put to death) but for another reason as well: I don't believe that the state ought to have a way to legally execute the citizens the state was formed to protect. It's an invitation to create and execute a class of 'undesirables.'

Life in prison is probably worse punishment than execution anyway.