Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Death Penalty

The plan by Arkansas to execute eight death row prisoners in a ten day period brought the death penalty controversy to the forefront once again. This issue seems to come up everytime someone is executed or even just scheduled for execution. It also gets attention whenever someone on death row is found innocent when DNA or other new evidence exonerates them.

I am conflicted on this issue and have been for many years. In my youth, I was pro death penalty mostly because most people I knew were for it. It has a long history among most cultures. As I got older and actually thought about it, my support began to waiver.  

Proponents of the death penalty say it is a deterrent to criminals. Those potential murderers will think twice before committing the crime for fear of losing their own life. I find this a weak argument. I don't think most murderers think about the consequences. They are motivated by rage, anger, revenge, drugs, mental illness. Rarely is it a rationally planned event. 

Another problem with the death penalty is that it takes so long from the time of the crime until the time of the trial and often then decades until a death penalty is carried out. If, in fact, it is ever carried out. The current appeal process is so protracted, there is little or no connection in time between the crime and the punishment.

Most troubling to me are the number of those on death row who have been shown innocent by new evidence. Sometimes it is a victim or witness recanting their testimony. More often, recently, it is someone finally checking the DNA evidence. There are also the revelations of police and prosecutorial misconduct. The poor and minorities are far more likely to be convicted and then receive the death penalty. Justice appears to be neither blind or fair in many cases. 

Once a death penalty is carried out, it is irreversible. A life sentence can be rectified. Not completely, but the falsely convicted at least is still alive and can be monetarily compensated for mistakes made by the police and/or judicial system. 

I also have a problem with the controversy over the drugs used for lethal injection executions. Why is there a problem? There are thousands of operations performed in this country every day. The anesthesiologists manage to put the patients to sleep so they feel no pain while the surgeons perform all kinds of invasive procedures. We also manage to euthanize thousands of animals. The dogs I have had to put down seemed to go quickly and without pain. Is it really a medical or technical problem or some kind of political problem?  

I would be open to the death penalty for certain egregious crimes when the evidence is indisputable. Maybe solid, indisputable forensic (DNA, etc.) evidence, video or numerous witnesses who agree on what happened. A no doubt situation. That followed by a quick trial. Then have the appeals number and time limited. The execution to take place within a short period of time from the trial. The execution should also be public and highly promoted. A society that advocates the death penalty should have to view those executions. This may require a new category of crime established by the states and federal legislatures and upheld by the courts. Remember, most of those on death row are there because of convictions in state courts. It may be easier to just abolish the death penalty.

It's a tough issue.  

The economics do not justify the death penalty over life in prison. The death penalty is irreversible, it seems contradictory to the "pro life" faction, and it is not a deterrent. So America is it time to eliminate the death penalty, at least in its current form?


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