Along with two-thirds of the American public, I believe in capital punishment.
I believe that there are some defendants who have earned the ultimate
punishment our society has to offer by committing murder with
aggravating circumstances present. I believe life is sacred. It
cheapens the life of an innocent murder victim to say that society
has no right to keep the murderer from ever killing again. In
my view, society has not only the right, but the duty to act in
self defense to protect the innocent.
Nevertheless, the value of the death penalty in our current system
of justice is a limited one and should not be overstated. Because
the death sentence is so rarely carried out, whatever deterrent
value that exists is lessened in years of appeals and due process.
Because of the unlimited power of Governors, judges, juries, and prosecutors to show mercy,
the difference between those who receive the death penalty and
those who do not is minimal. Finally, because the system allows
it, the financial costs to state and local governments can be
In spite of these shortcomings, it is my view that pursuing a
death sentence in appropriate cases is the right thing to do.
There is no adequate and acceptable alternative. Life Without Parole does not eliminate the risk that the prisoner will murder a guard, a visitor, or another inmate, and we should not be compelled to take that risk. It is also not unheard of for inmates to escape from prison. The prisoner will not be eligible for parole until the next legislative session, when the parole laws can be changed. Considering that a defendant sentenced to "life imprisonment" across the country actually serves on the average less than 8 years in prison, it is a good bet that "life without parole" will not have the meaning intended as years go by. Even the most "law and order" legislators will begin to consider alternatives when the medical bills for geriatric care of prisoners start rolling in.
No system of justice can produce results which are 100% certain all the time. Mistakes will be made in any system which relies upon human testimony for proof. We should be vigilant to uncover and avoid such mistakes. Our system of justice rightfully demands a higher standard for death penalty cases. However, the risk of making a mistake with the extraordinary due process applied in death penalty cases is very small, and there is no credible evidence to show that any innocent persons have been executed at least since the death penalty was reactivated in 1976. The 100+ death row inmates "innocent", "exonerated" and released, as trumpeted by anti-death penalty activists, is a fraud. The actual number of factually innocent released death row inmates is closer to 40, and in any event should be considered in context of over 7,000 death sentences handed down since 1973. It stands as the most accurate judgment/sentence in any system of justice ever created. The inevitability of a mistake should not serve as grounds to eliminate the death penalty any more than the risk of having a fatal wreck should make automobiles illegal. At the same time, we should never ignore the risks of allowing the inmate to kill again.
Our "system" was created by legislators and judges. In order for the death penalty to remain a meaningful and effective punishment, those same legislators and judges need to make necessary changes to reflect the will of the people in a democratic society.
Steven D. Stewart
Clark County, Indiana