Indiana is preparing to execute yet another resident of Death Row. Tommie Smith. I know little about Smith. and I leave to theologians, and moral philosophers consideration of the morality of the death penalty. My…
Indiana is preparing to execute yet another resident of Death Row. Tommie Smith.
I know little about Smith. and I leave to theologians, and moral philosophers consideration of the morality of the death penalty. My
own qualms are not based upon such -considerations. While it is clear that the justification for the death penalty is vengeance (even
ardent supporters concede that there is no deterrent effect), I am not among those who consider vengeance categorically inappropriate – it may well
serve a social need in certain circumstances. "An eye for an eye" has been part of human psychology for a very long time.
My opposition to the death penalty is more prosaic. My concerns are both fiscal and constitutional. Despite the notion that the death penalty saves society the cost of warehousing criminals for the duration of their lives, the cost of executing someone typically runs three to seven times the cost of imprisoning that person for an average life span.
Those given to macho rhetoric have a remedy for that – they would cut off appeals. The problem with that approach is that even with the current appeals process, we have a distressing habit of’ executing the wrong people. A recent study by Stanford University documented executions during the past quarter century of 26 people who were later found to be innocent of the crimes for which they were put to death. There were probably more.
The Indiana Civil Liberties Union opposes the death penalty on constitutional grounds. While lawyers may argue whether execution should be found to be "cruel and unusual" punishment under the Eighth Amendment there is little doubt that the way we impose the penalty violates the most fundamental notions of due process and equal protection.
Poor people are usually the only ones who get the death penalty. There are a number of reasons that is so. Poor people are overwhelmingly represented by over burdened public defenders with few resources to bring to bear on such cases. Prosecutors are less likely to ask for the death penalty when criminal defendants can afford to hire private counsel (witness the O.J. Simpson example — does anyone doubt that prosecutors would have asked for death penalty had a poor defendant been charged with so horrible a crime?).
Prosecutors are also far more likely to seek the penalty when the victim of crime was white. There have been numerous allegations of racism in the criminal justice system. and most lawyers have seen evidence of overt bias now and then. But the statistics suggest the operation of something far less intentional. As society, we continue to value lives of our white citizens more highly than those of our black citizens. I am convinced that this unconscious but pervasive attitude that accounts for the wide disparity in requests for imposition of the death penalty.
If Americans insist upon vengeance, the Constitution requires that we exact that vengeance impartially, and that we insure that we are not executing innocent people. If we cannot fashion a system that meets these elementary requirements of justice, we should rethink capital