First off, HAPPY EASTER, readers! Today is certainly cause for celebration – Jesus rose from the dead! All of his teachings and good works culminated in a single act of the most perfect love as part of God’s will. The shedding of Jesus’ blood officially started the new covenant. All of those who truly believe are saved by grace. How awesome is that!?
On the subject of death, I wanted to talk about something truly close to my heart – the death penalty. A quick Google and Wikipedia search states that there are just over 3,000 inmates on death row as of October 2013. As some of my past blog posts suggest, I am fascinated by criminal law and forensics. I do not have a weak stomach, but I am very sensitive emotionally. This is the line that has kept me from pursuing a career as a public defender and forensics technician.
Apart from my emotions, my faith plays a huge role in the things I choose to do and abstain from. Even if I thought I could handle the emotional side of death penalty cases, my heart screams out any way – I am adamantly opposed to the death penalty. For one, the death penalty is counter intuitive. Think about it – any non-psychopathic person knows that killing is wrong even if they do not believe in God (this is a characteristic that God instilled in all of us when we were created, but I won’t get into that here). We have someone who may have tragically killed someone (or multiple people) and yet we are turning around and committing that same heinous act on the convict. What makes the State’s action or the victim’s family firmly supporting the execution of the inmate right? It screams retribution and only retribution. How can a justice system that convicts and condemns people for crimes involving murder turn around and murder the convicted person? It makes absolutely no sense to me. Killing the person convicted of the crime will not bring the victims back. The victim’s families will still need to mourn and heal in their own way. Our criminal justice system was not meant to rest on retribution alone.
The death penalty cannot be taken back and corrected if a mistake comes to light. Death is permanent in this life. I watched a series called Death Row Stories on Netflix a few weeks ago, and many of the stories moved me to tears. I was downright appalled during two or three episodes where individuals were convicted with literately zero physical evidence. How can the death penalty even be on the table when the conviction is taken solely based on eyewitness testimony (that we should all know is incredibly unreliable) or supposed confessions to other inmates who, most of the time, have ulterior motives and reason to lie through deals with the State. Yes, that’s an issue for the jury to decide – whether testimony is credible or not, but I just can’t feel confident in a death penalty sentence without physical evidence. Physical evidence won’t always be available at crime scenes, but then certainty of the person who committed the crime is also knocked down a few notches. Blood, semen, hair, fingerprints are all powerful sources of evidence. Once executed, if evidence later arises suggesting that the convict could be innocent, it is simply too late, and incredibly heart-breaking. Believe it or not, there are innocent people behind bars. Law school taught me that while judges must do the best they can to set aside biases and beliefs, their beliefs nonetheless infiltrate their decisions. As an aside, I read an article today that showed Anthony Hinton being freed after nearly 30 years on death row. He was featured on Death Row Stories, and you can read a little bit about his release here.
Of course, my faith plays a huge part in my thought process. I believe that no one has the right to take another life except for God. God is the perfect judge, and imperfect human beings should not be making a death decision. For me, the death penalty is innately and fundamentally wrong.
I just had a conversation with my husband about the death penalty, and while we are on the same page in that we don’t believe any State should be able to take a life, I do see the economic argument my husband provided. Simply put, if we sentence someone to life in prison the State is pouring thousands of dollars into that inmates meals, healthcare and housing in prison until his death. Whereas, there is no more State economic pressure if the inmate is simply put to death.
There are currently 18 states that have abolished the death penalty. According to Cornell’s Legal Information Institute, “The Supreme Court has ruled that the death penalty is not a per se violation of the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment, but the Eighth Amendment does shape certain procedural aspects regarding when a jury may use the death penalty and how it must be carried out.”
The death penalty is quite the subject, and there is so much more to say on it – are you for or against it?