End death penalty?
In December, New Jersey became the first state in 40 years to ban capital punishment after a study initiated by the state found that it is not an effective deterrent to homicide and that some innocent people may have been executed. American City & County asked the readers of its weekly e-newsletter if the New Jersey study is accurate, should capital punishment be abolished nationwide? Below are some of the responses.
“I agree with the actions of the New Jersey Legislation ending the death penalty. I also disagree with the alternative penalty — life without parole — as the only alternative. There needs to be another choice.
I define the death penalty as an action of involuntary assisted suicide by the state that is not only cruel and inhumane, but also unethical because it closes the possibly of correcting a wrongful conviction of the person sentenced to death.
The justice system is harmed when there is a wrongful conviction. The error rate is much too high, as are the financial costs to provide an adequate defense for those who cannot finance an effective defense. The need/desire to convict will create pressure to suppress evidence, force confessions and bribe witnesses using duress. These methods cannot be completely eliminated because [of the] anger and frustrations caused by the crime, the criminal justice process and budget constraints.
The alternative is a voluntary assisted suicide option for the prisoner. That is the ultimate freedom, the choice of when to die. It is an ethical solution that can satisfy both the pro and con advocates. There will be time to address wrongful deaths to those who want to prove their innocence as well as reduce the stress caused by the lack of hope and the certainty of pending death.”
- Paul Roth, consultant, Flushing, N.Y.
“I think the real violations of human rights in the U.S. are committed by vicious criminals rather than government agents. There seems to be more concern for [violating] the rights of criminals by the death penalty than the right of innocent citizens not to be crime victims. To me, it is obvious. If the death penalty is authorized for vicious crimes, such as the kidnapping [and] murder of children, and you make a choice to commit such a crime, than you have no one to blame for the death penalty being used against you except yourself. One thing you could do to have court decisions in capital cases be more credible is to [make] the defense and the prosecution in the cases subject to the same rules, rights, qualifications and pay. That way, an indigent defendant would not get an inferior defense attorney compared to a more affluent defendant.”
— David Anspach, civil engineer, Andrews Air Force Base, Washington
“Capital punishment should only be applied in cases of the most heinous nature of serial murder in which guilt of the accused is irrefutable. It should not be abolished altogether. We call killing mad dogs treating them humanely. I see the execution of such serial killers as the same. We should set these poor tormented souls free and free our society of this evil.”
— Rush Clinkscales, civil engineer, Edmond, Okla.
“It is said that the death penalty has no deterrence, but I would submit that it does. [Once] those who committed the crimes when we had our first death penalty statute in this state [were] once convicted and sentenced, [they] did not commit the crime again! Is that a deterrence? I say yes, it is, because, once their sentence is carried out, they are no longer able to commit the crime again. I rest my case.”
— John Duggan, retired police officer, Pittsburg, Kan.
“The recent spate of bizarre and heinous murders, shootings and random acts of violence dispel the myth that the death penalty is a deterrent; crazed and vengeful people do things that stagger the imagination, and all sweet reason goes out the door. It’s not so much the issue of cruel and unusual punishment but the biblical notion of an eye for an eye just hasn’t seemingly stopped anyone from becoming the next Virginia Tech gunman, mall sharpshooter or even Tim McVeigh mad bomber. Treat the problems and symptoms of what sets these individuals off [and] prevent access to weapons and other means of causing mayhem. Once you catch and try the unlucky ones who don’t get to kill themselves as part of their ‘statement,’ put them in jail and profile them for all to see how justice can be meted out. Lack of freedom is possibly a greater deterrent than a lethal injection, firing squad or a seat in ‘Old Sparky.’”
— Jay Gsell, county manager, Genesee County, N.Y.
“My opinion is, absolutely not. The death penalty was instituted to serve our society’s best interests: To deliver a punishment that best matches the severity of a violation of law. In America, we reserve the death penalty for the most heinous, most egregious, and the most threatening of crimes committed and the people that perpetrate them. Our country says that people who commit these crimes cannot be rehabilitated, present a continuing threat to others, and have no value to contribute to our society. These people have eliminated any reason to keep themselves among us, whether on our streets or in our penal system. Our laws may conflict with our religious beliefs, but, we make that decision to deliver the death sentence with open eyes and the hope that Our Father in Heaven will not judge us harshly for it. We leave the decision to forgive the convicted to Him.
These decisions are made by a jury of the convict’s peers who, based on the laws of our country, [render] their decision based on the facts presented and the evidence that has been collected and preserved. So, there is room for error, and it is possible to put an innocent person to death. As long as our judiciary system provides opportunities for appeal, [and] remains vigilant for new information, new technology, and new theories as to whether the conviction was put upon the right person, we will greatly reduce the likelihood of imposing the ultimate sentence on an innocent [person].
I’ll add that I believe the death penalty should be expanded! Anyone convicted of raping, molesting or sodomizing a child under the age of 16 should be put to death. We hear about pedophiles that are shunned in prison by all prisoners except other pedophiles. They network, talking about their crimes, trying to figure out what they did that snared them, and how to avoid that in the future. Then, when they are freed, they set out to find their next victim because they cannot be rehabilitated. Why? Because they claim their sexual orientation is for children! Where you and I might be heterosexual and have a natural preference for women, their preference is for youngsters. Could you or I be ‘rehabilitated’ to no longer want women? No! The problem is that our society has no room for pedophiles. They violate and destroy young lives, regardless of whether their victims live or die. That is why they should be put to death as well.”
— Pete Kirby, retired 911 supervisor, Fairfax County, Va.
“If the Socialists abolish the death penalty, it will become open season on all law enforcement, corrections officers and other public safety officials. The criminal element will murder these professionals with no thought of being punished, and the blood of these officers will be on the hands of the politicians who vote for the abolishment of the death penalty!”
— Gerald Mays, president, Brookville – Timberlake, Va., Fire Department,
“I think the death penalty should be abolished but replaced with life without the possibility of parole.”
— Alan Clarke, zoning administrator, Shreveport/Caddo Parish, La.,
Metropolitan Planning Commission
“The death penalty should only be banned by majority vote of a state electorate. The primary reason for the death penalty is not that it is a deterrent to crime but that some crimes are so heinous and evil that it is the only fit punishment. The actual number of incorrect convictions is very small, and the use of DNA evidence will further reduce incorrect convictions. The reason the death penalty is approved by the vast majority of our citizens is that our sense of justice demands it. In my opinion, the biggest problem with the death penalty is that our current legal system prevents the expeditious, appropriate implementation of capital punishment after reasonable review of the conviction. Here in California, most death row inmates die from natural causes rather than execution. This is the more pressing problem for our nation and screams out for change.”
— Vic Valdes, system coordinator, Fremont, Calif., Fire Department