Friday, April 18, 2008

Capital Punishment Reform

I saw two stories on the same day that I can’t help but relate:

The first: “The U.S. Supreme Court this week hears arguments about whether the death penalty can be imposed for child rape…”

The second: “A 49-year-old man who spent nearly 23 years in prison for a rape he did not commit has been set free…”

If the latter doesn’t call for putting the brakes on the former, what would?

I don’t oppose capital punishment in principle. However, I’m growing more and more concerned about the way it is handled in the US.

How is it possible, in this age, for people to go to jail or worse without DNA evidence being examined?

When DNA evidence can make the difference between life and death, how is it possible for people to carelessly run such tests – or even falsify results?

How can attorneys let an innocent man rot in prison because of “attorney-client privilege?”*

Our system has some real issues. The people of Christ should be on the forefront of demanding better.

Some changes
I don’t want to call for abolishing the death penalty, but a freeze and some retrials, at least resentencing, are probably warranted. And there are a few common sense measures that are far overdue.

First, borrowing from the Bible, the death penalty shouldn’t be possible without the testimony of two or three eyewitnesses.

Second, it should not be possible without the state proving, via whatever empirical means are available (e.g., fingerprint, DNA), that the defendant was involved. None available? No death penalty.

Third, if they don’t already exist, harsh penalties should be set for tampering with or falsifying such evidence – treat it like negligent homicide or worse.

There are other issues that should be addressed also (e.g., with the public defender system, with the selection of district attorneys), but these don’t relate specifically to capital punishment cases.

Hate capital punishment? Help!
I know many people think the death penalty is wrong no matter what. We’ll have to agree to disagree. But if you think capital punishment is always wrong, you should help push for reforms that improve the odds that innocent people will never be put to death.

Pro-choice folks often say that pro-lifers should work to reduce the number of abortions. I agree. In the same way anti-death penalty people can get closer to their goals by working to improve the accuracy of capital punishment.

Whether you think capital punishment is acceptable, essential, or abhorrent, you can further the cause of justice by telling your legislators you want to see some simple reforms. (I know, I know, I said “simple,” not cheap.)

Christians are called to stand up for the poor, the weak, and the innocent. That includes standing for the unjustly accused.

How about you?
While I’m writing some letters, tell us what you will do, what else you think we can do, and if you can think of any other sensible reforms to the system to improve the odds that only the guilty are punished.

*OK, not really a death penalty case, but it really bugs me.

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