Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Even Death May Die

Death - a tall, cloaked figure carrying a scythe; one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse; a skeleton with the ability to separate your soul from your body; the last, great unknown of everyone's life...   Death fills American culture as we contemplate and debate what happens after someone finishes living.

Do people have souls?
Do the souls go on to some eternal reward or punishment?
Do souls get a chance to live again?
Or are we made up of star stuff?
Do our bodies contribute to the circle of life with their decomposition?
Do we just not exist anymore?

Regardless, death is one of the few processes or activities that we cannot undo.  There is no way to make someone alive again, no restitution to pay for a wrongful death.  Money, land, possessions - nothing can compensate someone for their death.  The logical conclusion from this is that we, as a society, need to preserve life whenever possible, because we cannot restore a person to life.

This begs the question - why do we, as a society, support the death penalty?

Morally, I question the need for the death penalty as a form of justice, because by killing a person we become murderers.  Even if you don't actively participate in the execution, you are an accomplice to the crime if you support the death penalty.  Logically speaking, that means that we (as a society) are all murderers every time someone in our respective states or federally is executed.

On top of moral concerns, the cost of an execution far outweighs the cost of life in prison.  In terms of time, studies have shown that in some states merely choosing a jury takes over ten times longer for a case where the prosecutor is asking for the death penalty instead of life in prison without parole.  The court trials themselves also take significantly more time, as do the appeals process.  The average time in prison across the states is 16 years from the time of sentencing to the time of execution, with places such as California boasting a time lack of around 25 years.

In terms of money, several states report that it costs between two and five times more to put someone to death than to imprison someone for forty years.  The financial costs stem from lengthy appeals processes, higher attorney fees, and the need to maintain separate facilities for death rows inmates.  Plus, the state still needs to pay for food and housing while the inmates wait for their execution, meaning that the first 16 years of a life in prison sentence costs less that the first 16 years of a death sentence.

Finances also effect who arrives on death row.  A 2010 federal study discovered that for federal death penalty cases where less than $320,000 was spent on defense fees, the odds of a successful conviction are double the odds for cases where more than $320,000 was spent.  Logically, this means that poor people are more likely to get the death penalty that the wealthy.

After all, who has over a quarter of a million dollars lying around to mount a defense?

The study also showed that while the average cost of non-death penalty cases is $77,616 per case, the average cost of a death penalty case is over $620,928 - that means that we spent over eight times the amount to prosecute someone and ask for the death penalty.

And in case you're wondering, courts run on tax money, meaning you fund the death penalty.

Personally, I do not want to fund the death penalty, and I resent those who act as if a person must be executed or they go free.  In Lubbock County, Texas, Criminal District Attorney Matt Powell said:
The people who say that’s a viable argument, please look at a mother in the eye who has lost a son and say 'you know what, I could have stopped him and I didn't because it costs too much.'
My answer?  The choice is not death penalty or go free;  the choice is death penalty or life in prison without parole.  There is no "go free and commit more crimes" option here.

It is time for we, as Americans, to rise above the petty need for revenge. 
It is time for us to stand for what is morally correct.
It is time for us to remove the death penalty from our law books.

It is time for the death penalty to die.  

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