April 17, 2007
More on the DMN's death penalty change of heart

More good stuff from the Dallas Morning News, whose conversion on the death penalty has if not the zeal then certainly the earnestness one expects from a convert.

In theory, the ultimate punishment is imposed for the most heinous of crimes. But in practice, the death penalty has not been applied flawlessly or fairly. About 2 percent of known murderers are sentenced to death, but the fate of the accused often hinges on disparate details unrelated to the crime committed.

Wealth, race and random luck play a role in determining whether a case ends in death. Politics and geography can mean the difference between life in prison or lethal injection.

State-sanctioned death, it seems, is arbitrary.

Whether you agree with their conclusion, they've clearly put a lot of thought into arriving at it. Now it's just a question of what effect their thinking may have on others.

We need a consistent standard.

But as long as capital punishment remains an option, it will be viewed as the ultimate goal, and prosecutors will face pressure to meet that goal.

Justice demands a punishment that is fair yet revocable, one that provides a sense of finality while allowing for the fallibility of the system.

Life without parole meets that bar.

It's harsh. It's just. And it's final without being irreversible.

Call it a living death.

I remember reading a short story in middle school that involved a bet between two men over whether death was preferable to life in prison - one of them spent 15 years in a jail cell built by the other, with agreed-upon limitations of his contact with the outside world, as the test of the bet. Can't remember the story's name or author, though - can anyone help jog my memory? I'm pretty sure it was a 19th century story, most likely written by an American.

Death does not provide an added level of justice. A prison sentence that does not allow for the possibility of parole accomplishes the same objectives: protecting society from violent criminals and ensuring that every day of a murderer's life is a miserable existence.

Our standards of punishment have evolved over time, from the gallows to firing squads, from the electric chair to lethal injection. Life without parole, essentially death by prison, should be the new standard.

Hey, I'm sold. When you can get the victim's rights groups on board as well, then we'll really have something. In the meantime, I agree with their call for a moratorium by the Lege along with a real study of how the current system does and does not work. Given current reality, I'll settle for stopping the expansion of the death penalty. But I'm happy to aim higher than that as well.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 17, 2007 to Crime and Punishment