Death Penalty

Moving toward a Moratorium

A report released on by Andrew Welsh-Huggins of the Associated Press today announced that Ohio’s 30-year-old death penalty law will be examined by a committee, which was convened by Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor. According to O’Connor, the purpose of the committee is not to decide if Ohio should have capital punishment, but rather to build a fair and impartial analysis of the law. During the time of the committee, which was given just over a year to complete the study, there will be an unofficial moratorium on the death penalty in the state, as three executions have already been postponed and another inmate has requested a postponement of his Nov. 15 execution date as well.

While this is not an end to the death penalty in Ohio by any means, it is a signal that dialogue has begun surrounding the issue, a dialogue that will hopefully spark debate among the additional 33 states in the U.S. that still have capital punishment on the books. After all, the systemic issues with Ohio’s capital punishment system are certainly not unique to the state. In fact, the issues with capital punishment go far deeper than simply a moral issue of whether it is permissible for the State to take the life of one of it’s citizens. The death penalty system is one that is clearly unbalanced in terms of race, class, and geography.

According to The Death Penalty Information Center, 96% of the states where the death penalty has been reviewed have shown a clear pattern of race-of-victim or race-of-defendant discrimination. Additionally, over 75% of the murder victims in cases that resulted in execution were white, despite the fact that only 50% of murder victims are white. In terms of socio-economic imbalance, nearly all the defendants in capital cases cannot afford their own attorneys and are given court-appointed attorneys, which, according to recent studies in states like Pennsylvania, such as this one, these court-appointed attorneys are often over-worked and under-paid, and many times lack the experience necessary to take on a capital case (read more here). Within states that allow the death penalty, the quality of representation or the likelihood that a court will pursue the death penalty often varies from county to county, making the system one that is not only rife with classism and racism, but also one that is arbitrary, based more on the color of the victim’s skin and on the county the crime was committed in then on the severity or proof of the crime.

And not only is this system a gross violation of human rights in this country, it is also costs more than life without parole. The Death Penalty Information Center notes that in Kansas, capital cases are 70% more expensive than cases of life without parole. In Florida, it costs the state $51 million a year over what it would cost to give all first degree murder cases life without parole. This trend is similar across all 34 states with the death penalty still in place. In such difficult economic times, it is hard to imagine why a system which has been proven to be a failure in terms of deterrence of future crimes and which is clearly racially skewed, geographically skewed, and socio-economically skewed, is allowed to continue in this country. With fewer and fewer people in support of the death penalty every year, it is time that we have some serious debate about our criminal justice system and our medieval capital punishment system. Ohio has begun the discussion. Now it is time for the remaining 33 states to do the same.

Article also published at The Progressive Playbook.

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