Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Real Penalty Box

The Maryland State Senate passed a compromise bill yesterday, to limit, rather than repeal, the State’s death penalty.

The salient details are that the death penalty may not be sought where the only evidence is from eyewitnesses, and may be sought only when there is DNA evidence, video evidence or voluntary videotaped confession. (I wonder who agrees to that?)

I’ve always been ambivalent about the death penalty. On one hand, I think that there are some crimes so heinous that the guy just needs killing. I don’t need to site a bunch of ugly examples… you know the kind of crimes I mean. A person capable of such atrocities is beyond rehabilitation, and just needs to get in a hole in the ground.

On the other hand, there’s the staggering misapplication of the death penalty. Anyone with enough money to afford a good lawyer is not going to be put to death, period. Economics, race, class… all of it plays into a situation that cries out for unflinching evenhandedness. Further, I don’t see a shred of evidence that it deters anyone.

Most important, though, is our nation’s habit of convicting the wrong people! The
Innocence Project has what, over a 130 death row cases overturned with DNA evidence? I can’t think of anything more chilling than the prospect of a truly innocent person being killed by the government. That just can’t happen in a “free” society. Not to a single person, period.

So I don’t have a problem with this compromise bill. It keeps the death penalty around for those slam-dunk cases that truly need it and mitigates the chance of it being misapplied. I think that’s the best we can hope for and it’s the kind of pragmatic compromise that this country could use a lot more of. Now whether the House of Delegates will get on board and pass a similar bill is another story. Somehow, I kind of doubt it.

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