Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Death Penalty Rant

To graduate high school in Texas, I was required to take one semester of American government. Because our teacher was the head football coach, our class was often an hour of open discussion on a particular topic. On the day we discussed the death penalty, I got kicked out of class for saying I’d rather see nine innocent men put to death than one guilty man walk free.

Ah, how young I was…

I still support the death penalty. And I still believe that it should be carried out in a public forum, not hidden away behind closed doors as if we are ashamed. The death penalty cannot be a deterrent if it is not a real threat. A convicted criminal, sentenced to death, can live in prison for years, supported by taxpayers and appealing their conviction ad nauseum (also funded by taxpayers). If all appeals are finally exhausted, the person is finally “put to sleep” with no fear or pain, and without having to face the family of the person they harmed. I believe that executions should be public, with the manner of death chosen and the execution performed by the family of the victim (if they so desire). When guilt can be confirmed absolutely, with no doubt at all, this is the way it should be.

Unfortunately, at 35, I know a bit more about the legal system than I did at 17.

I know that not all cops are good. In fact, I now believe that roughly 30% of cops are good and 10% are completely corrupt. The remaining 60% just like the feeling of power they get by carrying a badge and gun, and will do what it takes to get to their pension. I know that detectives are often guilty of honing in on one suspect to the exclusion of others who are equally suspicious. I know that prosecutors are “graded” on their conviction rate, and that they’re often happy to get *any* conviction, instead of the *right* conviction. I know that being represented by a public defender is an almost guaranteed conviction. And I know that being attractive, wealthy, or well-connected is a good way to literally get away with murder.

Justice can never be blind as long as humans are involved. The most dedicated and honest law enforcement officials will make mistakes. And, even with current technology, it is exceedingly rare that a case can be proved beyond *any* doubt. Society must use the death penalty carefully, sparingly, and in such a way that it is the deterrent it is meant to be.

When a convicted criminal is executed, the cause of death listed on their death certificate is "homicide." That gives me pause; it should make all of us think very, very carefully. 18 years after getting kicked out of that class, I would rather see nine guilty men walk free than one innocent man put to death.

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