Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Costly Mistakes

I was greatly distressed when I opened the Chicago Tribune and read an article about an upcoming execution in Virigina. Death Row inmate Robin Lovett is scheduled to be executed in just over a month, despite the fact that critical DNA evidence was destroyed by a county clerk because apparently the box containing Mr. Lovett's case files, including the DNA evidence "had been taking up too much space in a courthouse storage room." Although I believe that in many matters the American justice system is one of great merit, its weaknesses are evident in dozens of capital punishment cases just like this one.

I believe that as a citizen of the United States, Robin Lovett ought to have been afforded a fair trial and appeals process, but unfortunately justice has not been served in this case. High profile attorney Kenneth Starr commented that "despite the lower court's casual assurance that here 'the system worked as it should,' constitutional errors have infected every stage of the proceedings."

This is not a small matter. This is a life. It does not matter if I believe he is guilty or not, he still deserves to have every aspect of his case scrutnized before the state kills him, but this is a right that he will not be afforded.

This is only one instance in a long list of problems that have plagued this country's capital punishment system. Incompetent legal counsel, improper jury instructions, poor evidence and many other issues are some of the main reasons I believe we ought to reexamine our policy of capital punishment. I also don't believe in state sanctioned murder (yes, murder. the cause of death listed on a executed prisoner's death certificate is murder, kind of ironic if you ask me). But apart from my own moral values and my views on the sancity of life and judgment, strong evidence shows that capital punishment is extremely costly (more so than keeping someone alive in prison for the rest of their natural life), it is sentenced to far more poor people than rich people (due to the inability of the poor to afford good legal counsel), and there is no scientific proof that capital punishment significantly deters future crime.

Please don't think that I am pro-criminal. I am not. I just believe that there are more efficient and less costly methods for handling the deviants in society than killing them.

Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun, one of the justices responsible for the reinstatement of the U.S. death penalty in 1976, realized the immense ramifications of his decision and wrote in the 1994 decision of Callins v. Collins that he would "no longer tinker with the machinery of death."

How did we become a society that specializes in death?