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Tag: dudley sharp

Column: Simply Put, the Death Penalty Cost Too Much

Ross Parker was chief of the criminal division in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit for 8 years and worked as an AUSA for 28 in that office. He is the author of the book “Carving Out the Rule of Law: The History of the United States Attorney’s Office in Eastern Michigan 1815–2008″.
 
Second of a two part series.

Ross Parker

 
 
 
By Ross Parker
ticklethewire.com

Stan Garnett, the District Attorney in Boulder, recently told the people of Colorado that, although he was not morally or philosophically opposed to the death penalty, he had simply concluded that it was too expensive, time consuming, and subject to random application. As reported in Colorado’s Daily Camera, he said that he found it to be impractical and of limited law enforcement relevance.

A recent death verdict had cost the state $18 million to fund its appeals. The budget of the county prosecutor’s office is $4.6 million a year, and he had 1,900 other felonies to prosecute. Boulder County has not executed anyone in the 140 years since statehood.

Damon Thibodeaux had confessed after a nine-hour interrogation to raping and killing his 14-year old cousin. He later recanted the confession but was convicted and sentenced to death in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. He spent 15 years on Death Row in Angola Prison. In September of this year, after a five-year investigation in which the District Attorney cooperated fully, including DNA evidence, his conviction was set aside and he was released a free man. Capital defense experts claim that 140 other Death Row prisoners have been exonerated since 1973, 18 by DNA.

These two factors—financial burden and fear of executing an innocent person—are defining the terms of the current debate on the death penalty. Few such discussions seriously mention factors formerly considered crucial—morality, religion, deterrence, racial discrimination, except in passing. Nor do other seemingly important matters such as random unfairness, mental illness of offenders, logistical problems with the humane administration of lethal injection drugs, seem to affect the great majority of the populace or political decision makers very much.

Whatever the nature of the debate, the trend is clear. Five states in the last five years have ended capital punishment. Twenty-nine states have not conducted an execution in over five years, twenty-three in over ten years. There were 224 death sentences and 85 executions in 1985 compared to 78 death sentences and 43 executions in 2012.

Thirty-three states still have the death penalty but few use it. Three-fourths of the executions in the U.S. in 2012 took place in just four states: Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, and Arizona.

Even a conservative Supreme Court has whittled away at the scope of permissible candidates for the death penalty by eliminating broad categories: Cohen-1977 (rape not resulting in death); Emmund-1982 (minor participants who do not kill or attempt to kill); Ford-1986 (insane persons); Thompson-1988 (juveniles 15 and under at the time of the crime); Atkins-2002 (mentally retarded); Roper-2005 (under 18 at the time of the crime); Kennedy-2008 (victim’s life is not taken).

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