The recent spike in murders in Boston have more than one candidate for public office, and more than one conservative talk show host, waxing on and on about how Massachusetts and other states should adopt the death penalty. Oh God, I think, not another round of this mindless debate. “Now!” the conservatives and law-and-order types cry; “Now is the time!” Like a broken record, death penalty advocates repeat that it will 1) Deter crime and 2) That even if it doesn’t deter crime, that as “the ultimate punishment, the punishment should fit the crime.”
For the one millionth time, let’s make something clear: Credible study after study, and empirical, real-world experience after real-world experience has shown: The death penalty does NOT deter violent crime. That is inarguable, and has been well settled among reasoned minds for many years. As a Boston Massachusetts murder defense attorney, I have sat and spoken with a number of murderers and violent criminals, and I can assure you: Not one of them ever stopped and thought to himself, “Wait a minute, isn’t there a death penalty in this state? On second thought, I won’t commit this crime.” Murderers kill because they have depraved hearts and minds, and no morality or human decency. Death penalty statutes have never deterred violent crimes such as murder, rape and felony-murder. It just doesn’t work that way.
Another major reason why the death penalty is inadvisable, owes to the significant possibility that it may be applied incorrectly – i.e., that an innocent person could be executed. In the event that doesn’t convince those who still doubt this reality, visit The Innocence Project, where DNA evidence has exonerated many wrongfully-convicted inmates sitting on death row. Another major, and much more practical, argument against capital punishment is the financial cost – to you and me, the taxpayers. What cost am I talking about? Most people have either not considered, will not consider, or do not believe, just how much money it costs in mandatory appeals following a death penalty sentence. Nor, very importantly, do most people understand how much time these appeals take, and where they have to wind their way through in the court system. They can cost millions of dollars in legal and administrative fees – and who pays for this? You and I do – the state and federal taxpayers. Death row inmates do not have money to pay for private lawyers to handle their appeals through the state courts, the United States (federal) District Courts, the United States Courts of Appeals, and if necessary all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
But I’m not going to devote this post to these very powerful arguments against the death penalty. I think the better way is to appeal to common every day sense as to what the word (and the practice) of “punishment” really means. Death penalty advocates are so blind in their zeal, they’ve forgotten what “the ultimate punishment” in the modern legal system consists of. No, it isn’t being drawn and quartered, or stoned, or hung, or facing a firing or even electrocuted. Those were all dreadful, barbaric, and painful ways to inflict capital punishment. Today, that is hardly the case: In the majority of states that have the death penalty, execution is by lethal injection – a nearly painless, easy, quiet, almost peaceful death. Most people over teenage years have undergone some type of medical or surgical procedure requiring general anesthesia – aside from an IV needle, it’s an entirely painless procedure. The same system used to administer anesthesia to a medical patient, is used to execute someone by lethal injection: After the IV is inserted, three drugs are administered. The first renders the prisoner unconscious. After that first injection, he or she feels nothing, and is conscious of nothing. The second injection causes respiration to cease; the third injection causes heartbeat to cease. That’s it: No pain. No suffering. The “patient” is merely put to sleep, and doesn’t wake up. It’s the most peaceful, merciful death anyone could ask for.
How death penalty advocates can claim that this kind of “punishment” is worse that an entire lifetime being locked in a cage, incarcerated with some of the most violent, savage animals society has ever known, is beyond me. How constant incarceration, deprivation, prison rape and violence, and literally a lifetime of despair can be thought of as less of a punishment than simply going to sleep and not waking up, is beyond me. I’ve never understood this reasoning (which is advanced by people that know next to nothing about the U.S. prison system.) Thank God I was born and raised with the values and morals that I have, but if I were the type of person to commit murder, and I faced a choice between life in prison or the option to be spared all that lifetime of torture with a peaceful, painless, easy death, I’d choose death by lethal injection in a second.
So I don’t oppose the death penalty because I’m ‘soft on crime.’ I oppose it because it’s too easy a way out for the truly guilty. Exhibit ‘A’ for that argument are the two animals who admitted what they did in the 2007 Cheshire, Connecticut home invasion murders. After they’ve had the vigorous legal defense that they are entitled to, I’d love to see them rot in prison every day for the rest of their lives. Yes, criminal defense attorneys know justice when they see it.
And I’ll always call a spade a spade.