Death penalty due greater discussion
Members of the House Judiciary Committee took appropriate action this week when they killed a bill that would have eliminated Colorado’s death penalty. We’re glad to see that several Democrats joined Republicans on the committee to kill the bill, even if they did so in part because Gov. John Hickenlooper threatened a veto.
It’s not that we believe the death penalty must always remain part of Colorado’s criminal code, regardless of how times change. Rather, we believe there needs to be a sober and lengthy discussion about the death penalty, its usefulness versus its flaws.
It’s true that in Colorado the death penalty has rarely been used in recent decades. However, as a letter on this page suggests, it may still be a useful prosecutorial tool.
On the other hand, there are the increasing questions about wrongful convictions, as demonstrated by DNA evidence. Then there is the question of deterrence. Many states with no death penalty have no higher murder rates than, say, Texas, which executes prisoners more frequently than any other state.
If the goal of having a death penalty isn’t to serve as a criminal deterrent, then does it serve a societal purpose simply to punish those who commit the most heinous crimes? For instance, if the man who shot and killed Colorado Department of Corrections Director Tom Clements last week was acting upon the instructions of someone inside the prisons, and that person is eventually identified and convicted, does it make sense to execute such an offender as a sort of eye-for-an-eye punishment?
These and other questions aren’t likely to get the kind of thoughtful discussion they deserve in the highly charged political atmosphere of a legislative committee or floor vote.
A group organized outside the Capitol would have a better chance of examining such issues thoughtfully and making recommendations either to the Legislature or the governor.