Legislature should act now to end capital punishment in Colorado
Good for Senate Majority Leader Morgan Carroll and Speaker of the House Mark Ferrandino!
After passing controversial legislation on gun safety, civil unions, energy extraction and other contentious issues, they would have been justified in whiling away the remainder of the term regulating marijuana like alcohol.
Instead, they are taking on the death penalty. House Bill 1264 to abolish capital punishment in Colorado was introduced Friday.
“The death penalty is a failed public policy,” said bill sponsor Sen. Claire Levy, D-Boulder. “It fails on legal grounds in that it is arbitrarily applied, it fails to recognize we make mistakes, it fails to save taxpayer dollars and it fails to give victims the swift resolution they deserve. That’s why so many states are moving away from the death penalty.”
On the same day the death penalty bill was introduced in Colorado, Maryland’s Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley signed a bill ending the death penalty in his state.
Legislators of both parties in Colorado, who in the past have supported the death penalty, ought to listen carefully to O’Malley explain why Maryland passed a bill overturning the state’s death penalty.
“In Maryland,” O’Malley said, “We govern by results: If a public policy works, we choose to invest in it. On the other hand, when a public policy does not produce results, we invest our limited resources instead in things that are proven to work.
“Capital punishment is expensive and the overwhelming evidence is that it does not work as a deterrent.”
With those words, O’Malley changed the terms of the death-penalty debate from moral and legal questions to practical and economic ones. It costs too much and it doesn’t work anyway.
One of the justifications the Supreme Court offered for restoring the death penalty in 1977 was its value as a deterrent. Credible research by both conservative and liberal legal scholars and social scientists shows no apparent deterrent effect from capital punishment.
The second reason offered by the Supreme Court was “retribution.” An eye for an eye.
Americans, as our prison population shows, demand retribution for crime. The death penalty is often defended as a necessary retribution for the most heinous crimes.
But, as the Innocence Project and other anti-death penalty organizations have shown, in our zeal to solve these heinous crimes, innocent men and women have been rushed to death row. Many have died for crimes they did not commit.
“The punishment is supposed to be reserved for the very worst criminals,” The New York Times reports, “but dozens of studies in state after state have shown that the process for deciding who should be sent to death row is arbitrary and discriminatory.”
Americans like to believe the retribution they exact is just. But, as the Times reports, “Thanks to the Innocence Project and the overturning of 18 wrongful convictions of death-row inmates with DNA evidence and the exoneration of 16 others charged with capital crimes, the American public is increasingly aware that the system makes terrible mistakes. Since 1973, a total of 142 people have been freed from death row after being exonerated with DNA or other kinds of evidence.”
The Times also said, “A host of other respected experts have also concluded that life imprisonment is a far more practical form of retribution, because the death penalty proves too expensive, too time-consuming and unfairly applied.”
Maryland is the 18th state to overturn the death penalty. Of these, six have banned the practice within the past six years.
The Death Penalty Information Center lists 17 more states where legislation has been, or will be, introduced this year. “The vote in ... Maryland ... to end the death penalty is in line with an emerging trend away from capital punishment around the country,” reports Richard Dieter, executive director of the center. “Death sentences and executions have sharply declined, and now states are taking the final step toward eliminating the death penalty.”
Colorado legislators of both parties should vote to end capital punishment when HB 1264 comes up for a vote. It is not only the right thing to do, it is also the most practical.