Commentary: Don’t give into vengeance with death penalty

By Ken Abraham

The Delaware legislature is set to revisit the issue of capital punishment — to reinstate it, keep it or not to reinstate it. Let us join the 21 states which have had the wisdom to see that the death penalty is not a positive part of the criminal justice system. In light of some serious misstatements by some of your readers concerning this issue, they should be reminded of some facts.

The U.S. is the only Western democracy which fails to admit that these executions are a fundamental violation of human rights.

The New York Times ran an excellent investigation/report about seven or eight years ago detailing the inordinate costs of capital cases. The average death penalty case cost about $1.4 million more than non-death sentence cases; the effort — the time — goes to fight the penalty, not the conviction. It costs taxpayers far more than a life sentence without release.

Even as a prosecutor, I never believed in the death penalty. (I asked juries to do what they thought was “right, fair, and just”). The Bible does not say “Thou shalt not kill except in the name of the state”!

Study after study shows that, much like the so-called “war on drugs”, it accomplishes nothing, except satisfying the craving for revenge. It does nothing to protect society. These studies show too that capital punishment indisputably is discriminatory, specifically as to race and socioeconomic status. In addition, The Innocence Project (God Bless Barry Scheck, its founder) has exonerated at least 156 ….and counting…. prisoners from death row.

When I asked Brendan O’Neill, Delaware’s public defender, “What would you say is the biggest problem facing your office?” he said: The death sentences cases” because of the resources necessarily diverted to those cases. I will add that those are probably the only cases where a defendant who has the public defender does get good representation. No offense to the public defenders, but they are swamped…even the best lawyers must have the time to be prepared and they do not.

Our criminal justice system is in shambles: the disparity in sentencing is nearly crazy, too many innocents are convicted or forced (if facing multiple false charges, one dare not go to trial without a good, prepared lawyer, for the law requires consecutive sentences) to plead guilty, the dockets are severely overloaded, leading to all manner of mistakes, and the prisons are out of control (authority run amok). One significant improvement would be doing away with the death penalty.

Ken Abraham, of Dover, served as Delaware deputy attorney general from 1974 to 1979 and is no president of Citizens for Criminal Justice.

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