ISSUES AND ANSWERS ON DEATH PENALTY IN DELAWARE: Delaware shouldn’t be in the ‘business of killing people’

Kathleen MacRae is the executive director of the ACLU of Delaware.

Do you think Delaware should reinstate the death penalty?

Delaware should definitely not reinstate the death penalty. The death penalty is a system broken beyond repair that does not keep the community safe. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, in 2016, murder rates were overall 25 percent higher in states with the death penalty than in states without the death penalty.

The death penalty system is biased against people who are poor or are members of a minority group. Those typically sentenced to death and executed are not the “worst of the worst.” Rather, they are people who are frequently mentally ill, emotionally impaired or intellectually disabled with low IQs.

The government should not be in the business of killing people or forcing Delawareans who sit on juries or work for the Department of Corrections to make decisions about killing their fellow citizens.

If it’s reinstated, how should the reduced availability of the chemical compound used for execution be addressed?

Kathleen MacRae

Another reason that the General Assembly should not reinstate the death penalty is the lack of availability of drugs for lethal injection. In May of 2016, the pharmaceutical company Pfizer announced that it would impose strict distribution controls to block states from obtaining and using its medicines in executions. In its statement, the company said that they make their products to “enhance and save life,” not for lethal injection. Pfizer joined every major pharmaceutical company that produces drugs that have been used in lethal injections in voicing these objections.

The American Pharmacists Association, the International Academy of Compounding Pharmacies, and the American Medical Association also oppose their members’ participation in executions.

The unavailability of execution drugs from the open market and through drug redistributors has driven states to seek alternative, and in some cases illegal, sources for these drugs. Many states have faced legal challenges due to their actions. The ACLU stands ready to challenge the state of Delaware if a similar situation should ever arise here.

How likely is it that an innocent person may be executed by mistake?

The death penalty system is implemented by people who can make mistakes or, sometimes, deliberately lie or cheat. Since 1973, 160 men and women who were sentenced to death have been exonerated and released from prison. This compares to 1,465 executions in that same time period.

So, for every nine people executed one has been exonerated and freed, including Isaiah McCoy right here in Delaware. Many others who were on death row have had their sentences reduced or commuted even though they were not fully exonerated. SaveInnocents.com, which has researched the possible innocence of people who have been executed, claims that there are over 40 cases of innocents being executed in the United States.

Would a reinstated death penalty help protect the state’s law enforcement personnel?

The argument that the death penalty is a deterrent to murder has been a part of the death penalty debate from the beginning. But the notion that the death penalty would help protect the police, or even a regular citizen for that matter, is a debunked myth. In 2012, the prestigious National Research Council of the National Academies released a report based on a review of more than three decades of research. They concluded that studies claiming a deterrent effect on murder rates from the death penalty were fundamentally flawed.

They specifically said that claims that research demonstrates that capital punishment decreases or increases the homicide rate should not influence policy judgments about capital punishment.

This is from deathpenaltyinfo.com: “A Death Penalty Information Center analysis of U.S. murder data from 1987 through 2015 has found no evidence that the death penalty deters murder or protects police. Instead, the evidence shows that murder rates, including murders of police officers, are consistently higher in death-penalty states than in states that have abolished the death penalty. And far from experiencing increases in murder rates or open season on law enforcement, the data show that states that have abolished the death penalty since 2000 have the lowest rates of police officers murdered in the line of duty and that killings of police account for a much smaller percentage of murders in those states.”

If the inmates charged with killing Lt. Steven Floyd in the Feb. 1 Vaughn prison uprising were found guilty and the death penalty was reinstated, do you approve of prosecutors pursuing execution retroactively?

It is impossible to pursue the death penalty retroactively. The law at the time of the crime is the one governing the possible punishment, not the law at the time of trial. Any inmate convicted of killing Lt. Floyd will never face the death penalty. It would be an ex post facto violation.

For another viewpoint, visit here.

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