Monday, August 03, 2009

So Much for Closure

One of the arguments frequently made by supporters of the death penalty is that it's essential to provide closure for the victim's loved ones. That they can't put the murder behind them until the perpetrator has paid the ultimate price.

Over the weekend, Doug Berman pointed to an article that calls that common wisdom into question:

As lawmakers weigh the future of the death penalty in some states, officials are giving greater weight to the effect of prolonged death-penalty cases on victims’ families. Commissions in New Jersey and Maryland in recent years found that death-penalty cases are more harmful to the families of victims than cases that end with life sentences.

'The commission finds that regardless of whether or not a survivor supports an execution, years of court dates, reversals, appeals and exposure to the killer is harmful to the family members of murder victims,' the Maryland commission wrote in its report last year.

New Jersey repealed its death penalty in 2007, while Maryland has had a moratorium since 2006.
The thrust of the piece is that, therefore, the death penalty should be abolished. While I agree with that goal, it seems to me it begs the question a little bit. Is the problem that the penalty itself fails to provide closure, or the current death penalty system, which sometimes takes decades between conviction and execution, is the cause of the problem? In other words, wouldn't streamlining the process be an option?

As I've said many times, I favor the abolition of the death penalty. But in getting to that point, you have to argue honestly and not necessarily hang your hat on problems caused by the system we've got, rather than the system we could have.

No comments: