Friday, March 31, 2006

DNA, Capital Punishment and Humanity

Now that we have DNA evidence to make certain that we have the right person who committed a particular crime, I believe the time has come to change our approach to capital punishment. Recent actions by the former governor of Illinois in stopping, temporarily, all executions should have given all thoughtful people pause. Our system of justice is based on the premise that it is better that 10 guilty persons go free than for one innocent person to be convicted. In the case of a capital crime, this principle is especially important.

I believe that capital punishment is in order only in certain first degree murder cases. I am in favor of capital punishment only when DNA evidence guarantees that the right person has been charged. As the Illinois review confirmed, there have been too many cases of mistaken identity, botched evidence, botched defense, and, occasionally, police or prosecutorial misconduct. The only exceptions to this general rule would be in situations where there are multiple convictions or in the case of the murder of an officer of the court. I believe that court officers (police, judges, prosecutors, and prison and court guards) deserve this extra protection.

I believe that capital punishment is the only way to guarantee the long-term safety of the community, by deterring acts of murder and by eliminating persons capable of murder. If convictions are allowed only where DNA evidence is the deciding factor, it follows that the long periods of endless appeals that we have now, that place people on death row for decades, would end or greatly diminish. Capital punishment based only on DNA would therefore end the burden on the community to have to support and to guard that individual – usually for decades.

For those who, like me, believe that capital punishment is a necessary tool in a civilized society, requiring positive confirmation by DNA would have another benefit: it would slow down or reverse the movement to get rid of the death penalty. Currently twelve states and Washington, DC have removed the death penalty, and in New York and Kansas, their statutes imposing the death penalty have been ruled unconstitutional.

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