Saturday, July 7, 2012
A letter I wrote to the editor of the Oregon State Bar Magazine. We would love to hear your thoughts on this very compelling subject.
Why Chance It?
I write this in response to the article about the death penalty debate in Oregon (June 2012). In the interest of full disclosure, I am against the death penalty. I do not believe a civilized society should be in the business of killing its citizens.
From a pragmatic perspective, having represented hundreds of criminal defendants, I do not believe the death penalty is a deterrent. If there is a legitimate study that shows otherwise, I have never seen it.
The bottom line is this: The death penalty is an inherently flawed system that unnecessarily costs the state of Oregon billions of dollars. And when was the last time Oregon executed someone? What comes with a death sentence is the constitutionally required appellate process. And that process is very, very expensive.
We pursue death penalty convictions knowing that we really never execute anyone; and we do so fully aware that the process that comes with a death penalty sentence is incredibly expensive. I once asked a prominent district attorney, “Why does your office pursue the death penalty when you know we don’t end up executing in Oregon?” His response: “Because death row is a miserable existence.” So, given such a mindset, wouldn’t it make more sense to give people true life sentences and simply impose the same prison conditions as those on death row?
Lastly, and most importantly, in recent years this country has witnessed hundreds of death row inmates exonerated for the crimes for which they were convicted. Sadly, many of those innocent individuals were exonerated after they were executed. So why would we ever chance it? How can you tell me that some unquantifiable benefit of the death penalty outweighs the fact that at times we get it wrong?