NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Friday, September 14th, 2012

Washington lawmakers should act to abolish executions in the 2013 legislative session

A few months ago, as spring reached its apex, Connecticut’s Governor, Dannel Malloy, a Democrat, signed a bill outlawing capital punishment. “Connecticut joins sixteen other states and the rest of the industrialized world by taking this action,” he noted as he signed the bill into law.

The signs are obvious for anyone who looks. Capital punishment is in decline. How long will it take Washington to join Connecticut and the rest of the industrialized world? If you believe, as we do, that abolishing executions is an imperative action for a civilized society to take, your next step should be to join the Washington Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty and learn more.

The United States of America is one of a small handful of countries that continues to execute its own citizens (though, as mentioned, some states have outlawed this barbaric practice). With forty-three executions in 2011, the U. S. ranks fifth – behind China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq. Those are not countries whose human rights records deserve emulation.

We should all be alarmed by the frequency with which innocent men and women are sentenced to death. When Illinois outlawed executions in 2011, Democratic Governor Pat Quinn declared that it was “impossible to fix a system that wrongly condemned twenty men who were later found to be innocent.”

He was speaking only of Illinois; since 1973 one hundred and forty people in twenty-six states have been released from death row with evidence of their innocence. Why do people get unjustly convicted? Because human beings make mistakes. And all judges and jurors are human beings.

Sometimes the prosecution withholds exculpatory evidence, sometimes suspects are coerced into making false confessions.

Sometimes eyewitnesses make mistaken identifications.

Plea bargains can effectively bribe witnesses into making false testimony. All of these things are documented to happen with significant frequency.

Thankfully, many prosecutors have begun to realize that capital punishment serves no useful purpose. That may help explain why execution rates in the U.S. have been falling pretty steadily since a high of ninety-eight in 1999.

But as execution rates drop, the morality and constitutionality of capital punishment continues to be debated. With execution rates a fraction of a percent of the murder rate, application of the death penalty is mostly a matter of chance. Somewhat like “being struck by lightning”, as Justice Potter Stewart said in 1972, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the death penalty.

Its arbitrary application was the main consideration in that ruling, and the hope that a system had been devised to prevent it was the rationale for its return in 1976. But that hope has proved false.

It’s time to abolish executions once and for all.

Another key constitutional issue is whether the death penalty actually serves the goals of retribution and deterrence. The statistical evidence is a resounding NO. In study after study, states without capital punishment have consistently lower murder rates. In 2010, the average murder rate in death penalty states was 4.6, while that in states without the death penalty was 2.9 per 100,000. The existence of the death penalty cheapens the value of life.

Each time a state enacts legislation outlawing capital punishment, it brings us closer to the day when the U.S. will be able to join the rest of the civilized world in respecting the sanctity of human life. Washington has a choice. We can help bring about meaningful and positive change, or we can let change be brought to us.

For me, the choice is obvious. I hope it is for you, too.

Adjacent posts

  • Donate now to support The Cascadia Advocate

    Thank you for reading The Cascadia Advocate, the Northwest Progressive Institute’s journal of world, national, and local politics.

    Founded in March of 2004, The Cascadia Advocate has been helping people throughout the Pacific Northwest and beyond make sense of current events with rigorous analysis and thought-provoking commentary for more than fifteen years. The Cascadia Advocate is funded by readers like you: we have never accepted advertising or placements of paid content.

    And we’d like it to stay that way.

    Help us keep The Cascadia Advocate editorially independent and freely available by becoming a member of the Northwest Progressive Institute today. Or make a donation to sustain our essential research and advocacy journalism.

    Your contribution will allow us to continue bringing you features like Last Week In Congress, live coverage of events like Netroots Nation or the Democratic National Convention, and reviews of books and documentary films.

    Become an NPI member Make a one-time donation