Should New Mexico Reinstate The Death Penalty?
In 2009 the death penalty was repealed in New Mexico. Our new Governor Susana Martinez supports reinstating the death penalty and there are attempts to reinstate it in the current legislative session. Too often the arguments on both side of the question get caught up in details and miss the bigger picture.
It took me many years to sort out how I felt about this question. Years ago I listened to both sides of the argument before finally realizing that life without parole is much preferable to the death penalty, no matter how horrible the crime. I would like to share some of the insights behind that conclusion that is even more relevant today.
- No matter how we feel about the crimes committed, it is clear that many mistakes have been made over the years where people have been sentenced for crimes that they did not commit. Not a year goes by without someone being let out of prison after evidence is uncovered that proves they really were innocent. Some have been locked away for years before being proved innocent. Although there is no way to know for sure how many, but it is obvious that some have been put to death who were innocent. Our system of justice is imperfect, no matter how many safeguards we try to put in place.
- Some will argue that the death penalty is the ultimate punishment. But this argument is usually made from the perspective of people who have never served time in a rough prison environment. Stop and think about this for a moment. If your objective is to punish the offender, what do you think is the greater punishment: being put to death or having to live in a tough prison environment without an option for parole? Wouldn’t you rather the offender have the rest of their life in a very restricted environment to think about what they have done wrong?
- I won’t try to present the numbers, but anyone paying attention will realize that the death penalty is far more expensive in terms of overall average costs than life in prison. Years of appeals are always in order and often reach the steps of the Supreme Court. Even in New Mexico with our sparse population the Public Defender Department estimates that reinstating the death penalty could cost the state millions of dollars extra in increased court costs.
- You often hear that the threat of the death penalty can deter the most violent crimes. Yet again this argument is usually made from the point of view of law abiding citizens. The criminal doesn’t expect to get caught, so this argument really doesn’t hold water.
- You also hear the argument that the death penalty brings closure for victims and their families, but this usually doesn’t turn out to be the case. I have seen enough reported evidence over the decades to realize that angry victims are still angry after the death penalty has been carried out and they still haven’t found closure.
- Although most prison systems are a harsh environment, it is important to realize that even some of the people who have committed the most horrible crimes eventually come around to realize the error of their ways and then try to do their best to make amends. Shouldn’t they have the opportunity to work out the error of their ways while they are still on this earth?
You will notice that I didn’t invoke any religious arguments. No matter which religion or which religious argument is used, there is always someone who can present a counter argument from that same set of religious beliefs.
So in the end, no system of justice on this earth can get it right every single time. Since it is obvious that mistakes have been made and innocent people put to death and supporting the death penalty is more expensive, why not settle for life in prison without parole instead? At least then we can reverse errors when they do occur, but if the innocent person has already been put to death it is too late.
Like this post? Subscribe to my RSS feed and get loads more!