A Death Penalty Revival

Former President Donald Trump (R) revived the use of the death penalty after a hiatus of some duration, and President Joe Biden (D) has moved to deprecate the death penalty anew, even if inconsistently so.

I confess to being conflicted regarding the death penalty. There are some crimes so heinous that they cry out for execution of the criminal. Rape, especially of children, and premeditated murder come to mind for me, along with mass and serial murder.

However, the error rate in getting convictions for these crimes is high enough to give me pause. Some errors are the result of police error in the investigation, police or prosecutorial misconduct in the runup to trial, prosecutorial or judicial error during trial, or prosecutorial misconduct during trial. These instances are very rare, but they happen. Another reason for my reluctance is improving technology. Increasing ability to analyze DNA data—even the basic ability to handle DNA as evidence at all—reveals what becomes erroneous trial and conviction today even when those convictions of yesterday were correctly obtained given the evidence then available.

Thus: it’s easy enough to execute a criminal tomorrow. But if he’s executed today, and tomorrow we learn that he was wrongly convicted, we can’t undo his execution.

It’s maddening, on the other hand, for the survivors of the criminal’s crime to suffer the delays defense attorneys and “liberal” Others throw up to obstruct and delay an execution, and those delays deny justice for those survivors.

One at least partial solution would be to streamline the death penalty appeals process. Require attorneys bringing a case for delay or sentence reduction to something less than execution to present all of their objections in a single case, to include consolidation of all of the several separate lawyer cases into a single, class-action if you will, case. Perhaps, allow a single additional appeal based on truly newly developed evidence.

That won’t address the errors later discerned with improving technology. However, we can’t allow heinous criminals to escape the death penalty on the basis of inherently speculative potential future technology advances.

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