Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Court Won't Take Up Delayed Executions

The Supreme Court declined once again yesterday to decide whether a lengthy delay in carrying out a death sentence amounts to cruel and unusual punishment, this time in the case of an Arizona man who murdered two teenage girls.

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I look out at this year's first-year college students in my introductory criminal justice class and try to compare their time on this earth to that of some of the individuals currently residing on America's death rows. This year's class was born in 1989. I became a police officer in 1976. Joe Clarence Smith was sentenced to die by the State of Arizona in 1977 and continues to await execution.

How can the courts and the State of Arizona justify the continued incarceration of Mr. Smith? As my colleague Margaret Vandiver put it, he is being punished twice for the same offense - life on death row and then the possibility that his sentence will actually be carried out. And we know that living on death row is no pleasant experience. Many countries refuse to extradite prisoners back to states where the individual would be subject to death and incarceration on death row. The s0-called "death row phenomenon" has been well documented - it results in psychological death long before the physical death occurs.

We allow the State to treat Mr. Smith and other like him in this manner in our name. While he may be guilty of the offense for which he was convicted, it is clear that continued incarceration on death row decades after the imposition of the sentence is a violation of human rights, international law, the U.S. Constitution, and the philosophy of the Classical School that provides the philosophical foundation of the the modern criminal justice system in our country.

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