Monday, October 15, 2007

When justice grinds to a halt

The rare imposition of death sentences in the state that led the way with the first execution in the modern era reveals the lack of resources that are dedicated to the task of state killing. The irony is that the money already invested is still more significant than the cost of life imprisonment.

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As I have written previously, it should not be easy to take someone's life. On the contrary, killing one of its citizens should be the most difficult task that the State undertakes. Therefore, to deliberately withhold adequate funding for indigent defendants is a violation of the U.S. Constitution, makes a mockery of the notion of justice, and is a further indication of how the death penalty has corrupted our legal system.

In order to understand my claim that the deliberate underfunding of indigent defense, especially, in capital cases, is a violation of the U.S. Constitution please read about the trial of the Scottsboro Boys and the decision in Powell v. Alabama. Then please read the decision in Gideon v. Wainwright. The 6th and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution provide for a fair trial and the right to the assistance of counsel. The fact that the Court undermined the 6th Amendment in Strickland v. Washington does not make the quest for a fair trial any less urgent.

It is an embarrassment, an abomination, and a travesty that the State has made it increasingly easy to kill. It is also somewhat ironic that the death penalty is 2-5 times more expensive than life in prison, yet we can easily see how underfunded the capital litigation is. What return on this investment do we receive? Would it not make for sound fiscal policy to redirect the millions of dollars expended on seeking a death sentence to more effective crime control policies?


JCSWID said...

Although I am wholly against the DP, I do wonder if this is the wrong target for reform. In other words, is DP legislation the issue, or is it a matter of the (so-called) crime control policies in place that fill prisons with deathrow inmates, inundate an already flooded legal system, and reward attorneys for private, rather than public, work?

M. Blankenship said...

A great question! I suggest that the answer is to address both. As Justice Blackmun wote, the death penalty experiment has failed. But so have our other crime control policies. Many of the people currently awaiting execution were crime victims themselves, frequently at an early age. The system failed them, reacting only when they became predators.