Monday, January 7, 2008

Families of victims reject death penalty

Not every victims' family wants the offender executed. All too often, the needs of the victims' families are ignored. This factor was taken into consideration when New Jersey abolished the death penalty.

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Defenders of the death penalty have frequently invoked the image that every victims' families want to see the offender executed. This myth is finally being exposed.

Several victims group exist that oppose the imposition of the death penalty. Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights and Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation are but two examples. New Jersey recently abolished the death penalty because of the negative impact on the victims' family (see the report and recommendations from the NJ Death Penalty Study Commission). In essence, many victims' families want to avoid the "revictimization" by the criminal justice system and do not want the offender killed in their name or the memory of their loved one.

More research is needed on this topic. The extant literature suggests that execution does not always bring closure to the victims' families. Given the length of death row sentences, the promise of "justice" from prosecutors is ephemeral at best and disingenuous at worst. Several instances have occurred in which the prosecutor denied the victims' family member the opportunity to testify in court when that testimony was not in favor of executing the offender.

If the criminal justice system truly cared about the victim and the victims' family, then it would take steps to reduce the number of murder victims (executions is not one of these options) and to assist all crime victims with their recovery.

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