Commentary

10.24.13

Standing Against the Death Penalty

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On Saturday, November 2, 2013 a coalition of faith groups, unions, professional associations, community groups, and rights organizations (including the ACLU of Ohio) will hold a rally at the Ohio Statehouse. At this rally, we will call on Ohio lawmakers to halt the death penalty, end the war on drugs and the epidemic of mass incarceration, break the many reentry barriers for the formerly incarcerated, and put a stop to “stand your ground” proposals in Ohio.

In advance of the rally, the ACLU of Ohio will be blogging about each of these four important issues. In this post, staff member Nick Worner writes about the need to abolish the death penalty.

There are plenty of experts who can throw a mountain of statistics at you, but it only takes a few key pieces of information to conclude that capital punishment is a fundamentally flawed concept.

Ohio Supreme Court Justice Paul Pfeiffer (the architect of our state’s modern death penalty system) really summed the whole thing up when he explained that the system he helped design has become little more than a “death lottery.” He famously turned against capital punishment when he became convinced that death sentences have less to do with the actual offense, and more to do with race, socioeconomic class, and the location of the crime.

But if Pfeiffer’s arguments aren’t enough to convince you, simply consider the number of innocent Americans who have become ensnared in the bureaucracy of death.

Since 1973, 142 men have been released from death row. Take a moment and repeat that number out loud. Not one, not ten, but one hundred and forty two men were once waiting in line to die for crimes they did not commit.

Beyond questions of race or class, there is an ever-present risk inherent in putting other human beings to death. Eventually, we will execute an innocent person. In all likelihood, it has already happened.

Add it all up and you have a system that cannot be applied fairly, does very little to deter violent crime, and runs a near-constant risk of ensnaring the innocent.

All of this before we even begin to discuss the very real administrative problems with the application of the death penalty, problems that often make executions operate less like justice and more like torture.

In Ohio alone, there were three botched executions in three years, culminating in Romell Broom’s 2009 execution, which was suspended after officials had spent hours probing unsuccessfully for a vein to inject with poison.

These fiascoes, combined with litigation, led to a de-facto moratorium on executions for more than a year. Ohio eventually restarted executions after revamping procedures and switching to new drugs to carry out lethal injections. Now these new execution drugs are no longer available, and major concerns have been raised about what will replace them.

Meanwhile, Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor has been leading a long term task force to examine whether Ohio’s death penalty is fairly applied.

Now more than ever, Ohioans have an opportunity to step back and assess our state’s long, counterproductive relationship with capital punishment.

Join us on November 2 as we stand on the side of justice at the Ohio Statehouse and call on lawmakers to stop tweaking the machinery of death and ask them to start shutting it down altogether.

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