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Our Opinion: Fears and flaws connected with capital punishment

Our Opinion: Fears and flaws connected with capital punishment

January 16th, 2014 in News

Capital punishment is becoming progressively more difficult to justify.

Each violent crime is unique. The death penalty, like other criminal laws, provides criteria to distinguish whether one of those unique crimes is or is not punishable by death. Missouri law outlines 17 aggravating circumstances and seven mitigating circumstances for capital punishment.

Although deterrence and the costs of incarceration have been raised by death penalty proponents, those arguments are weak. The death penalty does not appear to deter violent crime. In addition, it is inconsistent with the Missouri Department of Corrections' mission to rehabilitate offenders.

With regard to costs, execution may or may not be more expensive than incarceration, depending on circumstances. The state's cost to prosecute and litigate appeals - some mandatory - is significant.

The most compelling argument in favor of capital punishment is that it serves justice, often defined as setting things right.

Does capital punishment set things right? If it cannot restore the victim, does it, at least, somehow compensate the survivors? Or, is execution an act of vengeance or retribution?

While we ponder these questions of setting things right, we also must contemplate the consequences of getting things wrong.

Advances in science, including forensics, are being used to affirm both criminal conviction and exoneration.

When new evidence finds an inmate is innocent, the years of incarceration are considered regrettable.

According to Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, exoneration of inmates on death row has happened not once, but four times since 1999. What if exoneration followed execution? Capital punishment, once administered, cannot be undone.

Still, some crimes are so vile and heinous that any punishment short of death seems insufficient. One of the 17 aggravating circumstances in state law specifically references those acts.

Can Missouri's capital punishment laws be reformed?

Death penalty opponents say no. At a Monday rally, defense attorney Elizabeth Unger Carlyle said: "I think the system is broken, and there is no reason to try to fix it."

We have reservations about abolishing capital punishment, even though we recognize execution is an irrevocable action set in motion by an admittedly imperfect system.

We invite our readers to share their thoughts on whether flaws can be repaired and fears of executing innocent people can be eliminated.