As most of you probably know, I am a long time opponent of capital punishment for several reasons. Killing is the most hypocritical way to say, “Don’t kill.” All too often, we execute the innocent. The manner in which it is applied is neither consistent nor fair. It costs several times more money to execute than to incarcerate for life. Here is a promising development:
There were other important death penalty developments last year: the number of death sentences continued to fall, Ohio switched to a single chemical for lethal injections and New Mexico repealed its death penalty entirely. But not one of them was as significant as the institute’s move, which represents a tectonic shift in legal theory.
“The A.L.I. is important on a lot of topics,” said Franklin E. Zimring, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley. “They were absolutely singular on this topic” — capital punishment — “because they were the only intellectually respectable support for the death penalty system in the United States.”
The institute is made up of about 4,000 judges, lawyers and law professors. It synthesizes and shapes the law in restatements and model codes that provide structure and coherence in a federal legal system that might otherwise consist of 50 different approaches to everything.
In 1962, as part of the Model Penal Code, the institute created the modern framework for the death penalty, one the Supreme Court largely adopted when it reinstituted capital punishment in Gregg v. Georgia in 1976. Several justices cited the standards the institute had developed as a model to be emulated by the states.
The institute’s recent decision to abandon the field was a compromise. Some members had asked the institute to take a stand against the death penalty as such. That effort failed.
Instead, the institute voted in October to disavow the structure it had created “in light of the current intractable institutional and structural obstacles to ensuring a minimally adequate system for administering capital punishment.”
That last sentence contains some pretty dense lawyer talk, but it can be untangled. What the institute was saying is that the capital justice system in the United States is irretrievably broken.
A study commissioned by the institute said that decades of experience had proved that the system could not reconcile the twin goals of individualized decisions about who should be executed and systemic fairness. It added that capital punishment was plagued by racial disparities; was enormously expensive even as many defense lawyers were underpaid and some were incompetent; risked executing innocent people; and was undermined by the politics that come with judicial elections.
Roger S. Clark, who teaches at the Rutgers School of Law in Camden, N.J., and was one of the leaders of the movement to have the institute condemn the death penalty outright, said he was satisfied with the compromise. “Capital punishment is going to be around for a while,” Professor Clark said. “What this does is pull the plug on the whole intellectual underpinnings for it.”… [emphasis added]
Inserted from <NY Times>
To summarize this in the simplest terms, the people who wrote the book on capital punishment has come out and said that that the book is all wrong. Isn’t it time that the US joined the civilized nations of the world?