Once again, I am writing about a controversial Supreme Court decision. Last week, the United States Supreme Court decided the case of Kennedy v. Louisiana, and opined (in a 5 to 4 count) that Louisiana’s law allowing for the death penalty for child rapists was unconstitutional. Radio and television talk show hosts, citizens, and even John McCain, again, made statements openly and clearly that they thought the Supreme Court had made a wrong decision. The Kennedy case basically stands for the proposition that the death penalty in the United States shall be reserved for individuals who intended to kill their victim and did cause the death. The death penalty is not appropriate for people who cause extreme and long-lasting harm but do not cause a death. The opinion talks about prior cases where the Supreme Court stated that we, the United States, may not execute mentally retarded people, or people under the age of 17.
We have made distinctions before about who would actually be eligible for the death penalty. Our highest Court said "capital punishment must be limited to those offenders who commit a narrow category of the most serious crimes and whose extreme culpability makes them the most deserving of execution."
While there are naysayers and critics of the Court, I can firmly state that I am proud of each and every justice who voted for this decision. I know it is not popular. I can hardly imagine the pain a parent must feel when his or her child has been abused. But this is the right decision.
With July 4th approaching, I think it is appropriate for each of us to take a moment and think about our country and how far we have come in the last 200-plus years. We have come from hanging, to firing squad, to electric chair, and now to lethal injection.
The newspapers consistently tell us about inmates who have been exonerated by DNA and released from lengthy prison sentences and even some from Death Row. In fact, tomorrow, right here at Women in Crime Ink, you'll read the personal account of one such man whose death sentence was reversed.
And courts aren't alone in making fatal mistakes. A couple of years ago, a Connecticut lawyer took the law into his own hands, killing his neighbor based on his child's accusation--later determined to have been false--that she had been molested by the neighbor.
It is my humble opinion that jurors--at least in my previously death-happy jurisdiction, Texas--are beginning to hesitate to render a verdict of death. Texas now has the "life without parole" choice in death penalty cases and that is causing the hesitation.
Statistics have shown that it is cheaper on the taxpayers to lock up the murderers for life than it is to execute them. And, this "life sentence" means exactly that--there is no possibility of parole--ever. Plus there is always the possibility of a "mistake" somewhere down the appellate process, and if so, the individual is still around to be released.
So while we still have the death penalty, it is becoming eroded by our evolving standards. This is a good thing.