The Death Penalty Kills the Innocent
The Risk of Killing an Innocent Person
The State of New Hampshire has not conducted an execution since 1939 yet it is the safest state in the nation when it comes to crime (CQ Press study). Despite these facts, in 2010 the New Hampshire Legislature and Governor Lynch expanded the death penalty. This law has increased the risk the state could kill an innocent person yet the same politicians have repeatedly refused to pass the FBI recommendations (DIOG) that would protect against wrongful convictions. This is dangerous public policy that is not justified by any known research or study.
Over 140 innocent men and women placed on death row have been exonerated since 1973. These exonerations have revealed cases that are riddled with problems including mistaken eyewitness identifications, incompetent lawyers, shoddy forensics, unreliable jailhouse snitches, and coerced confessions. New Hampshire is not immune to these problems in the criminal justice system. But New Hampshire already has a corrections system with the sentence of life without the possibility of parole for first degree murder that ensures public safety and also eliminates the risk of killing an innocent human being.
“Don’t get me wrong, I’m not soft. I have no sympathy for rapists, killers, and those who prey on the most vulnerable in our country. But life without the possibility of parole can keep our communities and prisons safe. Life without parole. It’s the most severe punishment you could ever give. You lock them in a little cage that’s made of concrete and steel with a steel cot and a stainless steel toilet jacket without a lid, and you leave them in there for the rest of their natural lives.”
-Ron McAndrew, prison warden who conducted executions in Florida and Texas, from testimony before the
NH Legislative Study Commission on the Death Penalty
Truth Found in DNA
- Hundreds of DNA exonerations have given us a window into all of the things that can go wrong in a criminal case. These cases offer irrefutable evidence of the system’s flaws.
- But DNA by itself cannot solve these problems. DNA evidence exists in less than 15% of criminal cases – far fewer than needed to ensure against wrongful convictions.
- In those few cases where DNA evidence is available, defense access to testing and experts can be limited by the Courts and personal finances.
Is the Death Penalty Fair?
Capital punishment denies the due process of law enshrined in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments
The death penalty is arbitrary, and always irrevocable – forever depriving an individual of the opportunity to benefit from new evidence or new laws that might warrant the reversal of a conviction, or the setting aside of a death sentence. In some cases, evidence that would have ruled out the primary suspect has been dismissed or withheld.
Economic Bias. It is a sentence largely reserved for the poor. The vast majority of those on death row across the country are too poor to afford their own attorney. Poor defendants sentenced to die have been represented by attorneys who were drunk, asleep, or completely inexperienced.
Racial Bias. More than 80% of those executed in the U.S. were convicted of killing a white person, even though African Americans are the victims in about half of all murders. Studies in states as diverse as California, Maryland, Ohio, and Georgia have found that people convicted of murdering a white victim were many times more likely to get sentenced to death than those who killed African Americans or Latinos.
Geographic Bias. In 2012, over three-quarters all executions took place in just four states. Since 1976, just 2% of US counties accounted for a majority of death penalty prosecutions, while 85% of US counties executed no one during that same time period.
Changes in death sentencing have proven to be largely cosmetic
Every effort to fix the system just makes it more complex – not more fair. The defects in death penalty laws, conceded by the Supreme Court in the early 1970s, have not been appreciably altered by efforts to limit its use. The Council of the American Law Institute (ALI) voted in 2009 to withdraw a section of its Model Penal Code concerned with capital punishment because of the “current intractable institutional and structural obstacles to ensuring a minimally adequate system for administering capital punishment.”
The death penalty risks killing innocent people
Carlos DeLuna was executed in 1989 in Texas. An independent investigation now has concluded he was innocent. Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in 2004 in Texas for an arson that killed his three children. Impartial investigators now say there was no arson. Even if we can be 100% sure of someone’s guilt, keeping our death penalty system guarantees that more innocent people will be put to death in the name of justice. See our Innocence Fact Sheet for more.
Capital punishment is cruel and unusual.
The death penalty is a relic of the earliest days of penology, when slavery, branding, and other corporal punishments were commonplace. They have no place in a civilized society. The US is the only western industrialized nation to engage in this punishment. A society that respects life does not deliberately kill human beings.
The death penalty is broken beyond repair and cannot be guaranteed to achieve real justice.
How Much Does the Death Penalty Cost NH?
Michael Addison, convicted and sentenced to death for the 2006 murder of Manchester police officer Michael Briggs, would be the first death row inmate to be executed in NH since 1939. Addison’s prosecution has cost the state $2.3 million as of September 2013. The defense effort has cost taxpayers even more, $2.6 million.
Most defendants in capital cases are not ultimately sentenced to death and even when they are, fewer than 25% are executed, with an average wait of about 13 years. This is why the national cost to perform a single execution is a daunting $30 million. New Hampshire has sought the death penalty in just four other trials in the last 70 years. Only Addison has received the death sentence.
Addison Versus Non-Capital Murder Trials
- The average non-capital defense costs between $50,000 and $100,000. Prosecution costs are similar.
- Jurors summoned: 1200 in Addison, 300 on average for the previous four non-capital trials
- Number of judge days: 53 in Addison, enough for five non-capital cases
- Length of jury selection: 17 days for Addison, 3.5 days average
- Length of trial: 36 days for Addison, 6.5 days average
- Superior Court cost: $166,000 for Addison, $13,000 on average
- Addison security costs: an additional $21,922 for staff, plus $12,000 for a new defendant’s holding area
Justice Delayed Is Justice Denied
The Supreme Court cost for this single high-profile case, including an extra law clerk at $60,000 per year since 2008, has come entirely from the bare-bones Supreme Court budget. The result is a huge backlog in appeals. “It is likely the oral arguments will be delayed in many cases for a period of months,” the court told lawmakers in 2013. According to a Union Leader article on 1/13/14 about the caseload in the NH AG’s office, “the office must respond to an increasing number of habeas petitions filed by convicted defendants seeking new trials and works on 150 active state and federal appeals a year, he said. They include the capital murder and death penalty appeal of Michael K. Addison which prosecutors have been working on since a Manchester police officer was killed in 2006 and likely will continue another 15 years.” (source)
The Future Will Be Expensive
The Supreme Court case is less than half finished. The entire appeal could cost millions by the time Addison exhausts his rights in federal court as a much older man. If Addison loses all of his appeals, the state will need to build a death chamber, which state officials estimated in 2010 would cost $1.7 million.
Is there a Deterrent Value to the Death Penalty?
My experience indicates that people committing crimes either do not consider the consequences, believe the consequences will not apply to them,
or do not believe they will be caught.
— Ray Dodge, retired Chief of Police for Marlborough, NH
When death penalty bills have been considered in the New Hampshire legislature, proponents have stated that the death penalty will protect New Hampshire law enforcement officers and citizens from homicide. It will not.
The FBI Uniform Crime Reports for 2011 list no law enforcement officers feloniously killed in the New England states, where New Hampshire is the only state with a death penalty statute. In the South where all the states have the death penalty, twenty-nine law enforcement officers were killed.
The preliminary FBI Uniform Crime Report for 2012 shows that murders are down by 4.4% in New England where there has not been an execution since 2005. Only 0.3% of executions in the United States have occurred in New England since 1976. Murders are up 2.5% in the South where 82% of executions have occurred since 1976.
In a 2009 poll of 500 of the nation’s police chiefs, the death penalty was ranked last in their priorities for effective crime reduction. Sixty-nine percent of the police chiefs included in the survey agreed that murderers do not consider the range of consequences before committing a murder.
— “Reconsidering the Death Penalty in a Time of Economic Crisis,”
Death Penalty Information Center Report
The National Research Council
Finally, the National Research Council also cites murderers’ views of the risk of the death penalty as one of the major flaws in deterrence research. The NRC does not believe that deterrence research to date is informative about the impact of the death penalty on homicide rates, and therefore the research should not be used in deliberations about the death penalty.
— The NRC, Law and Justice Report Brief, April 2012
How does the Death Penalty affect Murder Victim Family Members?
No Justice or Healing for Victim Family Members
Families and friends living through the trauma of homicide want an outcome in the court system that is swift and sure. The death penalty provides neither. Capital punishment requires a cumbersome and lengthy process, with no guarantee that an execution will take place. In the United States, approximately 20,000 homicides are committed each year but only a small fraction of those defendants face the death penalty. Of those sentenced to death, only about 15% will actually be executed (Death Penalty Information Center). The final outcome in most death penalty cases – whether it is a dismissal, reduced sentence or an execution – can take decades. The loved ones of those lost must endure a long journey of recurring emotional trauma.
Cost Is a Moral Concern
The costs for the trial phase alone in a death penalty case exceed the cost to try, convict, hear appeals and house a convict in prison for 100 years. New Hampshire taxpayers bear the burden of the bloated cost of the death penalty. At the same time, few state dollars are allocated to help the family members who have lost a loved one to homicide. Family members have repeatedly testified they would be better served by financial assistance for grief support programs, counseling, or scholarships for the education of victims’ children. The death penalty takes up the funds that would truly help victim family members in the aftermath of murder.
“Life without the possibility of parole keeps society safe,
and it costs two to three times less to lock murderers up
and house them for the remainder of their lives than it
does to put them to death.”
-Bess Klassen-Landis, whose mother was murdered, testifying before the New Hampshire Legislative Study Commission on the Death Penalty
New Hampshire Cold Cases Go Unsolved
In New Hampshire, there are over 100 unsolved cold cases but no budget to pursue them. Families coping with unsolved murders have the added pain of never learning what happened to their loved ones.
“These are arbitrary and hurtful categories of events which say to other victims that their loved one is not as important. The government should not establish hierarchies of grief.”
-Barbara Keshen, Chair of NHCADP
Does the Death Penalty Do More Harm Than Good?
Every death sentence requires a team of executioners who are involved with the details of killing the death row inmate. Corrections officers, wardens, doctors, nurses and EMTs are required to actively take part in and witness the ritualized death of another human being. Yet the burden on those who carry out an execution is rarely considered when people discuss the issue of capital punishment.
Scientific research and anecdotal testimony show that members of execution teams suffer for some time after taking part in killing an inmate. Several executioners in the United States have committed suicide. Others have developed substance abuse issues and chronic mental health problems as the aftermath of their participation in executions.
“Judges, prison guards and attorneys involved in these cases are all experiencing PTSD.”
— Dr. Len Korn, NH Psychiatrist
Executions Promote Violence and Interfere with Healing
Executions create more victims. The family members of the defendant must also cope with the killing of a loved one, in addition to the bearing the shame and sorrow for what he or she has done to others.
“Killing is still killing – even if it is state sanctioned.”
— Margaret Hawthorn, whose daughter was murdered
in Henniker, NH, testifying at the New Hampshire
Senate Judiciary Committee hearing
Murder victim family members time and again explain that the death penalty has offered them no help with healing – only the repeated re-opening of the painful scars of their loss.
“Until my sister’s murder I always thought I was for the death penalty. I thought people who kill other people should have to die themselves. And then someone killed my sister and her two beautiful babies. My heart broke. Killing is senseless. All killing needs to end. If you care about victims’ families and justice, please do the work that needs to be done to abolish the death penalty in New Hampshire. It takes courage to stop the violence and stop the cycle of killing.”
— Nancy Filiault, NH resident
More Perspectives on the Death Penalty
Botched Executions Undermine Death Penalty
By Austin Sarat, Providence Journal, 1/28/14
This month’s execution of Dennis McGuire made headlines, and rightly so. The start of his execution was followed by a sudden snort and more than 10 minutes of irregular breathing and gasping. It took Ohio almost 25 minutes to end McGuire’s life. Newspapers labeled McGuire’s a “slow execution” and a “horrific death.” His lawyer said, “The people of the state of Ohio should be appalled at what was done here today in their names.” McGuire, a brutal killer, seemed to become, at least momentarily, an object of pity. Link to full article.
8 Excruciatingly Painful Ways the Death Penalty Was Used to Humiliate, Intimidate and Tørture Slaves
by Yvette Carnell, Breaking Brown, December 1, 2013
Because very few Americans take the long view of history, many tend to believe that mass mistreatment of blacks by the justice system is 1) a new phenomenon and 2) has the drug war as its only initiate. But the truth is that the American justice system has always been leveraged heavily against African-Americans. Justice has never been blind. In The Death Penalty, An American History, Stuart Banner sheds light on how America’s cruelest punishment, the death penalty, was unfairly, routinely, wantonly, and barbarously applied to black slaves. We highlight eight particularly heinous norms. Read full article…
Death penalty statistics, country by country
by Simon Rogers & Mona Chalibi, The Guardian, December 13, 2013
Despite more countries abolishing the death penalty, its practice remains commonplace. China, together with Iran, North Korea, Yemen and the US (the only G7 country to still execute people) carried out the most executions last year. Excluding China, the report says:
At least 1,722 people were sentenced to death in 58 countries in 2012. This is a decrease from 2011, when at least 1,923 people were known to have been sentenced in 63 countries worldwide, and a reduction for the second year running (2010: 2,024 death sentences in 67 countries).
Meanwhile, Latvia abolished the death penalty, meaning that there are nearly five times as many countries not executing prisoners as those that do in 2012.