Nebraska gets rid of the death penalty

Nebraska just became the 19th state to get rid of the death penalty.

This is notable for two big reasons. First, Nebraska is not known as a hotbed of liberal views. Second: this was done by the legislature and not by one governor declaring that there would be no more death penalty in his state (like Pennsylvania’s new Governor Wolf did soon after taking office). And it wasn’t just a simple majority vote — The legislature passed this with enough votes to override a veto.death

More and more, people are realizing that it is time America joined the rest of the civilized world in getting rid of uncivilized punishment.

There is absolutely no doubt that innocent people have been killed by this penalty. Those who insist on keeping it are basically saying they don’t care — that it’s better to kill one innocent person than it is to imprison a guilty one for the rest of his life.

Our system of justice is not perfect. Until we have a system that is 100% free from error we should not have a penalty that is 100% irreversible.

Right now, America shares the death penalty with such great democracies as China, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, and Sudan. It’s time we distanced ourselves from the bad guys.

Killing the death penalty

Jay Inslee, the Governor of Washington, announced that his state will be joining the growing list of states that will no longer have the death penalty.

“Blah blah!” you scream.  “Blah blah blah blah!”   

Yes, yes, I know.  Some people deserve it, vengeance should be part of our legal system, and even though there is absolutely no evidence that the death penalty is a deterrent, it is a deterrent. death Yes, I know.  Thank you.  You can stop now.

I will never shed a tear for certain people who received the death penalty in America (Good riddance, Timothy McVeigh). But I am very familiar with our judicial system.  It’s what I do for a living, you know.  And all of us who do this for a living will admit that our system is not perfect.  Innocent people get found guilty all the time, and guilty people get found not guilty.   Sometimes we don’t realize our mistakes until way later.  And then it is often too late to do anything about it.

We should not have a punishment that is 100% irreversible in a system that is not 100% perfect.  Too many innocent people (mostly poor, largely minority) have been put to death only to be exonerated much later by DNA evidence, witnesses recanting their testimony, or proof of DA and/or police conspiracies.  It does happen, and more often than we would like to admit.

And we as a country should not stand for it.

That doesn’t mean we free everybody.  Governor Inslee made that very clear with his announcement.  “No one is getting out of jail!” he said.

So good job, Washington.  Maybe soon the US will join the rest of the advanced civilized democratic world in getting rid of the death penalty completely.   But by then, how many more innocent people would we have killed?

Constitutional Amendments I’d add

Which amendments would I like to see made to our Constitution?

After discussing Schwarzenegger’s pledge to run for President a few days ago, I began thinking of them.  Here then is my list, in order of preference.constitution_quill_pen

Abolish the Electoral College and replace it with popular vote.  This will get rid of “red” and “blue” states, allow for every vote to count, and prevent someone the majority of Americans don’t want from becoming President.

Abolish the requirement that you have to be a natural born citizen to be President.  Keep the requirement for citizenship, of course, but there is no reason why someone who became a citizen should not run.

Establish an independent commission to redraw congressional districts every ten years.  In order to prevent gerrymandering, we need to take district drawing out of the hands of politicians.  Ideally, they should do this for the states too, under the idea of Equal Protection.

Limit Senators to two six-year terms and Congress members to six two-year terms.   Come on, it’s not like there aren’t other qualified people out there.  Serve your terms and go home.  Treat this like a public service instead of a career.

Abolish Washington DC and make Washington part of Maryland. It’s ridiculous that these people do not get a representative in Congress. While there are enough people living there to make DC a state (more people live in DC than in Wyoming), the easiest solution is to just merge it with Maryland.

Define the death penalty as “cruel and unusual punishment” and thus prohibited.  It’s time we recognized that the death penalty is prone to mistakes, applied in a discriminatory manner, and doesn’t belong in a modern civilized society.

Then there are some that are needed to overturn Supreme Court decisions, but honestly, a few more votes on the Court would prevent that.  Back in the 70s we fought for an Equal Rights Amendment to prohibit discrimination against women.  Since that time, the Courts have held that women are, indeed, “people” under the 14th amendment and as such are entitled to protection against discrimination.  However, a different court could come along and go back the other way.  Therefore, the following amendments would be nice:

Amend the 14th amendment to prohibit discrimination against women, gays, and non-English speaking people.  I’m including transgender people and such in this.

Define “people” to exclude corporations.  A person has morals and eventually dies.  Conservatives who cite the Founding Fathers for anything to support their views are oddly silent on this one.

Define “speech” to exclude money.  These last two are needed to overturn the Citizen’s United case.

Editorial cartoon of the day

The death penalty: Who decides?

Maryland is the latest state to ban the death penalty.

When I discuss this issue with other people, strong feelings take over, and often emotion prevails. This is understandable; I cheer when the bad guy dies in the movies, and I’m happy Tim McVeigh and Osama bin Laden are no longer around.

The problem is that there is a balance to be met when dealing with the law: While you should not be Mr. Spock, ignoring your emotions, you cannot also be Dr. McCoy, letting your emotions overwhelm your logic. Yes, some people deserve to die.

The problem is this: Who makes that decision?

Some people would like to see rapists put to death. Others think anyone who commits a murder should automatically be given the death penalty. There are probably people who think drivers who don’t turn off their turn signals should get the death penalty.

If we say that it should only be applied in the most heinous of cases, then we still have that problem. Who decides that the crime is so terrible that the death penalty applies? Well, a jury first, of course, and then a judge. But wait a minute — that’s what we have now.

And this is where we meet the real problem: Our system of justice is not perfect.

Trust me, I do this for a living. Innocent people get found guilty all the time (and guilty people get found not guilty, too). I don’t think I have to cite all the cases of people on death row who have later been found to be innocent (including some who confessed — although usually the confessions were coerced or they have mental problems). And who knows how many we have already executed who we’ll never know if they were innocent because no one is researching their cases like they’re doing with those currently on death row?

So long as we have a system of justice that is not 100% perfect, we should not have a penalty that is 100% irreversible.