This is a universal truth. Anytime an issue becomes about politics, it ceases to be about that issue. This point in time when politics comes into play is also when fairness and common sense go out the window. For example: When you find lead in the drinking water in Flint, MI, you can concern yourself with the issue, warn people not to consume the water and try to fix it. Or, you can think about your political aspirations and cover the whole thing up. Meanwhile, the people that are accountable to are poisoned. I thin, it’s obvious what the fair and sensible route would be. It’s also obvious why that route is so rarely taken … POLITICS!!!
Politics are activities associated with gaining and wielding power within an organization, government, or group. Corruption happens when the people that have the power use the power to keep the power. This power struggle shifts the focus from solving existing problems while at the same time creating new problems. So, it’s a win-win situation for those in power, but a lose-lose for the average person. I did say fairness went out the window, along with the actual issues and common sense.
So, let’s bring all 3 back in for a minute to talk about the death penalty, and the real issues.
One issue that is actually a combination of 2 separate problems is judicial override and elected judges. The politically correct thing to do in Alabama is to mete out harsh sentences, especially when the cameras are on, to “appear” tough on crime. Despite the fact that the death penalty has no more of a deterrent effect than life without parole this continues. Mainly, because the power struggle overshadows the issue. You can be tough on crime without the death penalty. The sentence of life in prison with no possibility of parole is not “soft” on the criminal.
Death penalty cases cost a lot more to prosecute the first time, and when over half are overturned, the expense keeps going up. Some states have concluded that they could save 10’s or even 100’s of millions of dollars depending on the size of their death row. For Alabama, with a death row population of nearly 200 the savings would be significant, but the legislature won’t even take the first step in conducting a study of the costs. If the issue is the cost, you find out the cost … unless you’re only interested in politics …
Another big issue that continues to be a reason for overturned capital verdicts is prosecutorial misconduct. Whether it’s hiding/falsifying evidence, witness testimony, tampering with or just plain lying to the jury, it leads to an unjust trial. So, to fix this the courts have set precedent that prevents this type of behavior, but since there is no downside for the prosecution (and the upside is winning) they don’t stop. So, there must be real measures put in place to prevent this, and real punishment for prosecutors that step out of bounds. There is only one reason that these common sense measures are not on the legislative agenda. POLITICS!!!
Unintended consequences that reach beyond the defendant have emerged over the years. The families of murder victims are learning that closure does not follow a death sentence, instead there are decades of appeals and trials that prevent the wounds from healing. Many murder victims’ family members are outspoken critics of the death penalty, and point to their experience as proof of what a letdown it is. Judges, D.A.’s and prison officials who play a role in executions have also learned from experience what negative impact the death penalty has.
Retired prosecutors paint the picture of a win at all cost environment where anything goes, not in pursuit of justice, but power. Prison wardens know that every execution, and even training exercises take a toll on everyone involved. Unfortunately the incentives to keep quiet and proceed prevent them from coming forward, sometimes even after retirement. We can’t keep putting public servants in these positions and expecting good outcomes.
The system of capital punishment in the U.S. and especially Alabama has many flaws, superseding these issues is the politics that prevent the correction of the flaws. That really only leaves one option on the table for the death penalty. That option is abolition. A permanent legal and to a process that has always been unjust and unfair. It is unreasonable to think that it will ever be fixed.
last update: 05/02/2016