Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The Death Penalty: Testifying Before a Senate Subcommittee

We are in Washington, where we testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on the Constitution.

We were testifying on the issue of the death penalty. We are, of course, pro-death penalty.

The experience was a hoot, even if only two sentors (Brownback, the Chair and Feingold, ranking minority member) showed up.

The hearing room was full, with people standing in the back. The two of us that supported the death penalty (Paul Rubin was on our side) had a spirited debate with the two death penalty opponents (Jeffrey Fagen and Stephen Bright).

We addressed the fact that death penalty opponents have made vastly inflated claims about the number of innocents on death row. Feingold seem to take umbrage at this, and asked that Richard Dieter (head of the Death Penalty Information Center) be allowed to write a response to our testimony. Brownback, of course, agreed.

We pointed out that staffers on the Senate Judiciary Committee (the Republican minority staff at the time) had thoroughly debunked the inflated “innocents” claims.

Death penalty opponents kept pounding to the fact that it costs more to execute somebody (when all the costs are added up) that to put them in prison for life. We replied that this is because (1.) a lot of useless dead weight loss is imposed by endless appeals in death penalty cases and (2.) accused people get decent lawyers in death penalty cases, access to DNA testing, money for expert testimony, and so on.

But in cases where death is not an issue, they get none of these things. Thus a long prison sentence comes too cheaply. People facing long prison sentences should have the same quality of due process, and this would force up the cost. As it should.

Rubin and Fagen fought about the deterrence issue, citing dueling studies. In our mind, proponents of the death penalty don’t have to prove that it deters, merely that there is a good probability that it does.

If this is the case, it’s irresponsible to put at risk the innocent lives that might be saved if we execute people.


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