Thursday, May 21, 2009

Colorado Death Penalty Watch

State Sen. Morgan Carroll (D-Aurora) and State Rep. Paul Weissmann (D-Louiseville) have written an interesting commentary regarding the possible repeal of the Colorado death penalty. While they dismiss moral reasoning as being not very helpful to the present debate, they advance two pragmatic arguments. For example, they note that Colorado is a defacto no-death penalty state, having only executed one person in the last forty years. But during that same time period there have been 1,435 unsolved murders in the state. Yet, Colorado spends millions of dollars each year on legal expenses related to the death penalty that could be better spent on putting murderers behind bars.

A secondary argument is that the death penalty is irreversable. In other words, if someone is wrongfully convicted and incarcerated, he can always be released later if he is exonerated. But if that person is wrongfully executed, then there is no way to bring him back to life. While there are no known cases in Colorado where somebody has been wrongfully sentenced to death, this has been a problem in other states and at least 130 persons have been exonerated from the death penalty after it was later found they were not guilty. As Carroll and Weissmann point out, there should be a zero margin of error when it comes to sentencing someone to death.

While I differ from Carroll and Weissmann regarding the weight that should be given to moral arguments in evaluating the death penalty, I think both of their arguments should be given serious consideration by all Coloradoans when this issue is raised again in the next legislative session.

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