First printed in Voices of Liberty on 3/11/2015
On Tuesday, the Utah Senate passed House Bill 11 by a vote of 18-10 to make Utah the first state to reestablish the firing squad as a method of execution. The measure would permit the use of a team of armed executioners, likely equipped with a 30-30 Winchester Model 1894, if the Utah Department of Corrections is unable to obtain the necessary lethal injection drugs. The legislation now heads to Governor Gary Herbert’s desk for his signature or veto, but their aim is off target. As they are busy tinkering with the mode of execution, they are failing to address the real issue: the capital punishment system is utterly broken beyond repair.
The death penalty poses an indisputable danger to innocent lives because capital punishment is administered by an imperfect government. To date, 150 people nationwide have been wrongly convicted, sentenced to die, and eventually released from death row. Many others have been executed despite the existence of evidence casting serious doubt on their verdicts. Capital punishment is tainted by mistaken eyewitness testimony, prosecutorial misconduct, and unreliable and even falsified forensic evidence.
The death penalty is also exceedingly more costly than life without the possibility of release because of the additional attorneys, specialists, and extended court time. Numerous cost studies from across the United States have all determined that states and municipalities could save an immense amount of money just by replacing capital punishment with life without parole. Stubbornly, some counties have sought the death penalty regardless of the high cost. This has led to budget crises, tax hikes, and one county to mortgage their ambulances to attempt to seek capital punishment.
However, the death penalty’s defects don’t end there. Ostensibly, the death penalty is supposed to deter murder and serve the interests of murder victims’ friends and family members. Studies have concluded that the death penalty doesn’t influence murder rates. In fact, some states have even seen murders decrease once capital punishment was repealed. Today, many murder victims’ families are taking a stand against the death penalty and emphasizing the harmful nature of the complex process of trials, appeals, and incessant media attention in capital cases.
Conservatives and libertarians alike have been increasingly speaking out against the death penalty not just because of the risk to life and its enormous fiscal impact, but also because capital punishment fails to fit within the philosophy of limited government. There is absolutely nothing limited about giving the state, which has committed too many grievous errors, the power to kill its citizens.
Utah legislators have expended a tremendous amount of time and resources to consider this legislation, which if it is signed into law will certainly lead to additional expensive litigation. Instead of proposing patches to try to keep the death penalty afloat, Utahns could follow the example of many national conservative leaders like Dr. Ron Paul, Richard Viguerie, and Jay Sekulow who are calling for an end of the death penalty.