Last week I blogged about Nebraska abolishing capital punishment. Following that, our local newspaper printed an opinion piece by Josh Marquis, district attorney of Clatsop County in the northwest corner of Oregon. He argues that capital punishment should be instituted or maintained throughout the country. His writings on the subject are said to be quoted by Justice Antonin Scalia.
The arguments he puts forward are: a) opponents are wealthy elites, while victims tend to be from the poorer classes; b) it constitutes retribution, not revenge (using a general quotation on punishment from Pope John Paul II); and c) the people on death row are heinous individuals. I would say that “a” is simplistic and misleading. The opposition is broadly based; the fact that some spokespeople may fit this reductionist description is irrelevant. Point “b” is also misleading, since the Pope was not speaking about capital punishment—which many members and leaders of the Catholic Church has been outspoken against—but about penal systems. And no one disputes point “c”—death rows house many violent criminals who have committed unspeakable crimes.
Marquis fails to deal with numerous key issues. 1) Several prisoners over the years have been wrongfully executed—in the UK, the hanging of the innocent Timothy Evans in 1950 played a role in abandoning capital punishment there; 2) countless numbers of individuals on death rows around the country have been either exonerated fully or had their convictions thrown out because their trials were significantly skewed—the Innocence Project has exonerated 329 inmates on DNA evidence; 3) capital cases cost states millions of extra dollars in repeated appeals—some have estimated that California could save $1 billion over five years if they abolished the capital punishment; and 4) the use of capital punishment puts the U.S. in the category of major executors with China, North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen (a total of only 18% of countries in the world). See also “Ten Reasons to Oppose the Death Penalty” at Death Penalty Focus website.
If DA Marquis is so convinced of his viewpoint, one wonders why he couldn’t refute the major arguments against it.