NEW VOICES: Retired Federal Judge Urges Illinois Governor to Sign Repeal Bill

Retired Federal Judge H. Lee Sarokin recently wrote in the Huffington Post urging Illinois Governor Pat Quinn to sign a bill that would repeal the death penalty.  He wrote, "I am certain we could all list persons who committed outrageous and despicable crimes that we would want executed. Many of us want revenge, retribution and the ultimate punishment in those cases, but, nonetheless, I am opposed to the death penalty."  Judge Sarokin highlighted deterrence, costs, racial discrimination, the risk of wrongful executions and personal moral views as among the most significant reasons for his opposition.  He believes that, “deterrence plays no part whatsoever. Persons contemplating murder do not sit around the kitchen table and say I won't commit this murder if I face the death penalty, but I will do it if the penalty is life without parole. I do not believe persons contemplating or committing murder plan to get caught or weigh the consequences.”  Reall full article below.

Is It Time to Execute the Death Penalty?

I want to see the Tucson shooter suffer pain, be killed, executed. I feel the same way about the persons who raped and murdered that family in Connecticut. I am certain we could all list persons who committed outrageous and despicable crimes that we would want executed. Many of us want revenge, retribution and the ultimate punishment in those cases, but, nonetheless, I am opposed to the death penalty. The discussion is relevant now because Governor Pat Quinn has it within his power to end the death penalty in Illinois.

The arguments for and against have raged for years, but here is my personal view:

Deterrence: In my view deterrence plays no part whatsoever. Persons contemplating murder do not sit around the kitchen table and say I won't commit this murder if I face the death penalty, but I will do it if the penalty is life without parole. I do not believe persons contemplating or committing murder plan to get caught or weigh the consequences. Statistics demonstrate that states without the death penalty have consistently lower murder rates than states with it, but frankly I think those statistics are immaterial and coincidental. Fear of the death penalty may cause a few to hesitate, but certainly not enough to keep it in force, and the truth is that there is no way of ever knowing whether or not the death penalty deters.

Costs: Because of the growing number of reversals, new trials and exonerations, the appeal process has become slow, long and expensive. The death penalty is final and irreversible, and as a result, counsel are aggressive and courts are thorough. I cannot say whether or not the costs associated with appeals exceed those of life-time incarceration, but cost should certainly not be a determining factor in whether or not a person lives or dies.

Discrimination: Race plays a role in who becomes eligible for the death penalty and against whom it is imposed. I would suppose that this is a factor that could be corrected prospectively, but it is a risk that we should not be willing to undertake based upon past history.

Morality: This issue likewise has been discussed for years. After a lifetime of watching the death penalty at work, I believe that despite our understandable desire for revenge, retribution and even death for the most horrendous of crimes, the state should not be the carrier and enforcer of those emotions. I recognize and respect the opposite view, but I just cannot accept that the intentional killing by the state of an individual is moral.

Exonerations: However, the most compelling argument for me is the fact that we have executed innocent persons and others are scheduled for execution and others undoubtedly will be in the future. Thanks to the Medill Innocence Project and others like it, and persons like Barry Scheck and his work with DNA, innocent persons have been snatched from lethal injections or other forms of execution, sometimes just moments before they were to die. If none of the forgoing arguments are persuasive, this should and must carry the day. If we permit innocent people to be executed are we any better than the man who took that little girl's life in Tucson. I suppose one could argue that the comparison is not apt because he was acting knowingly and intentionally in killing an innocent person, and the state is not, but in both cases the victims would be innocent and that is something no civilized nation should allow or tolerate.

Be brave Gov. Quinn! Sign the bill. The time has come to execute the death penalty!

(H. L. Sarokin, "Is it Time to Execute the Death Penalty?" The Huffington Post, January 16, 2011).  Read more New Voices.  See Costs, Deterrence, Innocence and Race.