“As of October 2015, we have executed over 1,414 individuals in this country since 1976. 156 individuals have been exonerated from death row – that is, found to be innocent and released – since 1973. In other words, for every 10 people who have been executed since the death penalty was reinstated in the U.S., one person has been set free.
These 156 exonerees bear witness to the fact that we have made grave mistakes in the application of the death penalty. Many of them are powerful advocates against the death penalty.” (Source)
Since 1989, California exonerated three men sentenced to death in the same period that it executed thirteen individuals. This is but one reason that I’m voting YES on California Prop 62 (to end the death penalty in California), and voting NO on Prop 66 (a proposition that seeks to speed up the execution process and make it far more difficult to exonerate potentially innocent death row inmates).
These statistics make me wonder how many of the 1,414 executed individuals were actually innocent. We may never know. As for me and my conscience, I would much rather side with the oft-quoted principle that it is better for ten guilty men to go free than to wrongfully convict one innocent man. The reason I believe this, is that I believe those ten guilty men will be judged ultimately by God. In other words, I do believe in ultimate justice, but our criminal justice system has been proven, over the past few decades, to be grossly inaccurate and shockingly reluctant to acknowledge its own mistakes. I would prefer to be part of a society that errs on the side of innocence and humbly acknowledges our shortcomings and imperfections, realizing that we can and will make mistakes – perhaps especially when we create such unassailable and grand institutions as our American criminal justice system.
For years, I was perhaps just like you. I voted for politicians who campaigned on being “tough on crime” and I believed that to be a good thing. I voted for the three strikes law in California, and I have always voted to support the death penalty, for as long as I can remember. I believed in our system, and in many ways I still do, but the difference is that in the past, I believed in our system in total. I believed that justice was served and that cases of injustice were among those most rare occurrences, like the appearance of Halley’s comet, or those stories you hear about when someone survives a skydiving attempt in which the parachute doesn’t open. Over the past several years, my studies have again and again confirmed the frightening and sad reality that wrongful convictions occur with a frequency no American should be comfortable with. Imprisonment is a penalty daunting enough to make this such an important issue, but when you factor in the death penalty and realize that we are giving our state the ability to take away someone’s life, an ability usually held by God alone, it becomes all the more important to be accurate and correct in convictions. Speaking for myself, I no longer have the faith in our system that it is accurate enough to warrant my support for having a death penalty.
Some of my friends reading this may believe that there is a biblical/theological support for the death penalty. This may be true, but allow me to speak on this. First off, it should be noted that the case for the support of the death penalty in Scripture is based on a mere few verses that, at best, seem to give tacit acknowledgement that the state “yields the sword,” and scripture does not seem to reprimand the state for having such power. But what seems obvious from my reading of these passages, is that it doesn’t seem that God is giving a stamp of approval upon the death penalty, but rather, as with the vast majority of secular societal government actions, Scripture gives no comment on it at all. Certainly, we can all agree that the “power of the sword” was never given to the church, and the very unfortunate executions at the hands of the church throughout history are. of course, egregious and shameful. But regardless of your theological views of the death penalty, what cannot be argued is the deplorable inconsistency and the shocking inaccuracies of our current judicial system. My point here is that even if you believe, theologically speaking, that a society fairly and justly implementing the death penalty could be supported, it is not contradictory to vote against the death penalty, because America circa 2016 is not that fair and just society. So even if you believe that the death penalty is “biblical,” my friend, I would ask you to consider voting against the death penalty because our current justice system is still so riddled with ineptitude, negligence, and greatly misguided (even though sometimes well-intentioned) efforts, that at this point, it far too often misses the mark of actual justice. We cannot gamble the lives of other human beings subject to the power of the State until the State can demonstrate substantive and comprehensive criminal justice reforms, which, sadly, I believe to be probably decades away.
156 exonerations of people who could have been executed by the State. Think about that. 156 times that the State got it wrong. 156 times that we know about. Think about that. And thank you for reading.
Vote YES on 62