Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Flawed System Is Wasting Millions

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Flawed System Is Wasting Millions

Albuquerque Journal--

New Mexico Coalition to Repeal the Death Penalty

New Mexico should replace the death penalty with a sentence of life without possibility of parole. House Bill 285 allows us to focus on the families of victims and improve our system of justice.

Victims' families suffer the most and the longest when killings are committed, but their needs are frequently overlooked by the criminal justice system.

House Bills 284 and 211 provide these families with needed reparations, services and employment leave to assist in the prosecution of these terrible crimes.

House Bill 285 guarantees that society will be protected from violent criminals because they will be incarcerated for the rest of their lives without the possibility of parole — ample punishment for a convicted killer.

Life in prison is more cost-effective. According to the Public Defender, repealing the death penalty would save New Mexico several million dollars each year. We've had only one execution in 48 years, yet millions of dollars are spent seeking the death penalty. When prosecutors have sought the death penalty, only 7 percent of the cases resulted in a sentence of death. And 68 percent of those sentences were overturned — the highest overturn rate in the country.

Although prison costs are high, it is less expensive to incarcerate someone for life than to prosecute a death sentence and incarcerate someone on death row. This is true whether or not the death sentence is eventually carried out. Death-penalty trials cost more up front due to investigations, preliminary hearings, expert witnesses and the required two-phase trial — where the jury first decides guilt or innocence and, if guilty, whether to impose life or death.

Our death-penalty statute has cost us tens of millions of dollars. New Mexicans have received very little for their money. How many crime prevention and law enforcement programs could have been funded with those millions? How many cold cases could have been solved?

Prosecutors argue that the death penalty deters crime. Where is the proof? In 2001, there were 99 murders statewide, and New Mexico carried out its only execution in 48 years. If the death penalty had a deterrent effect, the murder rate should have dropped in 2002. But there were 152 murders in 2002 — a 54 percent increase!

Some believe we should keep the death penalty as a negotiating tool. But the U.S. Department of Justice forbids its U.S. Attorneys from using the death penalty to secure a plea to a lesser charge.

Repealing capital punishment does not compromise public safety. New Jersey abolished its death penalty in December 2007, yet still successfully convicts murderers. Prosecutors recently said there is no difference in the way they prosecute murder cases.

In fact, our death-penalty system can compromise public safety. If we convict innocent people — which happened in New Mexico in 1974 — dangerous criminals go free. Nationally, at least 130 men and women who were convicted and sentenced to death have been released from death row since 1973 — fewer than 15 percent of them through DNA evidence. False witness testimony, police misconduct, prosecutorial misconduct or ineffective assistance of counsel have put innocent men and women on death row in this country. A 1992 study found 23 cases since 1900 where innocent people were executed.

Most New Mexicans favor our approach. A December 2008 statewide poll of likely New Mexican voters showed that 64 percent support replacing the death penalty with life without parole plus restitution to victims' families.

New Mexico should join other civilized nations in abolishing the death penalty. We can lead by focusing instead on victims' families. We can recognize the death penalty for what it is — unnecessary, ineffective, flawed and far too costly.

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