Thursday, May 31, 2007

A Matter of Life and Death

Eric Zorn, capital punishment opponent and blog-father at your Chicago Tribune, presents the hard facts about life-without-parole sentences to death penalty opponents in today's column:
If you want to wage a fight against the death penalty that has any chance of success, you have to accept life-without-parole sentences as the trade-off.

But if you want to fight for earned release or other formal programs to reduce life sentences, you have to accept the death penalty, at least for the foreseeable future.

It's your choice, activists, but you've got to make it.
I agree whole-heartedly with EZ's dichotomy. And for that reason, I believe there is an equity argument to be made for life-without-parole sentences.

First, we know that people in Illinois have been wrongly convicted of murder.

Some of those wrongly convicted persons have been wrongly sentenced to life-without-parole and some have been sentenced to the death penalty.

In the case of the unjust l-w-p, the worst-case injustice is that a person wrongly convicted of murder must face the prospect of never again being free. This is unjust and inhumane and under any other circumstances, I would find it intolerable.

But it pales in comparison to the case of an unjust conviction coupled with the death penalty. In this case, the person wrongly convicted is put to death by the state. Game over.

The wrongly convicted l-w-p prisoner can hold out hope that new evidence -- or new technology that can illuminate old evidence -- will emerge that will exonorate him or her. The wrongly convicted prisoner who is put to death will never get an opportunity to clear his or her name, never get an opportunity to walk free, never get an opportunity to breath.

Both unjust outcomes are bad.

But one is much, much worse.

Illinois citizens concerned with maximizing the justice in our criminal justice system should work to eliminate the worse -- infinitely worse -- outcome.

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