Recently, New Hampshire missed the chance to join the company of other civilized states and democratic nations and abolish the death penalty. A bill to abolish capital punishment passed overwhelmingly in the state House and Governor Hassan promised to sign it. But, it was defeated by a tie in the state Senate. This does not exactly constitute widespread support for the death penalty.
Historically, New Hampshire has imposed the death penalty sparingly and reluctantly. This trend goes back to colonial times. In fact, our last hanging was in 1939. Today, only certain types of murder are deemed "capital," including killing a police officer or "murder for hire."
The Legislature voted to abolish the death sentence years ago but the bill was vetoed by Governor Jeanne Shaheen. Also, New Hampshire changed its method of execution from hanging to lethal injection. However, in case lethal injection cannot be "conveniently" carried out, we can switch back to hanging.
Given the problems with obtaining lethal injection drugs (European countries do not want to sell them to the USA if they are used in executions), many states are reconsidering how they dispose of those on death row. But in N.H., where many conservatives are reluctant to fund education and social services, one wonders if down the road, some "anti-tax, anti-spend" governor or corrections commissioner might not well say "well, legal injection machines and the drugs could run to a few thousand dollars. I can buy rope at a hardware store for $9.99!"
Why do we even have the death penalty on the books, considering we are so reluctant to use it? Currently, the state has just one prisoner under sentence of death, an African-American who killed a police officer, which, in N.H., constitutes "capital murder." But, he had a public defender — like most on death row.
N.H. had a rich white man, with a private lawyer, who also committed capital murder by hiring a "hit man" and he got a life sentence. Is there race or class consideration in the imposition of the "ultimate sanction?" Is our justice system really the "best money can buy?" Statistics show that most people on death row in the U.S. are male, poor, or people of color.
One can sympathize with supporters of capital punishment. After all, we are dealing with the most horrible crimes. It is not that I feel sorry for these offenders. If one of my loved ones were brutally murdered, I would probably want revenge. That is human. Perhaps if we really lived in a society with "equal justice for all," one might concede that such a society had the right to get rid of its worst predators.
But, we are not "there" yet. There have been innocent people executed in America. We can let someone out of prison but we cannot bring them back to life. Moreover, while many might feel some temporary satisfaction, it does not bring any victim back. In addition, it has been shown not to deter crime.
Some advocates of capital punishment talk about the cost of imprisonment. In most cases, however, it is actually cheaper to keep a criminal in prison for life than it is to execute him or her. There are multiple reasons for this including the appeals. Most people on death row are indigent so someone has to pay for appeals. Even people in favor of capital punishment do not want the wrong person executed.
Other advocates of the death penalty point to public safety but today, we have modern, high-tech, high-security prisons from which it is virtually impossible to escape. Society can be protected from its worst predators without resorting to killing them.
Finally, there are practical reasons for abolishing capital punishment. If a murder suspect is able to flee to many countries, including the E.U. countries or Canada, that country will not extradite the suspect unless it is certain that the death penalty will not be sought. These countries (and human rights organizations) consider capital punishment a violation of human rights. Incidentally, most countries that have abolished it have much lower crime rates than the U.S.A.
(Scott Cracraft is a U.S. citizen, taxpayer, veteran, and resident of Gilford.)
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