by Mary Shaw
August 16, 2007
Since the first DNA exoneration took place in the U.S. in 1989, 142 people have been freed via DNA evidence after being wrongfully convicted of crimes they did not commit. Many more have been exonerated via other kinds of late-coming evidence.
Some of those innocent people were freed from death row. These folks are the "lucky" ones, because they had a chance to prove their innocence before they were put to death. How many have not been so lucky? We cannot know.
But do we really want to risk that kind of mistake?
Even if you're in favor of the death penalty, surely you want to take every precaution to ensure that the condemned prisoner is truly guilty, and that you're not killing the wrong person. And often that takes time.
Nevertheless, time may not be an available luxury for prisoners in the future, even those condemned to die.
The Washington Post reported yesterday that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales will be getting "expanded powers to hasten death penalty cases under regulations being developed by the Justice Department."
The Post goes on to say that these new rules "would give Gonzales the authority to approve "fast-track" procedures by states in death penalty cases, enabling them to carry out sentences more speedily and with fewer opportunities for appeal if those states provide adequate representation for capital defendants."
There are a lot of things wrong with these new rules. For example, as cited in the article, they do not provide enough oversight to ensure that defendants are receiving adequate legal counsel. They "allow states to ... claim they have a capital representation case that is functional, when in fact it might not be functional at all" and "It may not prevent people from being wrongfully sentenced to death."
The article also contends that "the underlying legislation is faulty because it allows Gonzales, who is the nation's chief prosecutor, to effectively determine the pace of executions."
And there are more reasons to believe that Gonzales is the wrong person to do this. (Click here to read about Gonzales's horrific track record on death penalty cases in Texas.)
It is obvious that these new rules will make it easier for innocent people to be executed. And even one wrongful execution is too many.
How would Gonzales feel if one of his family own members were on death row, wrongfully accused of a crime that he or she did not commit? Does he believe that it could never happen? Or would that be somehow different?
Author's Website: http://www.maryshawonline.com
Authors Bio: Mary Shaw is a Philadelphia-based writer and activist. She is a former Philadelphia Area Coordinator for the Nobel-Prize-winning human rights group Amnesty International, and her views on politics, human rights, and social justice issues have appeared in numerous online forums and in newspapers and magazines worldwide. Note that the ideas expressed here are the author's own, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Amnesty or any other organization with which she may be associated. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org