An ideological stand on the death penalty

The Charlotte Observer’s editorial board weighs in this morning on Senator Thom Goolsby’s bill to repeal what’s left of the Racial Justice Act and restart executions in North Carolina.

The Observer asks and answers in it’s headline: Time to rev up N.C.’s executions? No.

‘The impetus for Goolsby’s bill though is less about the particulars of the Racial Justice Act than about an ideological stand on the death penalty. He forthrightly says he just wants to get these state killings back in action. “We have a moral obligation to ensure death-row criminals convicted of the most heinous crimes imaginable finally face justice,” he said Wednesday. “Victims’ families have suffered for far too long. It’s time to stop the legal wrangling and bring them the peace and closure they deserve.”Death-penalty3

This board agrees that those convicted of the most heinous crimes must be punished appropriately. But in this state some convicted of the most heinous murders do not end up on death row, and others whose crimes are arguably less heinous do.

Additionally, North Carolina has a troubling track record of wrongful murder convictions, convictions that have only been overturned in recent years as inmates have gained access to DNA that can prove their innocence.

This board has said before and repeats that a better way to deal with the problematic application of the death penalty is to stop using it and go to a system of life without the possibility of parole. That is the mandated sentence even if an inmate can prove discrimination under the Racial Justice Act. This is no get-of- jail-free card as opponents of RJA had once claimed.

North Carolina then would be in line with the changing national attitude. Thirty-three states have the death penalty and 17 have abolished it. But more and more are moving toward abolition, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. So far this year legislators in several states have introduced legislation to either abolish or reform the death penalty. Among them are lawmakers in Alabama, Colorado, Kentucky, Maryland, New Hampshire and Oregon. Texas, which has recorded the largest number of executions annually, is also considering reforms and an Innocence Commission to deal with wrongful convictions.

Even with the death penalty in place, only nine states carried out death sentences last year, equaling the fewest number of states to do so in 20 years. More than half the nation’s states, 29, have not carried out an execution in five years. The 43 executions in 2012 was 56 percent less than the number of executions in the peak year of 1999. Five states in five years have abandoned the death penalty.

Instead of trying to restart the state killing industry, North Carolina should join those states abandoning it. It’s too often unfairly administered even when race is not a factor.’

You can read the full editorial here.

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