Rightly moving away from death penalty

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Rightly moving away from death penalty

Post  Jennie on Sun Jun 29, 2008 7:58 pm

Rightly moving away from death penalty

When it comes to choosing the next president of the United States, voters have a clear choice. From the war in Iraq to health care, Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain have differing positions on many issues.

Unfortunately, the 2 have found common ground on the wrong side of one issue: the use of the death penalty in the United States.

Both candidates criticized this week's Supreme Court ruling overturning the death sentence of a Louisiana man convicted of raping his 8-year-old stepdaughter. In a 5-4 decision, the court concluded that executing child rapists is unconstitutional, thereby striking down laws in a handful of states.

McCain called the decision "an assault on law enforcement's efforts to punish these heinous felons for the most despicable crime." Obama said the court should not have prohibited states from using the death penalty for child rapists.

On one level, the candidates' responses to the ruling are understandable - and common. It's a visceral reaction to want to execute those who commit the most sickening of crimes against those least able to defend themselves.

But those who lead this country can't simply follow their guts. It's the job of the government to be thoughtful and rational in dealing with criminals.

In this ruling, the court did its job.

The majority opinion, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, notes that executing rapists may add to the risk of someone not reporting the crime, especially if the perpetrator is a family member. The penalty doesn't lessen a victim's hurt, he wrote, and if the punishment for rape and murder are the same, a state may remove the incentive for a rapist not to kill the victim.

No one has been executed in this country for rape since 1964, and Louisiana is the only state since then to sentence someone to death for the rape of a child. According to the court, statistics confirm "there is a social consensus against the death penalty for child rape."

Wednesday's ruling is a victory because it further narrows the reach of the death penalty, an uncivilized practice in 21st-century America. In recent years, the court has prohibited the death penalty for other offenders - specifically the mentally retarded and juveniles.

Sentencing rapists to death would violate the "evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society," the ruling notes, a standard the court has used in determining whether punishments are cruel and unusual.

Besides, putting criminals to death reduces a government to the level of its most monstrous criminals. It doesn't deter crime. And it sets in motion a long and costly appeals process. If new evidence in a case is later discovered, there is no way to bring the executed back to life to remedy the error.

Killing criminals, whether murderers or rapists, accomplishes nothing. The Supreme Court - and the country - should be working toward abolishing the death penalty, not finding new opportunities to apply it.

And the country would be well-served if the next president took that position.

(source: Editorial, Des Moines Register)

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