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Should States Adopt Moratoriums on Executions? No.

by Kent S. Scheidegger
CQ Researcher, Volume 15, Number 33, page 801
September 23, 2005

Should the execution of Danny Rolling stay on hold when his current, and hopefully last, appeal is decided? That is what the moratorium backers propose. They want to hold every execution in America, regardless of how clear the murderer's guilt or how clearly deserved his sentence. They have yet to come up with a single convincing reason for such a drastic step.

There is no doubt whatever of Rolling's guilt. It was proven by both DNA and his confession. In a spree of rape, mutilation, and murder, he killed five college students in Gainesville, Florida, in 1990. Eleven years have passed since his sentence, while multiple courts have repeatedly considered and rejected arguments that have nothing to do with guilt or innocence.

This is not unusual. Only a handful of capital cases involve genuine questions of innocence. By all means, we should put those few on hold as long as it takes to resolve the questions, and the governor should commute the sentence if a genuine doubt remains. At the same time, we should proceed with the justly deserved punishment in the many cases with no such questions, and considerably faster than we do now.

The other arguments against the death penalty have failed. The claim of discrimination against minority defendants is refuted by the opponents' own studies. So, too, is the claim of bias on the race of the victim, when the data are properly analyzed. It has also been shown that lawyers appointed to represent the indigent get the same results on average as retained counsel. For example, Scott Peterson, with the lawyer to the stars, sits on death row, while the public defender got a life sentence for the penniless Unabomber. The mitigating circumstance of Theodore Kaczynski's mental illness made the difference, not the lawyers.

On the other hand, a powerful reason for the death penalty becomes more clear every year. Study after study confirms that the death penalty does deter murder and does save innocent lives when it is actually enforced. Conversely, delay in execution and the needless overturning of valid sentences sap the deterrent effect and kill innocent people.

To minimize the loss of innocent life, the path is clear. Take as long as we need in the few cases where guilt is in genuine question, and proceed to execution in a reasonable time in a great bulk of cases where it is not.