...So Does Risk to Innocents
A couple weeks ago, I posted on the American Law Institute's withdrawal of the death penalty from its model penal code. KELO's Don Jorgensen follows up with a conversation with State Senator Sandy Jerstad and lawyer Scott Abdallah about the cost of the death penalty.
Senator Jerstad agrees with me that capital punishment is bad budget policy as well as bad moral policy. Jorgensen reports that Donald Moeller, who's been on South Dakota's death row for nearly two decades, has cost us $1.5 million. Mr. Abdallah, who prosecuted Moeller at his second trial and defends the death penalty, says housing inmates can cost $20K to $30K. Hmmm... by those numbers, if we'd just skipped the death penalty and thrown Moeller in the deepest hole in the pen... 20 years, $30K... that would be $600,000. By Abdallah's numbers, Donald Moeller would have to live for 50 years to rack up the imprisonment costs that we've spent in 20 years trying to kill him.
But Abdallah is ready to concede the cost argument and still argue for capital punishment: "If the death penalty deters one, just one innocent human life in South Dakota, the value of that certainly out weighs the cost," he tells Jorgensen.
I'm not sure my Republican friends would like that "spare no expense for innocent life" argument applied to the health care debate (we don't care if people die from lack of insurance; we can't raise taxes!).
The follow-up question Don Jorgensen should have asked was, "But what if capital punishment kills just one innocent person?" We will likely never have evidence that the death penalty stopped a particular crime. We may find evidence that a prisoner we have killed is innocent. However, even if Abdallah were right about deterrence and I (and the American Law Institute) were right about flawed death sentences, which would you rather have on your hands: a sin of omission (Joe Criminal kills an innocent man because the state didn't threaten execution) or a sin of commission (the state executes an innocent man)?
The death penalty has financial and moral costs that we should not bear. Perhaps Senator Jerstad will favor us with a bill to repeal SDCL Chapter 23A-27A.
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