Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Letter to the editor

I am really tired of death penalty proponents and ill-informed newspaper columnists and editorial writers saying that challenges to lethal injection come from the abolition movement.

They do not. Challenges to lethal injection largely come from lawyers who are looking for a lifeline for their clients, some of whom face imminent executions. That's the lawyers' job -- to explore and pursue every possible challenge in an effort to save their clients' lives. Bravo to them.

But, but, but a lawyer's job is not always exactly the same as an abolitionist's. And there is no grand strategy, no secret strategy, no strategy whatsoever that I know of to use the issue of lethal injection to attack the death penalty.

Anyway, with all this mind, I just dropped the following letter to the editor on the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Who knows whether they will print it. But I can print it here:

To the editor:

Your editorial (“Challenging lethal injection: But will anything satisfy death penalty opponents?” Sept. 27) contains several fallacies.

First, challenging the constitutionality of lethal injection is not, and has never been, the primary or even a secondary strategy for those of us organizing to end capital punishment. It is certainly true that some lawyers use this tactic as a lifeline to try to save the lives of clients with rapidly approaching execution dates – such is their duty as lawyers.

However, those of us who engage in public education and lobbying on the state legislative level invoke other strategies. These include discussing the exorbitant cost of the death penalty, the geographic and racial discrimination, the lack of deterrent value and the number of people who have been sent to death row and later found to be innocent (a list that includes Roberto Miranda, who spent 16 years on Nevada’s death row before charges against him were dropped and he was set free).

Second, contrary to the editorial’s premise, we have not “lost the public debate.” Last year, New York effectively abolished the death penalty. Soon New Jersey will follow. In New Mexico and North Carolina, bills to either abolish the death penalty or declare a “time-out” on executions have passed a legislative chamber. Public opinion against the death penalty has declined, as have executions. And the number of death sentences handed down each year has decreased sharply. Indeed, we find ourselves winning – not because of debate over whether lethal injection is cruel or whether other execution methods are better but because the U.S. public is becoming better informed on the issue.

Former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall said it best: “People are largely unaware of the information critical to a judgment on the morality of the death penalty . . . if they were better informed they would consider it shocking, unjust and unacceptable."

David Elliot
Communications Director
National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty

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