Many nations and nearly half of American states have abolished capital punishment, but some states and the federal government itself can still execute convicts. Such cases drag on for many years, and while that gives much protection against mistaken convictions, it makes the situation complicated. Just how complicated is evident by various cases in the news now.
In Arizona, Attorney General Mark Brnovich, who is diligent with his responsibilities, has informed the governor that he has found a supplier for a lethal injection drug. Availability has been a problem because of laws and lawsuits in various places. More than 100 people are on death row in Arizona, and 20 of them have no more appeals. Some of the crimes date back four decades, and the accused, in some cases, are basically different people now. The last person to be executed in Arizona, Joseph R. Wood, was given a drug cocktail that left him gasping and snorting for two hours — six years ago.
Meanwhile, the federal government on Wednesday executed Lezmond Mitchell, the first Native American to be put to death by the United States in modern history. He was convicted of brutally killing a woman and her 9-year-old granddaughter in 2001 on the Navajo Nation. The tribe long opposed Mitchell’s execution and objects to the death penalty in general.
Also, the California Supreme Court this week overturned the death sentence of Scott Peterson, who was convicted of killing his wife and unborn child in 2004, with judicial error cited. This is just one more case that shows how long such cases drag on, the cost and the possibility, although slim, that a mistake was made.
The United States has a very sophisticated judicial system that is designed to ensure to a high degree that people’s rights are protected. Meanwhile, other nations without those same protections do not have capital punishment and therefore look to many observers to be more fair or compassionate. Although federalism has left this question to the states — within the framework of constitutional rights — it is time to have a more serious discussion of whether the negatives, including the financial cost, are worth having a death penalty.