On March 18, New Mexico became the 15th state to outlaw the death penalty. They did this not because it is morally wrong (which it is), but because of the simple realization that our current system of justice cannot (and has often failed to) guarantee that innocent people will not be convicted of and punished for crimes they did not commit. Advances in DNA technology have been invaluable in reducing the incidence of wrongful convictions, but they have also highlighted just how dramatically faulty our system of justice has long been in this regard. While it is still reprehensible to convict an innocent person and sentence them to life in prison, that is better than convicting and killing them. As we continue our growth towards a more enlightened and just society, let us keep in mind that the overriding principle of our justice system is not to ensure that all guilty persons are punished, but that no innocent person is punished. It is better to miss a few convictions in achieving the latter than to miss a few acquittals in our zeal to achieve the former.
The downside of this is that there are still 35 states in which the death penalty is legal. Shame on Montana, for passing up their own opportunity to become the 16th state to outlaw the death penalty just a few days after New Mexico made its decision. It is a sad commentary on our great nation that we have not joined the entire rest of the developed world and much of the developing world in outlawing the death penalty. Even Russia has a de facto moratorium on it. We, on the other hand, stand fast with countries like Afghanistan, Cuba, Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Somalia, and of course, China (source). Nice company.
In celebration of the New Mexico decision, I offer here Robert Plant and Jimmy Page performing one of Led Zeppelin’s most powerful songs, Gallows Pole.
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Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2009