"And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God"
-- Micah 6:8

"The duty of the prosecutor is to seek justice, not merely to convict."
-- American Bar Association Standard 3-1.2(c)

"There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia."
--Pope Benedict XVI, June 2004

Monday, September 11, 2006

Death Penalty Opponents' Strategy Sending More Defendants to Jail for Life Without Parole

Quite a conundrum for the capital punishment abolitionists. For some years, they have pursued a line of attack that features giving jurors the option of imposing life without parole instead of the death penalty, expecting that many juries would chose LWOP. They've been successful in introducing the LWOP alternative in 37 of the 38 states which still have the death penalty. The rationale for these efforts, as I said, is that when given the option of death or LWOP many juries will chose the "safer" course of imposing LWOP.

The conundrum arises because according to a Harvard Law Review Note,
Twenty years of experience with life-without-parole statutes shows that although they have only a small effect on reducing executions, they have doubled and tripled the lengths of sentences for offenders who never would have been sentenced to death or even been eligible for the death penalty. Before death penalty abolitionists continue to push for the expansion of life without parole, they should recognize that their crusade has lifelong ramifications for thousands of noncapital prisoners.
In other words, the LWOP "net" catches many more offenders than those who face a good prospect of having the death penalty imposed in their cases. Thus, the unintended consequence of attacking the death penalty by enacting LWOP statutes has been to increase the number of LWOP sentences while not appreciably reducing the incidence of imposition of the death penalty.

This makes perfect sense, since the death penalty is generally reserved for the most egregious cases and is usually not sought unless the government has a strong prospect of gaining a death sentence. In that small subset of cases (egregious facts; strong evidence of future dangerousness) a jury is far less likely to consider LWOP, even while, in the abstract, answering a pollster, many people will say they would favor LWOP over the death penalty.

So what's a good abolitionist to do? Continue to see many offenders punished with LWOP who would not have received such a tough sentence before, or take LWOP off the table and watch death penalty sentences increase (even if only by a marginal amount)?

HT: Capital Defense Weekly.

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