Colorado’s statutory authorization for the death penalty is nothing short of state -sanctioned killing. But a society that respects life does not deliberately kill human beings. State-authorized killing is inconsistent with the fundamental values of our democratic system – which is why the US is the only democracy in the world that executes people. This is my moral argument against the death penalty. It’s simply wrong and it sends the message about violence in our community.
Many argue that the death penalty is an important crime fighting tool. This notion, however, has been consistently debunked. In a 2009 survey, 88% of the country’s top criminologists concluded simply that capital punishment does not deter crime. According to recent polling, nearly two-thirds of Americans agree. Police chiefs ranked the death penalty last among effective ways to reduce violent crime. 99% of police chiefs surveyed listed reducing drug abuse or improving the economy as more important. The National Research Council reviewed more than three decades of research and found no credible evidence that the death penalty deters violent criminal acts. In fact, between 2000-2010, the murder rate in states with capital punishment was 25-46% higher than states without it. The South performs over 80% of the nation’s executions, yet has the highest murder rate in the U.S. Clearly, the death penalty is not a deterrent to murder.
State-authorized killing is inconsistent with the fundamental values of our democratic system – which is why the US is the only democracy in the world that executes people. This is my moral argument against the death penalty.
Although the moral arguments against the death penalty resonate the loudest for me, the death penalty also wastes limited resources. A death penalty trial costs Colorado taxpayers approximately $3.5 million, versus $150,000 for a life without parole (LWOP) trial, and requires over six times more days in court. A 2009 legislative analysis found eliminating the death penalty would save the state $1.5 million a year because defending a death penalty case costs about 15 times more than a LWOP case. These funds could be used to prevent and solve crime or on so many other needed services.
Finally, although I have not experienced the murder of a close family member, many family members speak to how the death penalty prolongs pain for victims’ families, dragging them through an agonizing and lengthy process that promises an execution at the beginning but rarely delivers, and can divide families when they need each other the most. A study examining the experiences of families of murder victims found that those navigating cases without the death penalty exhibited better psychological and physical health. Gail Rice, whose brother, a Denver policeman who was murdered, testifies to the toll of the death penalty process: “The death penalty means victims’ families are putting their lives on hold for years as they attend new hearings and appeals and relive the murder.” Coloradan Bob Autobee wrote: “As a victim’s father who has been trapped in the labyrinth of the death penalty, and after seeing the real misuse of resources, I am begging our elected officials to do away with the broken death penalty system.” Countless law enforcement hours are spent chasing a death penalty conviction instead of addressing the 1,200 unsolved murder cases in Colorado. Gail LaSuer, a Coloradan whose daughter was murdered, explained, “I would rather have a larger number of people caught than to have a few executed.”
The death penalty is inefficient, unjust, and ineffective. It has bogged down law enforcement, delayed justice for victims’ families, and devoured millions of crime-fighting dollars that could save lives and protect the public. I am proud to support its repeal.
Julie Gonzales is a Colorado State Senator in District 34.
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