IN THE EXECUTIONER'S SHADOW

A STORY OF JUSTICE, INJUSTICE, AND THE DEATH PENALTY

Executing Aged Inmates

The Supreme Court recently denied an Alabama inmate’s stay of execution.  Vernon Madison’s lawyers argued he should be ineligble for execution because failing health had rendered him unable to recall the murder he’d committed.  The Court ruled a Federal panel overstepped its authority by overturning a state court’s determination that memory loss did not disqualify a death sentence.  The 1996 Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act precluded such intervention.

Justice Stephen Breyer noted the case presents an ancillary issue of growing concern.  The average wait for the 21 inmates executed in 2017 has been 19 years.  As the prison population grays the justice system will be dealing with more inmates suffering old-age infirmities.  Do lengthy delays for elderly prisoners add a new dimension to “cruel and unusual?”

California addressed this in 2016 with a referendum on competing proposals.  Proposition 62 sought to repeal capital punishment.  Proposition 66 aimed to expedite executions.  Voters opting for Prop 66 assumed less time between conviction and execution saves taxpayer dollars.  Studies indicate, however, death sentences are costlier than life sentences, with the heaviest expenditures borne at trial and confinement.      

Taking human life is an act government is obliged to get right.  Assuring accuracy may require extensive appeals.  Balancing considerations, California favored speeding the process.  Proposition 66 carried 51% of the electorate. 

How would you vote?