Our Turn: The bipartisan case for death penalty repeal

Published: 2/20/2019 12:10:13 AM

In these divisive times, there is an issue that Granite State Democrats and Republicans agree on: The time is now to repeal the death penalty. Abolishing this archaic practice is not a partisan issue – it is a personal one. The death penalty defies New Hampshire values. In our “Live free or die” state, it is time to state loudly that New Hampshire can live without the death penalty.

As a New Hampshire representative and senator, we have heard from a wide variety of stakeholders about repealing the death penalty, including countless hours of testimony and floor debates in both the Senate and House of Representatives. Both of us have come to oppose the death penalty only in the past few years, in large part in response to the compelling testimony from Granite Staters. Speaking for ourselves, here is why we are working together to make 2019 the year of repeal in New Hampshire.

The death penalty is discriminatory: Research shows that the decision between life and death turns too often not on the crime committed but on race, geography and the quality of counsel. In court, the quality of counsel is one of the most decisive factors, meaning those who cannot afford a high-quality lawyer are more likely to be sentenced to death. We cannot support a system wherein being poor could cost a person their life.

The death penalty is unjustly carried out: This has been demonstrated time and again by an array of botched executions across the country. Lethal injection and the electric chair – the two most used methods of execution in the United States – have both resulted in the torture of executed individuals. This unjust and inhumane treatment extends to those charged with carrying out executions, who have reported experiencing PTSD as a result.

The government makes mistakes: The criminal justice system is not infallible. As a society, we tolerate certain mistakes because we cannot function without government and a justice system. With the death penalty, the reverse is true. As a civilized society, we cannot allow a system where a mistake could mean that we wrongfully sentence a person to death and/or execute an innocent person. In New Hampshire, we are particularly mindful of the limitations of government, and believe the government should not be in the business of executing its citizens.

So far, 168 people have been exonerated from death row across the United States, and the number is growing. It is naïve to believe that innocent people have not been wrongfully executed in this country. The only way to guarantee we do not make the ultimate mistake in New Hampshire and take an innocent life is to repeal the death penalty.

We have listened to those who argue that the death penalty is a deterrent, but the facts do not support their argument. States with the death penalty have higher crime rates than states without it, and there is no research that finds the death penalty to be an effective deterrent. Capital crimes are crimes of passion, often carried out under the influence of alcohol or drugs – meaning one does not stop to weigh the potential consequences.

It is also worth noting that the death penalty is exorbitantly expensive. New Hampshire’s one current death penalty case has cost over $2 million so far, and that number is climbing as the appeals process continues. Sentencing someone to death is significantly more expensive than incarcerating someone for their natural life. We would much prefer that taxpayers’ money go toward supporting our law enforcement, providing services to crime victims and to advancing public safety rather than to the legal costs of a few death penalty cases.

Lastly, but most importantly, the death penalty fails to achieve the one thing that family members of murder victims want: their loved one back. Rather than bring closure, the death penalty keeps reminding family of their loved one’s murder as the appeal process is dragged out for years.

If we let murderers turn us into murderers, we give them too much power. They succeed in bringing us to their way of thinking and acting, and we become what we say we abhor. New Hampshire is the only remaining state in New England to retain this archaic practice. This is the year that we prove New Hampshire can live without the death penalty.

(Sen. John Reagan, a Republican, represents District 17 in the N.H. Senate. Rep. Laura Pantelakos, a Democrat, represents Rockingham District 25 in the N.H. House.)

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