“Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment.”
Criminal justice reform has been a worthwhile, bipartisan effort by both state and federal officials over the past few years. In 2014 state lawmakers passed the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, which reduced penalties for drug crimes. The reforms have led to a significant reduction in the state prison population.
Next up on the chopping block for reform advocates: the death penalty.
The Legislature heard a bill during the 2017 legislative session that would have ended capital punishment in Utah, but it failed to reach the House floor before the session ended. Similar legislation will be renewed during the 2018 session.
We have argued previously that eliminating the death penalty would save money and save souls.
At a hearing Tuesday night, advocates for abolishing the death penalty argued that it is “too expensive,” it “unfairly targets minorities,” is “too risky,” and “too arbitrary” as applied.
We agree. Capital cases are expensive. Stephen Crutcher, whose trial is in November, has already pleaded guilty to aggravated murder, yet will go to trial next month so that a jury can determine whether he will receive the death penalty. If there was no death penalty, a judge could simply, and efficiently, sentence Crutcher to life in prison, what many call “the other death sentence.”
Complicating that cost analysis is the fact that there are too few attorneys in Utah competent and willing to try them. Attorney Samuel Newton recently withdrew from representing Doug Lovell when he developed stress-related heart problems from battling with the county over inadequate payment.
Utah has executed seven people since 1976, and currently has nine inmates on death row. The last prisoner to be put to death in Utah was Ronnie Lee Gardner, who chose to be executed by firing squad. Utah is the only state in the modern era to use the firing squad. It’s not a great quirk to be known for.
Pope Francis recently reiterated the Catholic Church’s strong stance against capital punishment and said it was “inadmissible” under any circumstances. Pope Francis said, “It’s necessary to repeat that no matter how serious the crime, the death penalty is inadmissible because it attacks the inviolable dignity of the person.”
Nineteen states have abolished the death penalty, as well as most of Europe and South America. It’s time for Utah to become the 20th.