Friday, February 23, 2018

Dwight Harriman

Debating the ultimate punishment

Should Montana abolish the death penalty?
State legislators have tried to do so many times before – every year since at least 1999, most notably in the 2015 session when the measure failed on a tie in the House, the Associated Press reports. Now in the 2017 Legislature, Rep. Adam Hertz, R-Missoula, has introduced a bill that would impose a sentence of life in prison without parole instead of execution.
Currently, a judge has prevented Montana from performing executions, which are carried out by lethal injection, because the state can’t obtain the drug needed for the procedure, the AP reports.
So maybe now is a good time to consider whether the state, which last executed a death row inmate in 2006, should have the death penalty at all.
If it did abolish the death penalty, Montana would join the District of Columbia and 19 other states that don’t have it – including our next-door-neighbor, North Dakota – and four other states that have gubernatorial moratoriums on it, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
Hertz’s bill raises the age-old arguments about the morality and, on a practical level, the usefulness of the ultimate penalty. Does the death penalty deter murder? The matter has been argued endlessly on both sides. Or should it even matter? Shouldn’t a person who brutally murders another pay with his life regardless of whether the death penalty is a deterrent?
There are strong emotions on both sides of the argument. On the one side, there’s a yearning for justice, which is a deep need in the human psyche. You might oppose the death penalty until a family member or loved one is viciously murdered, and then the ultimate punishment might seem to be the only solution.
On the other hand, having the state kill the person who committed the crime will not necessarily bring peace and closure to family and friends. It simply adds a death to the one that has already taken place. The execution doesn’t bring their loved one back. And there is always the argument an execution could be carried out against an innocent person – a remote possibility, but still a possibility.
Couldn’t the death penalty be abolished except for extremely rare cases in the most heinous of murders involving rape and torture, for monsters who have done unspeakable things and who vow they would do it again if released? But a state must either have a death penalty or not; you can’t have it both ways.
So answers fail us. But given the uncertainties about the ultimate, irreversible punishment, Hertz’s bill deserves consideration.