Last week, The Colorado Independent reported that Republican Rep. Kim Ransom will be proposing a new law that would give prosecutors a second chance, in the case of a hung jury, to win a death penalty verdict. Carla Turner, the executive director of Coloradans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, wrote in response.
To the editor:
Rep. Kim Ransom is proposing a new law that would give prosecutors a second chance at achieving a death sentence if they fail to convince first jurors to kill a defendant. Her legislation flies in the face of everything our legal system stands for. The proposal is a symptom of a blind and unthinking desire for vengeance.
Public policy should be clear-headed and reasoned, based on evidence showing what works and what is fiscally responsible. Ransom’s law is anything but.
A second sentencing phase would be traumatizing to the families of homicide victims. During the penalty phase of a capital case, the prosecution relies on victim impact statements to move the jury toward death.
Imagine that you’ve lost a loved one to murder. You’ve already been encouraged to stay present in grief so that you can be an effective witness in the first sentencing phase of the trial, where you shared your anguish before the defendant, the media and the world.
Then, if the prosecution fails to compel the jury to agree on a death sentence, you’re cruelly asked to bear your pain again.
Beyond the personal toll, death penalty cases are a huge tax burden. Take the Aurora theater shooting case. To seat that jury, around 9,000 summonses were sent out. Most recipients completed juror questionnaires. Many proceeded through the court’s formal process where they were recused from duty if they were not “death qualified,” willing to support the state killing a convict.
That happens all over again in Round Two of sentencing, along with pricey attorneys and investigators and chief judges and expert witnesses and security and rooftop snipers. Add at least another million onto the taxpayer tab for a case like James Holmes’ trial. Add into the equation the cost of paying for hundreds of people to skip their jobs and pay for daycare to fulfill their civic duty.
Every step in the process is expensive and time-consuming. Re-sentencing in death penalty cases could double the costs of all of this.
The proposed law shows a lack of faith in juries and prosecutors. Codifying a do-over is an insult to jurors who have carefully deliberated and prosecutors who have taken years to build their cases.
The scales of justice should always be tipped toward life, not death. Our system mandates jurors believe in the death penalty and take on the responsibility of choosing whether to kill a person, usually someone who is psychologically unwell.
This is already unethical and immoral — and now there’s a proposal to put more citizens in that awful position, in an effort to achieve more death in already tragic situations.
When lives have been taken, there’s a base impulse to kill in return. It’s not an admirable impulse, it’s not the source of good policy, and it is not pro-life.
Carla Turner is the executive director of Coloradans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, working for sensible, ethical and affordable criminal justice reforms that will better serve the families of homicide victims, the community, the taxpayers, and all others affected by capital offenses.